Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lessons I have Learned: 1. The Importance of the Bible (Part 1)

Well, I didn't quite make it by the end of last week with the first post in this new series, itself a part of my Personal Journey Series. Part of the reason is that I wanted to finish reading the Summing Up by Somerset Maugham. In his own way he does in that book what I am trying to do in this series of blogs, although he writes much better than I do! He went on to live for the best part of thirty years after he wrote the Summing Up and I have to confess that I hope I do too. He spends a great deal of time talking about his life as a writer and his approach to writing. Not unreasonably given his career as a writer.

What I found particularly fascinating was that his attitude to being a writer was very similar to my own attitude to being a preacher and there is still a great deal of helpful advice in what he writes that I think a preacher could use today. Advice about getting out among people and living life so that you know your readership, for example. But I digress.

I have been thinking about this blog series, though, and preached on the Bible last Sunday. It's on the web-site for those motivated enough to listen to it. I will be preaching on the Bible again this coming week. How could I not with 2 Timothy 3:16 as part of the readings? I also have a confirmation class to lead tonight. You've guessed it. It's on the Bible!

Anyway, I certainly can't say all I want to say about the Bible in one blog, so I am afraid the account of this first lesson I have learned is going to be in several parts. How many parts I really don't know!

Lessons I have Learned: The Importance of the Bible (Part 1)

When I became a Christian one of the things that was most stressed to me was the importance and authority of the Bible. The Bible was the Word of God. It was without contradiction and could be relied on completely. It was infallible and inerrant. Indeed, so great was the emphasis on its divine inspiration and divine character that the role of the individual writers was rather lost sight of. The great enemies were those who failed to take the Bible seriously, that is, those who did not see the Bible in this way. They included liberal Christians, on the one hand, and Roman Catholics, on the other.

This view of Biblical authority was the position of both my friends in the House Church movement and of my Anglican Church on the Wirral. It was the view of my friends and of most of the people I mixed with.

Now before anyone smiles smugly and says that such people are naïve and misguided, it is worth saying that this conviction at least led us to read the Bible. In fact, we read it regularly, thoroughly, and enthusiastically. I still have my Bible from those days. It has no paragraph headings, drawings, or notes. It is just page after page of dense text, all in Shakespearean English, that is to say, it was the King James Version translation of the Bible.

None of this bothered us precisely because we were convinced that the Bible was the Word of God, and, if it was the Word of God, why would it bother us? If this was a communication from God, what mattered was to get on and read it, understand it, and obey it.

Things have moved on since those days, and we all have modern translations that are clearly laid out with headings and paragraphs, and every conceivable aid to help us understand it. Of course, we place far more emphasis on the humanity of Scripture and the problems of interpretation now, so that even if – and it is a big if – we think we know what a passage says, we still have trouble working what it means today and even more of a problem obeying it.

Given a simple choice between the attitude we had back then of seeing the Bible as the divine Word of God and the contemporary view which, while seeing it as a divinely inspired text, sees so many problems with interpreting it that you are exhausted even before you have begun, I know which I would choose.

For all the advances we have made in understanding the Bible, do we now read the Bible more? I don’t think so? And even when we do read it, do we have a clue what to do with it? I am reading a book on the Bible by a leading evangelical at the moment. While helpful in many ways, it focuses on the problems in reading and understanding the Bible. This I suggest is how many preachers and teachers approach it. It’s hardly any wonder, then, that people are discouraged before they begin.

I am glad then, for all its problems, I began my Christian life with the view that the Bible is the Word of God to be listened to and obeyed. Simplistic maybe, but at least it meant I read the Bible, went to discussions about the Bible, attended conferences about the Bible, memorized the Bible, enjoyed sermons about the Bible, and bought books explaining the Bible. It was also why when the time came to decide what to do after sixth form, I decided to study for a degree, not at a University, but at a Bible College.

The College I decided to go to was London Bible College, now renamed as London Theological College. But what’s in a name? Quite a lot, I think.

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