The Bible: Encyclopedia or Narrative?


Several years ago when I read, A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, my faith was shaken. I finished the book with far more questions than I had when I began the book. One of my struggles was how to regard the Bible. I wondered, “Is it some sort of manual for living or is it more of a narrative tracking the interaction between God and humankind, expressed in the culture and understanding of the times?”

I was such a die hard Bible guy that it was difficult for me not to use terms like “verbal”, “plenary”, and “original manuscripts” in describing what I believed. It was actually difficult for me accept what the Bible says about itself and not try to force it into a framework to fit my theology.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT)

This description of the place of the Scriptures actually stops short of many conservative views. One of the awesome things about these verses is how practical they are. In essence, it says, Scripture teaches us how to live. That is a lot different than the emphasis in conservative circles that teaches the value of knowing the Scriptures, versus the value of living out their teaching.

The other thing that drove me to the narrative persuasion was the tendency that Christians have of way picking and choosing which passages they want to take literally, which ones they tend to emphasize, and which ones they ignore. Passages about homosexuality, yes. Passages about women covering their heads in church services and sins like gluttony, not so much.

I was taught that I should be reading the Bible every day and I should master its content. It was as if exposure to its words was some sort of magic pill that would make me a better Christian. I hardly missed a day of Bible reading for decades and it didn’t work. I have diligently studied several of the books of the Bible in depth. I have taught many of them verse-by-verse. At some time or other, I have studied all sixty-six books. That didn’t work either.

The Bible is not a magic pill, nor is it a text book for academic research. It is the narrative between God and man throughout the ages. Its lessons are ultimately only meaningful if they are lived out and affect our daily lives. I already have a lot of knowledge, now it is time for me to act on it.

– From my forthcoming book, An Irreligious Faith.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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