Can the Bible Make Sense of 21st Century Life?

Allen’s post this week hit on one of the fundamental mistakes we make with the Bible.

We often assume that the Bible is something which is calling us backward into some ideal time. We believe it to be a blueprint for life, church, society, whatever. So we try to cram all of our experiences and understanding into an outdated framework.

But as Allen beautifully pointed out, the Bible is really trying to call us forward.

Just read the first and last stories. In Eden, we see the world as it was intended. If the Bible was calling us backward to an ideal time, the whole progression of Scripture would be to return to the Garden.

But in Revelation, the Garden has grown. Not only has the Garden grown and expanded, there is now a city in it. The movement of history (and of the Bible) is God taking what is beautiful and good in the Garden, and moving it forward, deepening it, and expanding it.

Another mistake we make with the Bible is to take an all or nothing approach with it.

On the one hand, some folks view the Bible as a fourth member of the Trinity. Rather than being something that points us to God, it often takes the place of God in our life.

In reaction to that, other people decide the Bible is an old, outdated, useless book which speaks little if anything into our lives today.

Neither of these views is helpful.

So how can we take the Bible seriously without using it as a replacement for God or falling into the “blueprint” trap? How can we begin to make sense of what Scripture has to say 2000 years after its writing?

I want to offer a framework that is helpful to me.*

WesleyQuadTLCThe figure on the right has four spheres on it. These represent Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. These are the traditional elements for helping us make sense of God and our world.

Scripture is an important aspect of this. While the Bible causes some difficulty, it is still one of the most important ways for understanding God and how God interacts with human beings. On this particular model, Scripture is on the top.

Most people use that particular lens: Scripture is the most important of the four. If I am honest, I waiver on whether or not I agree with that. Which is why I have chosen the figure I did. This is a three-dimensional, MOVEABLE figure. So if something else needs to be on the top, it can be.

The second sphere is Tradition. 21st century Christianity did not pop out of nowhere. The Christian tradition has a 2000 year history, and all of the bumps and turns during that time influence how we think about things today.

As a simple example, our understanding of the Trinity and the Bible come out of a long journey and time of struggle in the Christian tradition. They have endured because they help us better understand our faith. Exploring tradition helps us see where ideas come from, and make us pay attention to the important ideas that have endured for centuries.

Third is Reason. All human being are in the process of trying to make sense of the world. Reason is a helpful tool for this. Reason helps us create a philosophy of life or a worldview. Reason has the hard task of trying to make sense of all the disparate elements of life. And while reason and rationality can only take us so far, they are important tools for making sense of life.

Finally, Experience. This sphere represents not only our own experience of God and the world, but listening to the experience of others. It takes into account the real-world problems and issues we encounter day after day.

Now, different traditions often emphasize one of these over the other, but in this model they are all interconnected. Think of the pink sections as influence. Each of these influences the other. Which is why this model is so helpful to me. No issues is elevated as the primary source for understanding God, they all interact.

For example, sometimes the Bible helps me understand my experience better: Why do the most important things in life often come through trial and suffering? The Bible explains this as Resurrection.

Other times, I need experience to understand the Bible. Perhaps an old way of thinking about God is suddenly changed because of an experience of God or another person (think Peter from Allen’s post).

When we pair reason and experience together, we get social science. How does our scientific understanding of the world and human beings better help explain how God works in the world or how we understand the Bible?

Each of these are important areas to think about. Part of the problem with elevating the Bible to a divine level is that it becomes immune to the other three spheres. All four need to work together.

Which leads us to the sphere in the middle. I chose this particular image because notice the pink is only half of the connection. In other words, the influence only goes one way.

At the center of all of this is the cross. However we want to understand the Bible, God, life, ourselves, others, whatever the central way of looking at things is the cross.

As Christians we believe that everything we need to know about God or the world or ourselves is revealed in the cross. The universe is cruciform. This does not change.

So when we think about God or the Bible or Experience or Tradition or Reason, we need to do so with the lens of the cross. If our experience, tradition, reason, or Scripture does not align with God being poured out for all of humanity through Jesus on the cross, we need to re-think it.

The cross is our lens for all of life.

I know this post is a little more academic than we normally do on here, but this framework is very helpful to me for putting the Bible in its rightful place. So much of the arguments surrounding Scripture come from a misunderstanding of the role of Scripture.

Scripture is a gift. A gift to help us encounter God and live into the life available to us in the real world. When we receive it as gift and allow it to interact with the realities of our lives, we will find God more present and available in all that we do.

But no matter how we view life, our task as Christian is to keep the cross as the central way to understand God, life, and our world.




* Nerd note: this is my adaptation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, with some help from Greg Boyd.

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