The Bible can raise a lot of hell. Discussing what’s in the Bible or what people think is in the Bible can get heated. So how can you understand and talk about the Bible without people losing their minds or their faith?
A guest post from Rev. Brian Glubish. Brian is a friend and near neighbour. This summer we sat on his cabin deck and talked about his experiences with students of the Bible. I’m sharing Brian’s insights and how you can be better equipped to read and understand the Bible for all its worth.
What About the Bible?
Do you take the Bible literally?
With that loaded question I would begin each year’s course in Hermeneutics, that is, the study of how the Bible is to be interpreted. Without fail I would get a variety of responses. “Yes! Of course! It is God’s Word!” A few brave students would answer, “Not necessarily.” Others were reticent to voice their opinion lest they got judged by the “Of course!” enthusiasts. Perhaps they were also worried they might get in the prof’s bad books if they didn’t toe the party line (whatever that line was).
A Teetering Cross
For over ten years I have kept a note tucked into my Bible. It was given to a university professor friend of mine, and it has served many times as a sober reminder of the importance of the need for understanding basic principles for interpreting Scripture.
On the note is sketched a cross with a square inserted near the base. An arrow points to that square with the label: “flood.” At the top of the picture are two arrows indicating that the cross is shaking.
Accompanying the sketch are these words: “I think that the contradiction of the flood taught in Sunday school and the geological evidence is part of the reason I lost my faith a long time ago. Maybe, if we had been taught hermeneutical principles in Sunday school, I would still have my faith today…I am too critical of the Christian faith, and I don’t think I will return.”
When Faith Is Challenged
What a simple but powerful depiction of what many students deal with, whether in high school or university. Any number of labels could be attached to that square that undermines the cross–their faith. Origins. Age of the earth. Problem of evil. Hypocrisy of Christians. Outdated rules. Is the Bible true?
Is your cross shaking? Maybe just a bit? What honest issues might be causing faith doubts for you?
“Maybe if I had been taught hermeneutical principles…I would still have my faith today.” Maybe! Certainly other factors contribute to the abandoning of one’s faith. But let’s at least address the issue of how to read the Bible properly.
Make no mistake. Our high school and university students often find their faith challenged, their beliefs ridiculed. But much of that challenge and ridicule is based on a simplistic, under-examined question: Is the Bible true?
Perhaps the better question is: In what sense is the Bible true?
So, how can our churches expect their students to trust the Bible?
An Opened Bible
First, it might be a good idea to read it! Let us breathe the air of the biblical times. Know what it really says. Know what truth claims Scripture really makes. I am saddened by how many Christians feel they are defending God as they fight about the Bible and condemn others who disagree with their interpretation of some verses. When all along what they are defending may be a misinterpretation. Can someone else really be a brother or sister in Christ if they don’t agree with your theory on 666?
As well, it is crucial to recognize that the Bible was written in different genres. Poetry. Narrative. Epistle. Wisdom. Each type of literature enriches the truth God is conveying through the inspired text. So, we must be carefully diligent to appreciate the craft and intent of each writer, and the intent of the Ultimate Writer or Inspirer.
This Fall I have the privilege of offering an undergraduate course at the University of Alberta—Principles of Biblical Interpretation. It will be an online asynchronous course (a student can begin taking it anytime throughout the year). Check the listing in the University’s catalogue, Bear Tracks (CHRTC 203).
My aim is not merely to impart solid teaching on “how to read the Bible for all its worth.” Spoiler alert! That might be the title of the course textbook (along with the Bible!).
I aim to give students valuable tools with which they can diligently study God’s Word, apply it to their life and culture, and thereby build a solid foundation for their faith. And it’s a full 3-credit course to boot!
As Christians we don’t have all the answers to every question about the Bible. But we can equip ourselves so that we don’t end up quitting the faith over easily resolved issues of interpretation. Let this tragic testimony fuel your passion to study God’s Word: “if I had been taught hermeneutical principles I would not have left the faith.”
Let us do our best to present ourselves to God, as laborers who correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). And that is indeed an act of worship.
What are your questions about the Bible? Do you have a “label” that fits in the square at the bottom of the cross? Please leave your comment at the bottom of this post. Thank you.
More from Dr. Brian Glubish – Confessions of a Proverbial Fool – How to memorize Scripture and why its good for you.
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