What's Tony Thinking

A Very Different BS


My last post here was “On Bullshit.”

Today I again want to focus on BS, but of a very different variety.

Bible Study.

One evening this week I walked the 1.5 miles to Quest Church in our Seattle neighborhood, Ballard, to take part in “Immerse Bible Study.”

We had each read the Old Testament “Book of Judges” and “Book of Ruth” in toto.

First we prayed, then we discussed all that we had read. For me it was refreshing. Why? Because it was believers standing beneath the text, exploring its message about the nature and purposes of God, and the significance of that for our own lives.

When “bible study” takes place in the mainline/liberal/ progressive churches — and it is rare — people often take a superior position to the text. We say, “I don’t like this,” or “I am offended by that.”

Conservatives often do no better. Cherry-picking the Bible for texts that support pre-determined agendas and ideologies is standard.

That is, we examine the biblical text. We stand over it.

Another path, that of people who understand the Bible as “Scripture,” is to wonder how the text might examine us. “How might God be speaking to, questioning us, through these ancient words, these primordial stories?”

“Those who approach the Bible as Scripture, then do so in company with other faithful folks in order to be transformed by God. They will be less interested in having their own questions answered than in opening themselves up to the questions God has in store for them. They will not think of the Bible as a tool to be used like an inert object, but as a divinely appointed setting for encountering a living Subject (i.e., God). In short, reading the Bible as Scripture involves approaching it as an act of worship.” A Concise Guide to the New Testament, David R. Nienhuis, Baker Publishing, 2018. (italics added)

We were a small group. Five. As Quest Church is diverse racially and ethnically, so was our group. And young. Most in their 20’s and 30’s. I was the oldster.

A Somali woman, refugee, 7 and a half month pregnant, said in response to a question about what the reading said to her about God’s character offered, “God is a warrior.” That would not have passed muster in an upper, middle class progressive church. (“I’m turned off by militaristic images,” someone would say.) Maybe if you’ve been through what Somali refugees have been through “God as a warrior” means something I can’t comprehend.

For a long time now, mainline and progressive Protestant churches have taken Scripture for granted. We hold it at arm’s length. We are embarrassed by it. We consign it to “professionals” (who have been to seminary). We don’t take it seriously. We nod to it in our Sunday morning readings, but we don’t know it, not really. It is not a dialogue partner, a means through which God speaks to us. It does not create a world for us, which is surely its intention.

During a congregational meeting at a church I served, a lovely older gentleman said he was “quite content to leave the Bible to the fundamentalists.” Warm applause. A younger member stood up to say he, respectfully, thought that a “terrible mistake.” Awkward silence. No applause.

I turned up at the bible study at Quest because I love Scripture. And I believe that exploring it together in community is a way of opening ourselves to the transforming power of God. Eugene Peterson, R.I.P., was right when he titled his winsome translation of the Bible, “The Message.” Scripture is God’s Message to us.

Is it easy to understand? No. It is, as Fred Buechner memorably put it, “an Irish stew of a book.” Is it often twisted or misused? Absolutely. Does it have a strange power to re-create us, to give us a new world? I not only believe that to be true — I’ve seen it happen.

My dear friend, Fleming Rutledge, in an essay on what ails the mainline church said that it comes down this — to what Jesus said to the feckless religious establishment of his own day in Matthew 22: 29. “You are wrong,” said Jesus to the religious leaders, “because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”

The two are inextricable: a knowledge of Scripture and of the power of God.

Well, for many I’m afraid bible study is BS of the more conventional variety.

But consider this, every major renewal movement in the synagogue and church, has been prompted and funded by a rediscovery of the Scriptures, in scholar James Smart’s words, “of the strange new world of the Bible.”




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