Someone once summed up the Bible as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. I want to slap that person. I really do. There are a few reasons why I dislike this approach to reading scripture.
|Source: Garry Wilmore|
- It takes the focus of scripture off God and places it onto the individual.
- It represents an escape pod view of redemption where the Christian hope is in flying off to a Heavenly existence rather than the recreation and restoration of all creation.
- It tends to lead to a self-help view of Christianity - an individualistic reading of scripture which becomes primarily about what the individual can get out of the Bible.
- It’s an overly simplistic treatment of the Bible which ignores that there is a great wealth of literary genres in the Bible from poetry to history to instruction.
But most of all, viewing the Bible as an instruction manual is quite possibly the most boring way to look at the Bible in existence. I’m a male; I don’t like instruction manuals. I can’t remember the last time I actually read a computer game manual before sitting down to play the game (in my rush to play the game I often find myself barely able to sit through the opening cinematic sequence). To me, the manual is just the designer’s opinion on how the game should be played. So you’ll have to excuse me if I have a problem with the Bible being placed in the same category as IKEA manuals.
Part of the reason for the popularity of this approach I think has been our emphasis as evangelicals on “a chapter a day keeps the Devil away” where we work through a book over a set amount of time reading small chunks of it every day. Now this arose partly as a result of churches splitting up scripture into bite sized pieces that could be read out at certain points during a church service. This approach isn’t inherently wrong and it can be useful to just concentrate on a small section of scripture. But we can forget that chapters and verses are a relatively recent addition to the Bible.
The books of the Bible were originally written to be read as a whole, especially the New Testament which is largely a collection of letters. Many of the Old Testament books such as Ruth and Jonah are also meant to be read in one sitting. Or for another example: try making sense of the book of Job by reading it a chapter a day. The chances are you will probably get confused because the book is structured as a dialogue between several people. It is much easier to understand to get a feel for the flow of the book if you read it as a whole.
It’s similar to how some of us will spend a whole day reading a great novel or spend our Saturday binge watching an entire season of our favourite TV show. When you do this you may not remember all the details of the story but you get a better grasp of the story arc and character development. You see things you wouldn’t normally notice if you were to consume the story in small chunks because you are now looking at the big picture.
I want to suggest a similar approach to reading the Bible, an approach that is much more exciting than simply reading it as an instruction manual for life. I want to suggest understanding the Bible as a six act drama that tells the story of God’s relationship with humankind - past, present, and future. And the exciting thing is that this approach invites us into the drama, an act that changes us rather than leaving us as a passive audience. Over the next few posts we will examine the Bible in the context of this drama framework, seeing how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament and where the story is going.