Thinking Out Loud

August 9, 2018

Reflections on Bible Reading is Truly Inspired

A Review of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

Sometimes you find a term online which helps you describe something for which you didn’t know there was a word. In this case, the word is memoirist. A quick check this morning revealed that I’ve actually read all of Rachel Held Evans’ output, and I can’t help but notice in this personal, subjective approach to the Bible there is a striking similarity to the writing of Philip Yancey. If you know how I feel about Yancey, you know this is high praise indeed.

Inspired is, at least ostensibly, a look at the different genres in our scriptures. Anyone familiar with The Bible Project videos is aware that we need to read each of these genres differently and interpret them — both in terms of original meaning and present-day application — in terms of the rules for that type of literature.

Or maybe not. In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as “wisdom stories,” existing alongside “war stories,” “deliverance stories,” “gospel stories,” “origin stories,” and yes, in a category by themselves, “fish stories.”

A gifted writer who grew up in church and researches well, she doesn’t begin to annotate all the background material which went into each chapter. If you did grow up in church, as with her other works, there is a sense in which her story is your story. I found that many of her own experiences resonated with my own.

But there’s also a sense in which this book is aimed at potentially new Bible readers; seekers and recent converts alike who are trying to find the common threads which knit the 66 books in the Protestant canon into a unified, single story. A strength of her classification methodology is that it allows her to blend First Testament and Second Testament material seamlessly.

In between chapters there are some almost whimsical narratives of her own. One places Job in a modern context with his ‘friends’ discussing his recent hardships in a cafeteria. This one deserves becoming a short film.

Rachel Held Evans is viewed as a progressive, and there are certainly some indications of this at a few junctures in her book, but for the most part, it’s about her conservative roots and the reading perspective on the Bible those roots handed her.

I invite you to see for yourself, there are excerpts from the book here (resistance stories, including their similarity to American’s Civil Rights Movement) and here (war stories, including the so-called ‘texts of terror.’)

 

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October 7, 2017

Bible Verse Numbers: Blessing or Curse?

Go to bible verses

1From Paul, a blogger at Thinking Out Loud, to the church online;
2Greetings and welcome to today’s topic.

3Can you imagine if I were to write a book and give a number to every one or two sentences?
4It would break up the reading for sure,
5And people would consider it somewhat pompous.
6While it might be helpful in an historical account, it would surely break up the flow in a romance story or a parable.
7And poetry would be rather awkward.

8Yet this is what happens when we read the Bible.
9Because we have such easy, pinpoint access to particular phrases, we are able to focus on those.
10And we often miss the context in which they are being said,
11Or worse, we over emphasize them to the exclusion of other truths.

12So one reader believes he “can do all things,” but can he fly an airplane?
13Another believes God has “plans to prosper” him, but what if he doesn’t see material blessing?
14Yet one more thinks that the parenting she has done assures her children “will not depart from it,” but is that an automatic guarantee or just a statement of principle?

15Churches teach that “all these things shall be added unto you,” but the context is the basic necessities of life, not everything we desire.
16Or that, “all things work together for good,” which is simply a bad translation of the verb.
17Or that, “not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able,” means that God will never give you more than you can handle.

18God is good, and God can be trusted, but if we are to take him at his word, we need to read it properly and in full context.
19Sometimes the verse numbers mitigate against that.
20So we need to be more careful, and more studious in our reading.
21And perhaps we need to be more aware and more embracing of those recent publications which present the Bible as a single story,
22And those translations which relegate the verse numbers to a place of lesser prominence.

23The grace of our Lord be with you all; Amen.

May 30, 2011

Reconstructing Bible Times

Over the weekend I’ve been almost randomly paging through a type of book which has, so far, been foreign to my experience.  It’s one of those Bible reference books which attempts to give readers a fuller understanding of life during the Old Testament and/or New Testament times.  Some popular books in this genre include:

  • The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times, Revised and Updated by Ralph Gower
  • Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim
  • Everyday Life in Bible Times by Arthur Klinck
  • Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word by Moises Silva, releasing in August from Zondervan

I guess part of the reason I’ve never been drawn to reading these is because (a) I rely on people like Ray VanderLaan to fill in those blanks, and (b) I grew up in an experimental middle school and high school environment which left me with very little studies in and appreciation for history, let alone archeology.

The book I was reading was Harper’s Encylopedia of Bible Life by Madelieine S. and J. Lane Miller (Castle Books edn. orig. published by Harper & Row in 1978; out of print) and in particular a section on The Life of the Farmer which runs from page 144 to 188.  Yeah…imagine… me reading about farming.  But I digress.

What so impressed me about this — and it was only part way through I developed a full understanding of what I was reading — was that instead of just presenting the data, they assembled all of the Old and New Testament scriptures which have any reference to agriculture, and created a fictional character, Abiram, and wrote about the typical routines for himself and his family in various sections of the agricultural calendar year.  This is Biblical fiction done with research taken to the nth degree.

This was not hastily put together in an afternoon.

It showed, among other things, a very high regard for scripture; hardly a paragraph went by without multiple references, several of which I stopped to look up.   And the insights that it brought out lined up with other scripture passages that were already familiar, bringing them to even greater life; a few of which I also stopped to read again.

This type of study can only enrich your Bible reading, but realizing that many of you are, like I was, somewhat distant from Bible reference texts of all kinds, I want to give you another option.  Rob Bell — yes, that Rob Bell that you’ve been hearing so much about lately — has done some excellent messages both at his home church and at Willow Creek.  I tried to find one from “Summer at the Creek” from 2010 where he explained the background behind, “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two;” but even though I watched it just a few days ago, it seems to have vanished off their site.    But you can get some older ones from the Seeds Bookstore, look for the New Community (dark brown) logo on this window.  (Dust and Day of Atonement are recommended; Dust is a much longer exposition of the material on the Nooma DVD.)  

Or check out the material from Ray VanderLaan in his various DVD series.  These are expensive to purchase, so it’s recommended they be bought for group use.

There is so much depth in scripture — especially scripture where analogies and parables are so tied to agrarian culture — that we miss reading through the lens of our 21st century life.  Resources like this help us to see the things that give the stories greater a greater richness.

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