Shortcuts for Reading the Bible as Story

Hangin’ With Scot McKnight in Akron

Scot McKnight spoke to some pastors and ministry leaders in Akron today, and we benefited from his wisdom on reading the Bible. His contention is that the only way to properly read the Bible is to see it as a story. It has a plotline, looking something like this:

  1. We were created as the Eikons (image) of God (Genesis 1-2)
  2. We became cracked Eikons (Genesis 3)
  3. The cracked Eikons make a mess of things (Genesis 4-11)
  4. God creates a covenanted community, the people of God (Genesis 12)
  5. Jesus Christ is the perfect Eikon of God (New Testament)
  6. The new community of God is being conformed into the Eikon of God (the church)
  7. The consummation – when the community is perfected in the eternal dance in relationship with each other and the Trinitarian God

What gets in the way of our rightly reading the Bible is that we stop thinking of it as the story of God. this takes too much time, effort, discerning, so we’ve developed shortcuts to get us to our goal sooner.

Here are the shortcuts that Scot shared with us today. It got us all thinking about how we personally approach the Bible, and also about how we train our congregations in approaching the Bible. These shortcuts are found in Scot’s book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, chapter 3, pp. 44-54.

SHORTCUT 1: Morsels of Law
The Bible is merely a collection of laws – what God wants us to do or not to do. God is seen as primarily a law-giver, and our relationship with God revolves around our obedience to these laws.

Christians using this shortcut read every passage looking for the commands of God. They become only concerned with being right and ultimately become judgmental of others. The Bible certainly has laws and commands, but these are nestled into the story of God’s redemption, and to divorce it from that does grave harm to the Bible.

SHORTCUT 2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises
Scot talked about Bible-verse calendars that offer a single verse (or just a portion of a verse) for each day of the year. The purpose of such calendars is to provide a little bit of blessing or feel-good promise for your daily Christian walk. He wrote the publisher of one of these calendars, offering that he could come up with 365 days of threats of God’s wrath (they weren’t too keen on the idea).

When we read the Bible as disconnected morsels of truth or blessing or promise, we become disconnected with reality. Life is not made up of single verses that make us feel upbeat. And the Bible certainly is not all upbeat. It is a very real book, with very real hardship and sin and the ugliness of life.

SHORTCUT 3: Inkblots
The Rorschach tests that psychologists give are meant to understand what you project onto the picture (if you see a pelvic bone in this picture, that means they had better send you to the Freudian therapist!)

Many people project onto the Bible what they want to see. Democrats see a liberal Jesus. Republicans see a conservative Jesus. Instead of honestly trying to become more like Jesus, most Christians actually try to make Jesus more like themselves.

“Instead of being swept into the Bible’s story, Rorschach thinkers sweep the Bible up into their own story. Instead of being an opportunity for redemption, the Bible becomes an opportunity for narcissism."

SHORTCUT 4: The Puzzlers
Many of us have been taught to see the Bible as a puzzle, and once you’ve solved the puzzle, you no longer have to deal with the individual pieces. Once you’ve created a systematic theology that connects all the pieces together, you’re work is done.

The first problem with puzzling is that we assume that we already know what the grand system, the picture on the puzzle’s box, really is. The second problem is that once we’ve determined what that grand system is, we end up ignoring the pieces of the puzzle that don’t fit. So, passages that do not fit our categories of theology get swept under the rug as if they don’t exist – after all, they’re not part of the picture that we’ve dreamt up that makes the pieces of this puzzle link together.

However, this is not the Bible that we have – the Bible is not a systematic theology book, it is a story. And that suggests that the best way to systematize the Bible is to keep it the way it is: Keep it as a story.

SHORTCUT 5: Maestros
Scot told stories of eating wonderful dinners in Italy, where “maestros” of culinary skill make the finest risotto. He loves risotto, so he goes back to his home in Illinois and attempts to replicate what the maestro made.

When we approach the Bible, many of us attempt to find a maestro – a master teacher through whom we can make sense of the rest of the Bible. It makes sense, for instance, to make Jesus our maestro. However, there is a lot more Bible than the red letters.

Others make Paul their maestro, but in doing so, Jesus becomes overwhelmed by Paul’s way of thinking. For many evangelicals, Romans is the lens through which all the rest of the Bible is read.

But the beauty of the Bible is that we get to hear many voices, singing their own particular part of the song. We need to hear the whole choir in order to rightly read the Bible, not just a soloist.


Byron Harvey said...

So long as we understand--as Scot and you do, but some miss--that the entire Bible works together, points to Christ as its central theme, and contains no internal contradictions, Scot's analysis is great; wish I could have made that gathering. I have wondered if adding Blue Parakeet to my reading list would be worthwhile, and it seems like it would.

Of course, that would lengthen my backlog from 3 years, 4 months to 3 years, 4 months, and 10 days.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, good. Glad Scot was able to be with you folks. I need to read or reread that book again. Important stuff.