Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why I Do/Not Care For Bible Study

Since the 1960’s, the British church (in particular, perhaps, but not exclusively so, the evangelical tradition) has become increasingly familiar with the concept of small home-based mid-week meetings. And Bible-study has been a main-stay of such groups (in particular, perhaps, but not exclusively so, for the evangelical tradition). The approach has tended to be systematic – by book or topic – and this increased biblical knowledge has coincided with a marked decline in involvement in a church community within the general population. I’m not suggesting that bible-study has been responsible for this exodus; but it doesn’t appear to have equipped the Church for effective missional engagement with British society…

I have long advocated turning-on-its-head the traditional role of the Bible within the small community. My advice to such groups has been, when you meet together, do so over food; share what is going-on in your lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful; and ask, what resources does the [hi]story of God’s involvement with humanity offer this particular circumstance? In other words, rather than making an abstract, informational approach to the Bible, allow the Bible to approach us in an applied and transformational way. And, see the Bible as a story to enter-into, writing – with God – the next chapter in the trajectory between 100AD and Jesus’ future bodily return; as opposed to a scientific formula to be reproduced [I think we are mistaken when we try to faithfully reproduce the early church, because it was no utopia, and because to do so implies that the Holy Spirit has not lead the Church over the intervening 2000 years].

Ah, but I can only engage in such an approach because of the systematic-approach grounding in my past, the response comes back…without that, the end result will just be an inward-focused handling of the Bible, and increased biblical illiteracy. I’m not convinced: certainly, we need a community that is committed to familiarising itself with our bigger story, so that it can inhabit it. But the systematic approach seems to me more to do with Modernity’s obsession with classifying everything in an attempt to attain Full Knowledge (and thus prove that we no longer need to posit God as a means to fill-in the gaps) than it has to do with meditating on God’s Law night and day. And – moreover – I’m not convinced that many of my contemporaries and younger are going to be convinced of the validity of my faith in Jesus Christ by means of an apologetic based on systematic theology or Bible study; but I am more convinced in the effectiveness of an apologetic based on testimony and how we live as a community, seeking to love God and each other and our neighbour, in demonstrable practical expressions.

So, Bible – like worship – yes; but not as we have inherited it: it is time to lower the bar, by about 1’6”…from a cerebral approach to a visceral one; from study to ingestion.

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  1. These two posts, taken together, exude a certain arrogance. Every generation thinks it can do Christianity better than the generation that preceded it. Good luck with that project.

    Yes, I think you're prescribing a lack of intellectual rigor in the approach to the Bible. And I think a lack of intellectual rigor will bear bad fruit in the long run.

    I understand the problems you're attempting to respond to. We live in a society where Christianity has been thoroughly discredited: Christians aren't loving enough, the very existence of God is doubtful, the church as an institution has done much harm, and the notion that any religion can make any truth claims is passé.

    The solution you're proposing is that we bypass those problems instead of addressing them head on. Just love people and let Christianity win people over at the level of community.

    Why, then, did Paul work so hard at correcting the doctrine of his converts? Why did John set out to contradict the Gnosticism that was incipient in that era? The Gospel is a truth claim, and as such it must be defined correctly and defended against competing truth claims.

    I support revitalizing Christian community — but be careful about supposing that your spiritual forbears got it 100% backward. Just maybe they had some valid insights, and you're throwing out the baby with the dirty bathwater.

  2. Sorry you see arrogance. That is not my intention. But I must respond to your comments "Every generation thinks it can do Christianity better than the generation that preceded it. Good luck with that project." and "be careful about supposing that your spiritual forbears got it 100% backward. Just maybe they had some valid insights, and you're throwing out the baby with the dirty bathwater."

    Regarding the first, I am not foolish enough to think I - or my generation - will do Christianity better than my parents'...but that our different context requires that we "do Christianity" differently. Not better, or worse: as I umbrella-titled this series of posts, you have to change to stay the same. In every culture - which displays human fallenness/brokenness and human "made-in-God's-image-ness" - we are called to challenge the former and affirm the later. The good and the bad of modernity are different from the good and the bad of what came before and what will come after.

    Regarding the second, neither I nor anyone I know/know of involved with emerging church thinks that our spiritual forebears got it 100% backwards. Indeed, I see a greater appreciation for the length and breadth and depth of the Church - the strengths and beauties of her many traditions - among emerging church practitioners than I think there has been in the western church for a long time. No-one has got anything 100% backwards: each, in their turn, in their context, got some things right and some things wrong - and we shall do exactly the same. But we are not at liberty to opt-out of engaging with the Gospel in our context, for fear of getting things wrong.

    The gospel is a truth claim; though I must be careful in defining it as I see Jesus only as clearly as I would see my own face reflected in a polished brass disk, as the apostle Paul put it. And as for defending the gospel, as CS Lewis put it, the gospel - and the God behind the Good News - no more need defending than does a fierce lion...

    I need to finish, but would just say that I appreciate your joining this conversation, and look forward to more digital dialogue in the future : )