Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Does the Church Own the Bible?

Thanks to Jim West for pointing out this important essay by Philip Davies, Who's Bible? Anyone's? Davies advocates for what many have been advocating for some time, the Bible does not belong to the church but to humanity and is the centerpiece of Western culture, so we ought to be familiar with it. Davies writes:
I know a lot of secular Jews (actually, as a group, among my favorite people). Very few of them can demonstrate the degree of ignorance of the Bible that Christians do. For them, being Jewish means knowing the Bible, even if not accepting its religious authority. Secular Jews are nearly all proud to be Jewish and know that their Jewish identity is defined by the Bible. There is no equivalent commitment among Christians because they share no ethnic identity. But they do share a cultural identity that is perhaps too pervasive for them to recognize. Imagine a national art gallery without any biblical scenes. The history of Western culture collapses without the biblical backbone that keeps it erect. And that is not to mention the political shape of Europe, gouged out of religious warfare and rescued by a secular ethic that still respects Christianity.
Davies also links to this site regarding Reading the Bible as An Adult by Julia O'Brien. In the section "Getting Started" she writes:

It’s my contention that most people’s problems with the Bible aren’t really with the Bible but rather with what they assume they are supposed to do with what they read. While of course the Bible does offer some explicit instructions, most of it (especially the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) is narrative and poetry. Reading a story or a poem only for its moral bottom-line not only leads to odd doctrine but also overlooks what stories and poems do best: incite the imagination and let readers lose (and find) themselves within the worlds they create. Stories have power, not only to entertain but also to confront us with ourselves.

Most people can testify to having seen their own lives differently because of a well-told tale. The story we read never remains on the page. It also plays itself out inside and around us. And we play out the dynamics of our lives in the process of making sense of someone else’s story.

The stories of the Bible can work like this. They can be read like novels—stories that invite reflection, imagination, and discussion. Reading the Bible as literature doesn’t demote a sacred text to “just literature.” Rather, it releases the Bible from the restrictive assumptions that have choked all the joy out of reading it.

It’s my contention that the Bible can be just as engaging as any novel on the best-seller list—and often more engaging. Its stories are complex, nuanced, and come with the seal of approval of countless generations of readers. The Bible may belong in church, but it also belongs in book clubs and reading groups. It belongs wherever individuals and groups are interested in engaging the questions that literature raises about being human. What makes people tick? Do people change? Which is more important, love or money? How does tracing the contours of a character’s life help me cope with my own?
This is the spirit with which I try to engage the Bible. Folks might be interested in my blog about reading the Bible as literature, Bible and Jive. Follow the month by month guides on the sidebar. Enjoy the quizzes too!