"Biblical Famine" (cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward)
I read an interesting post by Kenneth Berding, professor of New Testament at Biola's Talbot School of Theology, titled, The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy
. Berding's educational background as well as his present position indicate that he and I share a passionate interest in the bible.
Berding expresses concern for the increasing lack of biblical literacy. Fewer people understand or have even heard about its most famous characters and stories. This is most noticeable among the youth. Even though we have the bible at our disposal, we are experiencing a famine of biblical knowledge. He suggests it is due to several factors:
distractions: social media and video games, etc.;
misplaced priorities: choosing social media over scripture;
unwarranted confidence: thinking we already know the bible;
the pretext of being too busy: not making time for the bible.
Even though I wouldn't argue with Berding's observations¬†of biblical illiteracy, I claim he has prescribed a response to the symptoms without diagnosing their cause. In other words, in face of this biblical famine, the question shouldn't be, "Why are people eating social media?"
, but, "Why aren't people eating the bible?"
It isn't enough to give people advice on how to overcome distractions, align their priorities, be honest about what they know, or find time. He should be asking, "Why don't people want to read the bible anymore?"
If someone would want to read the bible then distractions would hold less power, they wouldn't have to prioritize, they would learn from it, and time would be found.
I think I know the problem. Here's Talbot School of Theology's doctrinal statement
on the bible:
"The Bible, consisting of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, a supernaturally given revelation from God Himself, concerning Himself, His being, nature, character, will and purposes; and concerning man, his nature, need and duty and destiny. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind."
This is why less people consume the bible. To insist that people believe the bible in this way repels more than attracts the conscientious mind. I know I simplify, but what this doctrinal statement communicates is that the bible is:
- a supernatural book;
- a complete guide to understanding God and human affairs;
- a perfectly accurate book without any error whatsoever.
Of course fewer people are going to believe this! The response to this by those who hold this view is to become even more dogmatic, thereby turning more and more people off of it. They inadvertently promote a distaste for the bible. The bible has been modified into a magical breakfast cereal full of color but containing no nutritional value. People need and want meat.
What if we believed and taught that the bible, rather, was a valuable collection of ancient documents written by men, then later organized and canonized by men, from a far away place and time who did their best to describe an indescribable mystery through paradigms, languages, words, ideologies, philosophies and theologies peculiar to their times?
What if we believed and taught that the bible is a combined collection of various attempts to understand mystery, the world, and humanity, and that it is a rich deposit in our search for a universal justice, and that we must consider with an interrogating suspicion the political developments that motivated the canonization and establishment of the bible as the only book Christians should treasure?
What if we believed and taught that the bible is a remarkable blend of history, myth, metaphor, story, analogy, etcetera‚ a creative conglomeration of oral and literary styles that testify to remarkable events, insights, ideas, revelations and philosophies, and that the bible is "true" in a more significant way than just literal and factual?
That's appetizing to me!
The reason for the famine, I suggest, is that this literal approach to the bible has robbed it of its nutritional value. Smart people can discern what's good for them. Like the cartoon suggests, the literalists have actually created the famine! They have required people to eat a genetically modified version of the bible that can no longer satisfy, nourish or sustain them. In fact, it can actually poison them to the point where truth loses its flavor and appeal. We are witnessing¬†this sad development.
If the bible could stand as it is and be what it is, rather than modified into something it is not, perhaps there would be a revival of interest in consuming it again.
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