Monday, December 29, 2014

The Problem With What

The purpose of this blog is to look for the "why" of the bible. But what's so good about the "why" that we should have a whole blog on it?

Put another way, why aren't we focusing on the "what" of the bible?

What is the What?

When we read the bible looking for the "what" we're looking for the right answer. What am I supposed to do at church? What do I do to be saved? What makes a person a Christian? What sends a person to hell? What was the process of creation? What did the angels with eyes all over them do when they got sand in an eye? 

Okay, maybe that last one was a stretch, but you get the idea. 

The "what" is the attempt to extract all of the right answers from the bible. It treats scripture like the back of a math textbook where you flip to look for all the answers after you've tried to do the problem.

But the bible wasn't written to give us all of the whats (to be certain some of it was). Instead the bible is a collection of useful ideas that have consistently pointed God's people toward God throughout history.

Some of the bible tells people what not to do (don't murder, don't steal, don't abuse people, etc.). But some of the bible simply records people processing faith. The Psalms are full of poetry in which people praise God or doubt God or doubt and then praise God. Some of the bible tells us what happened in the past (like Kings and Chronicles), but other parts of the bible are more concerned with why things happened (like Esther or Job).

When we treat the whole bible as a what repository we're losing the distinctiveness of different parts of scripture, but we're also running the risk of missing out on the more important parts of the bible.

Why is the Heart

Jesus told the Pharisees and teachers of the law that they had mastered the finer points of the bible (for them the Hebrew scriptures) but neglected the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23). Those weightier matters are the why of scripture that we're trying to get to with this blog. The weightier matters, Jesus says they are: justice, mercy, and faithfulness, are why the bible was written. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandments he didn't refer to the prohibition against mixed cloth (Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:11), but instead told his questioner that loving God and loving neighbors summed up the entire purpose of the scriptures. 

Why gets us to What

Too often we try to take things the wrong way around. We move from what to why instead of from why to what.

The flow of understanding in Christendom for centuries has been to gain intellectual and verbal assent to a series of ideas and then hoping that a combination of guilt and shame will prevent people from doing wrong after that. The logic is very what-focused. 

What will happen to you when you die? What do you need to do to be saved? What church is the right church? What will keep me out of heaven? What will get me into heaven? 

The problem with using those as starting points is that the what rarely leads to the why. Trying to avoid hell when we die doesn't lead to self-sacrificial giving, godly love, seeking justice or loving mercy. It leads us -- as it did for the Pharisees -- to look for the minimum requirements we can meet to achieve our goals. 

Why, however, stops caring about the minimum requirements and instead focuses on the end result. Jesus calls us to be his disciples -- his students -- who obey his commands (which is a what), but the why of it is to love God, to love our neighbors, to love justice, mercy, and faith. The why of it is to become image bearers of God. The why of it is to have the image of Christ formed within us and to show that image to the world. 

The why of scripture can get us to the what, but the what of scripture rarely gets us to the why. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

What's at the Bible's Heart?

There are so many metaphors for the bible. So many ways to look at this ancient text. So many ways to attempt to decipher the message found inside its pages.

But what is the bible? At its heart, why does it exist? For whom was it written and why do people still read its words today?

We know the bible was not written as an instruction manual for life. Nor was it written as an historical chronicle of the world. Nor was it written to be a book of science or archaeology or cosmology or philosophy.

To be sure, the bible touches on all of those areas, but that's not the foundational why of scripture.

The purpose of this blog (as in the entire site) is to explore what that foundational why is and how it affects the way we view and obey scripture.

This work is, of necessity, fallible. We will make mistakes. We will turn down dead-end paths and not realized it until we've traveled many miles. We will make bold claims and need to recant. We will, through this blog, experiment with different ideas, not because we think we're right and other people are wrong, but because we think the process is worthwhile.

What process is that? You might ask.

The process of coming back to ask the hard questions about the bible. Not because they haven't already been asked, but because each person needs to ask those questions for themselves. It's not enough to simply accept the ideas of others when it comes to something like the bible. Learning how to read it, and more importantly, why to read it, is a journey that each person needs to take.

Our hope is that this blog will serve as a sort of map for that journey.

Here are a few basic rules that we'll attempt to follow:

  • No question is off limits. We'll ask the hardest questions we can about the bible (and take the hardest questions you have to offer). There is no danger in asking questions and seeking answers. 
  • No person is inherently bad or wrong. You can disagree with us and we can disagree with you, but we will not assume that you are wrong nor that we are right. That means no one has license to criticize people. We will ruthlessly critique ideas and at the same time defend the individuals proposing those ideas. 
  • No conclusion is final. It's natural for us to want to come to rest on an idea. That gives us a place from which to explore other ideas. But every conclusion is held loosely. We are not our conclusions and neither are you. We have changed our minds in the past and will do so again. 
  • No one's opinion is worth less. We will approach the bible through an historical-critical lens (because that's the way we've been trained), but when it comes to opinions (at the point where evidence is thin or absent), no person's opinion is better or worse than another's. 
  • No shouting, no name-calling and no threats. We want dialog. We want connection. We want to learn and grow through this experience. But dialog can only happen between equals on the same grounds. If you want to shout at people or denigrate others, this is NOT the place for you. Move along. Move along. 
  • No Logical Fallacies. Take a minute to review this list of logical fallacies. We're going to do our absolute best to not engage in any of them. We will fail at that. So will you. You have the right to call us on it and we'll call you on it. Our goal is to have a reasoned conversation based on evidence. Let's work together toward that goal.