Rise & Shine - May 20
What is the Bible, and why is it relevant to our lives today?
The Rise and Shine discussion group meets Sunday mornings at 9:00 am in the Parlor. Adults from the 8:00 & 10:00 services gather for discussions that are relevant to their lives through the lens of a current topic and scriptural references. This week's discussion outline can be read or downloaded below.
2 Peter 1:19, 21
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. … no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (For context, read 1:16-21.)
The Bible is, as Peter dubbed it in the verses above, "a lamp shining in a dark place." A lamp does not eliminate all darkness, but it enables us to find our way through it. Read it for how it can convey you into the presence of God and enable you to see, even if imperfectly, the way of God and to hear his call to you.
Question: What is the Bible, and why is it relevant to our lives today?
Use this recent news as a framework to discuss our question:
GQ Puts the Bible on 'Don't Have to Read' List
GQ, a monthly men's magazine that usually focuses on fashion, style and culture, set off a flurry of protest when its most recent issue included an article titled "21 Books You Don't Have to Read," that declared the Bible as one such book.
The article took a list of books that are either considered classics or show up on "must read" lists and dismissed them while offering in the place of each a different book, which in the opinion of various authors who contributed to the article, was more worth readers' time.
Among the books the article suggested jettisoning were Lonesome Dove, The Catcher in the Rye, The Old Man and the Sea, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five and, as mentioned, the Bible.
In dismissing the Bible, novelist and poet Jesse Ball, wrote, "The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned."
In its place, Ball suggested reading Agota Kristof's The Notebook, which he described as "a marvelous tale of two brothers who have to get along when things get rough."
Not surprisingly, many Christian spokespersons and some columnists in the secular media, as well as a multitude of those on social media, have challenged the claim that the Bible is unnecessary reading.
Many -- not all -- of them fail to acknowledge one claim in which Ball widely misses the mark: The Bible is not a single book, but a collection of some 60 books (depending upon how one counts) collected about a single theme: God’s relationship to us.
A few commentators have used the news to state why the Bible is important reading. For example, Tim Swarens, writing in the IndyStar, said the Bible does not belong on the "Books not to read" list because it helps us 1) to understand Western culture, 2) to understand history, 3) to understand current events and 4) to understand our neighbors.
Swarens added, "I've been amazed by people I've met around the world who make incredible sacrifices to help others in distress because they've been inspired by the Bible. I've also been appalled by people who wrap their anger and biases in that same book. Human behavior is complex and inconsistent, but it sure helps to know something about the ideas that drive so many people to acts of love and of hate."
More on this story can be found at these links:
21 Books You Don't Have to Read. GQ
Swarens: 4 Reasons GQ Is Wrong to Put Bible on 'Books Not to Read' List. IndyStar
Allhands: I'm a Christian Who Agrees With GQ. The Bible Isn't Worth Reading (Like That). AZCentral
A Bible Critic's Ignorance and Foolishness. Bill's 'Faith Matters' Blog
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (For context, read 1:1-4.)
We are quoting these verses here to show that like the writers of much of scripture, Luke had a specific audience in mind when he wrote. He probably had no idea that he was writing for millennia of generations to come, but God used Luke's work for Theophilus that way. Thus, we are not the original audience for scripture, but it is our scripture today.
The Bible was written by some 40 authors over about a thousand years but covers a time period at least twice that long. The authors wrote as people of their own time and cultures, limited by the assumptions and knowledge of their point in history. What they learned about God is the distilled experience of hundreds of years of faithful people trying to understand both the wonderful and terrible things that happened to them, and how all of that fit into a world where God is the creator.
While the scriptures were colored by the authors' human limitations and assumptions, they nonetheless communicate the essential message God wants us to hear -- that he loves us, that sin interferes with our relationship with him and with each other, that Jesus came to show us and be the way back to our Father.
Questions: What does it mean that we today are not the audience the writers of Scripture had in mind when they composed the works that came to be included in the Bible? How do we become the intended audience?
Nehemiah 8:1, 3
... all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. ... He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, ... and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. (For context, read 7:73b--8:12.)
The "people" in this scene are Jews living in Judah several years after the end of the Babylonian exile. They were descendants of those who had been in exile. We don't have a lot of information about what life in exile was like, but at least some students of the Bible contend that under the Babylonians, public worship of Israel's God and a practicing priesthood were not permitted. So, the exile and post-exile generations probably had little knowledge of the scriptures.
This reading of "the law of Moses," which they had not heard before, was a call for them to adopt the scriptures as their own. Nehemiah 8:1 indicates that the Lord had given the scripture to Israel, the community in covenant with God. Thus, in effect, if the people standing now hearing them read wanted to be part of the covenant community, they had to place themselves under the Book of the covenant -- and live by it.
The people of this new generation did just that. The words they heard first placed them under conviction, and they wept (8:9). Then, as they continued to hear the words, they began to rejoice (8:12). In those moments, the scriptures, written during previous generations, became the word of God to them. It became the basis of their community's existence and the rule of their lives from that time forward. Their faith and practice were to be dominated by it.
Questions: In what ways have you put yourself "under" the Bible and made it your book? Do you tend to view scripture as a watchdog, a guardian, a book that scolds or condemns, a book that redeems and sets free? A combination of some or all of these? When have you felt particularly convicted by what you read or heard? When did you rejoice? How is your hearing of scripture changed depending on who is reading it during worship or in a Bible study group?
Prayer for Those Who Influence Public Opinion (BCP p.827)
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many
voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where
many listen and write what many read; that they may do their
part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and
its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.