My User’s Guide to the Bible

Newsflash: the Bible is complicated.

The dang-nabbed book is really more of a library than a book. It contradicts itself (eye for an eye? or turn the other cheek?) One moment its boring me half to death (UGH, another genealogy?), and the next telling a thrilling drama (I maintain that they need to make a mini-series about David and Saul.)

So how do you read it? Especially if you believe, as I do, that it’s a holy book?

Here’s my strategy. Over the last year, I’ve kept a running document open on my computer titled “My Scripture-Reading Commitments” It’s a work in progress reflecting my living relationship with the living word of scripture and I’ve added to it, tweaked it, and referred to it often. Of course, these are MY commitments; yours would surely look different. In my study of scripture, I aim to:

Read as myself. I don’t try to negate my own perspectives, concerns and biases, but do make an effort to name those perspectives, concerns and biases, and to hold an awareness that my ways of reading are not universal.

Read in community. I seek out the perspectives and concerns of others, including past readers of the text, and especially seek the perspectives of marginalized readers. I practice humility in my encounters with the text and with other readers, recognizing my inability to grasp God’s full purpose in my own reading.

Allow the text to make a claim on me. In the words of scripture, and in the spiritual practice of reading and interpreting it, I must be willing to encounter God and be moved.

Prefer those texts which tell the Good News. I seek Good News in all texts, but don’t give up on texts that aren’t currently giving over their Good News to my ears. They may yet do so later!

Appreciate the polyphonic diversity of scriptural voices. When texts appear in conflict, I don’t try to decide which is ‘more true.’ I allow conflicting world-views to dwell side by side and learn from their paradox.

Read scripture in my own life. I pray for eyes to see the scriptural narrative as lived out within and around me, and as I read I work to locate myself and my community within the text.

Here’s an all-play question. What commitments do you bring to your reading of scripture? Do you have any rules for yourself? Share them in the comments, and let’s all learn together! 

3 comments on “My User’s Guide to the Bible

  1. Thanks Bethany. I’m at a really boring spot right now with this stuff. I tried for a while to tell myself and others that even without having a corner on consistent absolute truth, the Bible could be, somehow, and important authority and source of… something, for myself. People around me — yourself, lots of folks at my church, etc. enthusiastically draw strength and guidance from the Bible without trying to have it serve as a truthfact sourcebook. I honestly haven’t figured out how I would do so. And lately have not given any more energy to trying.

    A dear friend of mine says he believes Christianity/Bible has exclusive absolute truth, because it’s the only way he can believe it has any important truth at all. I get that. Because I’ve been trying to do this not-exclusive-absolute-truth version of faith, and it kinda feels like pretense. Like if I say “well, this is MY faith, but it doesn’t have to be THE true faith, but it’s still MY faith”… it sounds good in my head… but still ends up flat.

    Except when it doesn’t. Like the times when I weepingly pray for a loved one, thank God for manifesting God’s self through loved ones, and thank God for the opportunity to serve and love God’s self in serving and loving others. Or when I think about the underdoggedness of a Jesus and his alignedness with the poor and downtrodden, his identity as deeply poor and downtrodden person who ignored or baffled or enraged the powers that be.

    So maybe what I’m saying is that it’s not authoritative enough to make me want to quote it or make me motivated to not look at porn or make me want to preach it… but it is authoritative enough to make me take a deeply ingrained posture of delighting in loving and being loved by precious lives.

    Whatever the heck any of that means.

  2. Facebook’s got me spoiled with it’s edit button. Edits I’d make:
    – Authoritative enough *for me* [not trying to say it’s actually simply not authoritative]
    – *Help me with motivation against porn [I find porn for various reasons dubious at best but found myself better armed against it when I felt I had Absolute Systematic Scripture on my side re: “lust”]

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