What is the Bible?

At Tuesday’s Family Chapel, we began to explore the complicated collection of writings we call the Bible. We started the conversation by asking, “When you walk into a bookstore or library, what section appeals to you most?” “Where do you go?” “What type of stories do you like and why?” The answers were varied and inspiring. Some shared the liked mystery novels. Others are fascinated by sea monsters and dragons. There are sea monsters and dragons in the Bible. Some like instructions and details while others like historical fiction. All of that is in the Bible too.

The Bible is a complicated collection of books.

Rob Bell, in his book What Is the Bible?, shares this, “The Bible is a library of books, written by forty or so authors, over roughly fifteen hundred years, on three continents. The library is vast and diverse and covers a massive amount of ground. At various moments over the past several thousand years, people made decisions about what books became part of their Bible and what books were left out. People wrote the books that became the Bible and then other people decided that those books would or would not be included in the Bible. These people had meetings and discussions and developed criteria and had more meetings and discussions, and eventually they made decisions. Decisions about what the Bible even is.”

Because of this, the Bible is challenging to read. Even more intimidating to approach. It is difficult to navigate. It takes a community, studying together, to understand the context. It takes prayers and discernment and the voice of God speaking through others to determine how these sacred writings apply to our own individual lives. There is no one correct way to engage the Bible.

Bell continues, “And it turns out that what they wrote about was love and fear and debt and duty and doubt and anger and skepticism and hate and technology and shame and hope and betrayal – the very struggles and issues we’re still talking about thousands of years later. And that’s why it’s so important to not read it like it dropped out of the sky. Because in doing so, you miss the solidarity that comes from realizing that this a profoundly human book.”

How well do you know the Bible? How often do you engage the scriptures? What are your favorite stories? Within its vast contents, where do you turn for guidance and strength, in hopes of discovering the truth?

No matter what your answers are, no matter how well you know the Good Book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans is a wonderful doorway for all of us to enter through. Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Rachel examines Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay.

Rachel Held Evans is an evangelical Episcopalian. She served on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and kept a busy schedule speaking at churches, conferences, and universities around the country. Her preferred writing fuel was animal crackers and red wine. In 2003, Evans married her college boyfriend, Dan Evans. The couple have two children. She attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee and was placed in a medically-induced coma in April of 2019 following an allergic reaction to medication for an infection. In early May, severe swelling of the brain worsened her condition and she died on May 4, 2019. I am grateful we have her wisdom, her insights, and her love of God and for God’s people preserved in her writing.

Theologian David Ford, in A Brief Introduction to Theology, says “The world’s religions have many millions of practicing members who try to apply their minds to their faith and its implications. Issues come up all the time which have no ready-made answers, or which have a range of possible answers. How is God (or Allah, or whatever comparable name one’s faith uses) involved in the world today and in our own lives? What should we teach our children? Is euthanasia wrong under all circumstances? What moral standards should be kept in a family, a school, a place of work, an army? What does modern science mean for our faith? Is there any explanation for evil? How do we understand death? What is my vocation in life? How do I interpret scripture? What authorities should I follow, and how far? What should our attitude to money be? What sort of priority should prayer and worship be? How can the truth of my belief be tested and my faith deepened?”

The first place of inquiry for most of the faithful is the holy scriptures of their tradition. For Christians, it is The Bible, which contains the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospels, and the New Testament. And, for Episcopalians, we also look towards The Book of Common Prayer! My hope, as we begin our study of Inspired is that we deepen our spirituality, finding new doorways and avenues to engage scripture. I believe Rachel’s book provides a theologically sound way to engage God’s story.

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