Sunday, June 01, 2008

The kind of Bible study I'd like to lead

I'm hosting a weekly Bible study on the book of Judges starting this Wednesday, but it's anyone's guess whether anyone besides me actually will attend.

I'm trying to do mine a little differently from how I've usually found Bible studies to be done in the American church. Specifically, I want to set aside many of the preconceptions we bring to the Bible when we read it.

Some of them are Golden Book assumptions; for example: "Why did God save Daniel from the lions? Because Daniel was faithful."

Others have to do with our assumptions about the morality of the Bible heroes. We assume that Joseph was a virtuous man whom God honored because he was faithful to him the whole time, or that Samson killed all the Philistines as an act of devotion to God.

Neither of those is a particularly deep reading. The Genesis account is clear that Joseph wanted nothing more than to make his brothers suffer for all that they had done to him once he had them at his mercy. As for Samson, he killed the Philistines he did mostly because his pride had been hurt and he wanted to get even. Neither of them is much of a role model in those stories.

Beyond that, I can see plenty of exploration of the character of God himself. If we question and explore the motivations of the characters in the Bible, at some point we have to remember that God himself is a character in the Bible, with motivations stated and unstated, goals and conflicts that he must face and overcome.

And if we're giving the Bible an honest reading, we have to admit that there are some shocking things in there: the genocide of the Canaanites, the near total destruction of the human race in a global flood, and even young men getting mauled by bears for making fun of a prophet's baldness. We need to recognize problem passages when they come up, and face their problems honestly.

Even without getting into the odd passages like "Zipporah at the Inn," where God plans to kill Moses until Zipporah circumcises their son, there are times we have to stop and ask "Is this really God we're talking about, the same God we sing those nice songs to on Sunday morning?"

These are questions that make us stop and reassess what we mean when we say that Scripture is divinely inspired, infallible and inerrant. They even make us stop and ask whether God really is good, or if he just has good publicity agents.

I've found over the years that raising those questions is an important part of growth and of faith. Proverbs cautions us, "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." Doubts drive us into deeper faith because questions make us seek meaningful answers.

That sort of exploration is something I've seen to be largely absent in Bible studies I've attended, not just at the church I now attend, but elsewhere as well. What I have seen instead is a lot of contentment to repeat things we've heard before and to pass them off as deep insights, or to get sidetracked into discussions that have nothing to do with the passage at hand.

The truth is, the Bible is one of the most widely misunderstood books in Western literature, probably because it's actually a piece of Eastern literature. It's misunderstood by non-Christians who react to it based on unpleasant experiences with Christians, and it's misunderstood by Christians themselves.

That's a shame, because it really is a phenomenal piece of literature, and like all phenomenal pieces of literature, there are some deep currents that flow through its pages. If we're willing to pull up our oars, stop rowing our way, and just let those currents carry us where they go, we'll all find it to be a much more fascinating and spiritually insightful book than we've ever realized before.

This sort of honest search is something that I think will engage people who consider themselves to be spiritual but not Christians, and it should engage Christians as well. One attitude I consistently have encountered is contempt for Christians who swear unswerving allegiance to the Bible yet have no idea what it actually says or make no attempt to deal with issues like Paul's apparent sexism, the appallingly strict penal code in the Mosaic law, and so on.

I'd like to lead a study that does those things. Naturally, I can't get the church to promote it along with the other Bible studies.

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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