Grasping the Bible as a library

Quick post as I just want to dump some thoughts.

I’m partway through reading A New Kind Of Christianity by Brian McLaren. There are so many books out there for Christians (or just church-goers) looking for certainty in a world that seems to be turning away from the Bible. I’ve read a small sampling of them as I navigate recommendations and blurbs on websites. Some are just re-iterations of what passes for standard church teaching. Some ask questions about how we got here from there, and often have some good history, but have difficulty in presenting answers (which they don’t always want to do, anyway). And then a few successfully separate centuries of church-based teaching from the scriptures and manage to turn everything sideways.

McLaren is one of the latter. Currently I am in the part of the book where he argues the reader out of thinking of the Bible as an authoritative textbook. Because it is just not.

That’s where I am. McLaren has had scads of training in English Literature, not theology, and so his instinct is to see the Bible as a library of stories. I like that. It takes away the problem of whether it is literal history (I would argue not) and looks for the narrative and character traits.

It also puts the lie to attempts to distill a “single true answer” for any particular topic. The Bible is terrible at that, a fact too many church-goers do not grasp. Or maybe they’ve never been given encouragement to. This tendency is what underlies a lot of Fundamentalism, a fact I am not surprised by. It was a little distressing to hear a friend of mine in my previous bible study obliquely align to this stance, actually. His was far from the first study I had been a member of that did not tolerate dissenting views easily. Had everyone been conditioned to find a single correct answer? Possibly. Conservative church-teaching does that, I’ve noticed.

McLaren also talks about removing the later thinkers from the thinking. Just as we look at Jesus through Paul’s eyes, we also look at Paul looking at Jesus through Augustine’s eyes. And then there is Calvin, Luther, Graham, and many many many more scholars in between and off to the side. We should be aware of this so we can also look at Jesus without all that baggage. And that’s the same argument I’ve been making!

It’s good to find a writer who has been on a journey so similar to mine. 🙂

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3 Responses to Grasping the Bible as a library

  1. jesseevans says:

    I think your analysis of McLaren’s books is just off. The issue of his view of the bible not maintaining literal history is not something admirable. I think its careless to think of the bible is a library of stories. The bible is a library. But like any library you have history, poetry, est. The bible is more like that. Some parts should be taken as historical, some as law, some as poetry and so on. There is a way to take parts as literal historical and other parts as figurative language or even interpretive story. But to put it all under the banner of fictional or non literal stories is to me careless. Just a thought.

    • staticsan says:

      I think we do the work a grave disservice if we attempt to pick and choose which parts we take as historical records and which we don’t. I’ve been part of churches for decades that have been doing that and the teaching just goes in circles with double-think. On the other hand, taking *all* historical stories as true and accurate has already been shown to not work very well. More experienced writers than I have demonstrated that to a considerable degree.

      So now I am trying the other direction. And the interesting thing is that I am finding the scripture works substantially better when I do that. Older posts on this blog explain that further.

      • jesseevans says:

        Right. I grew up in a super conservative evangelical environment. I actually dont like that to much it taken at literal. The attitude of picking and choosing as you have said is annoying and doesn’t seem to make any sense. But Im actually not talking about picking and choosing. There is a such thing as being able to know literature. Some literature is meant to be taken literal and some figurative. Its actually important to know their are literary rules to follow. So i don’t advocate for picking and choosing. Im saying, its important to understand how certain genre’s of literature actually are intended to be read, and understood.

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