Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bible Abuse

One 80 year old veteran Baptist church-goer recently told me that “you can get the Bible to prove just about anything”. This statement was his justification to dismiss the Bible; because it is impossible to understand.

Judging by some of my recent 9th grade Bible Instruction Class students’ glazed expressions, I wonder if they think like this 80 year old. In fact, one of my steepest obstacles with each year’s Bible Instruction Class is to convince the students that studying the Bible is worth it.

But then, what does it mean that Bible study is "worth it”? Unfortunately, to some of us, the Bible is worth something because it is a Pepto-Bismol devotional crutch we use to salve our emotional upsets. Taken in this light, the Bible has value if it makes us feel better. Thus, we gut the Bible of its prescriptive content and moral directives.

I talked recently with a believer who kept searching his Bible and praying for peace before he made a wrong decision. He wanted encouragement from the Bible but not exhortation. His prayer could very well have been, “Lord, make me feel better about my disobedience toward you. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.”

So how do we get kids to want to move beyond Biblical illiteracy?

1. Pray for them.
2. Provide real life applications to increase the practical value of the Bible's message.
3. Your Ideas Welcome Here:


  1. In relation to myself, I have often wondered exactly what you ask here. I wonder why I read the Bible? Often times I get absolutely nothing out of it. Sometimes I feel like I know it all already (but that is just my arrogance talking). When I really think about it though, the times that the Bible has done the most for me is when I was doing something. For example, the teachings of Matthew 25 are especially pertinent when ministering to the homeless and hungry, when going to the prisons to serve even those guilty of the vilest crimes. These activities also relate to passages about doing justice and God desiring mercy not sacrifices. Or as another example, the passages where Jesus goes off by himself in the mountains can mean an awful lot rock climbing and camping in the mountains. The bible should not simply be read in isolation. Most of the books were written to be read aloud to large groups, and it is in situation like that where people (not just kids) move beyond biblical illiteracy.

  2. I like your response. I'll have to ponder that awhile to see how I can bring the Bible into my students' reality.

  3. Brent, I'm glad your post on the Bible is labled "what peeves me". I'm no pastor, but that might be approaching the threshold of the sacreligious...?

    I wonder, though, if the whole way we phrase the question--how can I get them to value the Bible...what can we do about illiteracy...why won't they really embrace this like its the Word of God--misses the opportunity in such a struggle. Theology, afterall,is contextualized by language, culture, and the questions we ask as we attempt to "think" through our faith. So when we confess with the historic church that the Bible is "inspired" and "authoritative" we need to also explore what this means in our present context--and when working with a 9th grader who has (perhaps) a warped view of "authority". I've got no answers here b/c I struggle with this in working with kids too and have never felt too "successful" at that. But what I'm suggesting is changing the set of questions--how does the Bible function as the Word of God in our present context? What would it mean for Scripture to be "authoritative" for a 9th Grader in BIC (not that authority is a concept that can mean anything, but it must be contextualized/translated)?

    It's always easier to just add another question...

    Another way I have wrestled with this question is to move the Bible from an object to be dissected to a ground/place/location for encounter with God. I know this dodges the "illiteracy" question and trades it for an "experiential" response, but certainly the bigger question here for our students is "do they know God?" and not "do they know about God?" I know I'm operating here with a false dichotomy...but I'm just trying to challenge the question of illiteracy from another angle.

  4. Scott,
    I really like your second approach...the experiential encounter with God. Is this similar to the previous comment on this post by Old Man Charon? The drawbacks of using the encounter approach only (if exercised without humility) could be, in my opinion, to USE the Bible.
    Regarding authority, I think what I want in a Biblically literate student is the ability to understand the ways of God and his nature, in the stories and teachings of the Bible. I am beginning to see well intentioned young Christians pray and seek God without a knowledge of the Bible's stories and instructive nature and their decisions are without biblical moorings or reference. They make decisions antithetical to the Bible's teachings while convinced that they are doing God's will; they are ignorant.
    Parker Palmer talks about the "Subject" of study and how it interacts with the Student. hmmm.

  5. What I mean by the "experiential" approach would be the opposite of using the Bible (in an instrumental, means-ends kind of way). What I had in mind is learning to stand-under and within the stories--particularly the Psalms in such a way that they realize that they encounter God in Scripture. I think of spiritual retreats we used to do in Vancouver, and when a student would "get" praying a Psalm, or walk through the stations of the cross (which we set up in a way that tells the story of the crucifixion), there is a way in which Scripture "came alive" apart from moral instruction or theological propositions about faith and God...

    But setting up those exercises are difficult and really hit or miss. That is why my first question--in what way does the Bible function as God's Word--is an important one (in my view) to keep in front of us.

    I have been reading a lot of Paul Ricoeur lately...and he talks about the encounter with narrative--that the word (narrative) redescribes the world of the reader...and he writes this without any sense of the Holy Spirit! Anyway, I've gone on long enough.

  6. Reading the other posts, I wonder how effective individual experiences or study would actually be. Like I said in my earlier comment, Scripture was not written to one person or for individuals. Theology and study is something meant for groups. Even if a person prays a psalm or walks the stations of the cross, that one will not understand Scripture any better as long as it is done alone. The Bible is meant for groups; how can one person have an experience with God outside of the community of faith?

  7. Old man charon...I completely agree. The examples I gave were from a retreat setting, where people engaged in practices and group reflection, shared meals and communion. There is always a centripetal (sp?) and centrifugal (sp?) (I'm trying to say going out away from a center and going back in towards a center...) nature to Christian community and thus also Christian practices. We are the church when we gather, we are also the church when we go out into our occupations/families/hobbies--when we go out into the world. Similarly, the individual is not swallowed up by the group, nor is the group peripheral to the individual. I would agree with your concern for engaging Scripture in community, but there is a rhythm to these practices, that I intended to imply with my examples.

    As for the question about an experience of God outside the community of faith--I must beg to differ. I would argue that the God-world relationship is primary to the God-church relationship in that the Scriptural narrative points to God's concern for all of creation to be reconciled in Christ (col 1, Rev 21 are great pictures of this). So although the Christian community is in a unique place as a redeemed/reconciled community, that does not exclude God's active, revealing, and redemptive work beyond (and/or) apart from the community.

    Thanks for the conversation, these are always a set of issues that I wrestle with. It's fun to dialogue about this...