The Bible as Witness to Jesus (2)

The New Testament claims that the Author of it all, the God who has shaped humans out of the stuff of earth and breathed life into them, the God who has taken up the writings of Scripture and “breathed” life-giving power into them—this God has entered the human story in Jesus.

Take a look at the opening words of Hebrews, for example: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” Jesus is this “Son” who is the very voice of God in “these last days,” this time in which God is bringing to completion God’s purposes for human history. The passage goes on to say this about God’s Son, Jesus: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb 1:1-3).

Rouault Christ DisciplesIt’s quite the statement. Jesus has come, and everything has changed. God still speaks to us in many different ways—through creation, through each other, through many surprising ways, and yes, through Scripture, written by many different prophets and apostles in the past. But Scripture is no longer the best voice of God we have. We now have a better Voice of God, an exact imprint of God: Jesus.

This idea is expressed in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. Colossians describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God,” the one in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” and thus the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 1:15-18; 2:3, 9). Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”—in other words, the authority of God (Matt 28:18-20). Revelation describes Jesus as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”—that is, the one who brings together the whole of human history (Rev 22:13).

But there’s one passage that highlights this truth in an especially profound way: the opening to John’s Gospel. Take a fresh look at some of those most familiar statements.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus is the eternal, divine “Word”; Jesus is God’s eternal message, the message God has been speaking from eternity past.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17). The eternal, divine “Word,” God’s eternal message, the message God has been speaking from eternity past, has become human and lived among us in Jesus of Nazareth. This Living Word, this living message of God, is connected to the messages God has given before, like the Law of Moses, but it’s also different: it is the embodied message of God’s grace and truth, the enfleshed glory of God.

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus of Nazareth, God’s unique Son, the eternal, living message of God, has made the invisible God visible to us.

Again, it’s quite the statement. Jesus has come, and everything has changed. God still speaks to us in many different ways, including Scriptures like the Law of Moses. But these other “words” of God, including Scripture, are at best echoes of the eternal “Word” of God. We now have a better Voice of God, the eternal message of God come in the flesh, showing the world the fully embodied grace and truth of God: Jesus.

Jesus is the Voice of God we have been searching for. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, not Scripture, whether Old Testament or New. Jesus is the fullest and clearest picture of God we have.

So if we want to hear God’s Voice most clearly, most fully, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—through the Bible’s many voices, through the Bible’s mixed messages, through the Bible’s diverse genres in different eras, to the Jesus who lived and taught and healed and died and rose again, who lives among us still by his Spirit.

If we want to know who God is, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we find an eternal Creator who comes near to us, who becomes one of us, who lives among us, who loves us deeply and wants us to experience full and flourishing life.

If we want to know the way God works in the world, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we find God doing surprising things, working through the humble and lowly, through suffering and weakness, always to bring about good for humanity and all creation.

If we want to know what God values, the things God thinks are important, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we see that God values people, and the earth, and self-giving love and loyal faith, and repentant sinners and joyful parties and little children and telling stories.

If we want to know what God requires of us and desires for creation, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we find that God wants us to love, to care for each other even when it hurts, to show compassion even to an enemy, to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

If we want to know God and do God’s will, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus. In other words, we need to read the Bible to follow Jesus.

And that’s the final surprise in all this: Jesus invites us to continue the story. Jesus calls us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him. Jesus calls us to take up our own cross and follow him. Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs, and live. Jesus calls us to continue the story, our story set within his story, his story set within the story of Israel, the universal human story, the story of God.

This doesn’t mean we learn the words of the story and repeat them by rote. It doesn’t mean we learn the precise movements of its characters and act them out over and over. In other words, it doesn’t mean we treat the Bible—Old Testament or New—like an owner’s manual or a rule book, prescribing once and for all our every move for every time and place.

It means entering Jesus’ story ourselves, soaking Jesus’ story into ourselves, his teachings and actions, his attitudes and values, his character and virtues—living in the Spirit of Jesus. And then it means stepping out in faith and hope and love, improvising our parts together within the drama of life as we respond to the always-fresh, always-surprising movement of the Spirit of Jesus among us.

Kierkegaard Scripture Christ

This is an excerpt from a past post: “What is the Bible, and How Should We Read It?” This excerpt was originally published in 2014.

The Bible, the Gospel, Jesus, and “The Word of God”

Ask Christians today what they think of when they hear the phrase, “The Word of God,” and they’ll probably say, “The Bible.” For many Christians the two are even synonymous: “The Bible” = “God’s Word,” and “God’s Word” = “The Bible.” The idea is that the Bible as a whole is a divine message for humanity, even the divine message for humanity.

I don’t typically use the phrase, “The Word of God,” to describe the Bible, however. That’s not because I don’t believe God speaks to us through the Bible (see here on that). I believe the Bible is inspired or “breathed into” by God and so is useful for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, and for training in God’s ways (that’s 2 Tim 3:16). Most importantly, I believe the Bible witnesses to Jesus and salvation through him (that’s 2 Tim 3:15, often missed when 2 Tim 3:16 gets quoted).

Rather, I avoid describing the Bible as “the Word of God” because the Bible itself doesn’t describe the Scriptures this way.

The Bible speaks of many “words of God,” or “words of the Lord,” to use a phrase that’s roughly parallel in Scripture. Particular commands, promises, and teachings can each be a “word of God” or “word of the Lord.” Specific prophetic utterances can each be a “word of God” or “word of the Lord.” In the New Testament, the gospel, the good news message about Jesus, is frequently called “the word of God,” “the word of the Lord,” or using similar “word” phrases (“word of Christ,” “word of life,” etc.). And, of course, Jesus himself is called “the Word” which came from God and “became flesh” among us.

But nowhere does the Bible clearly use the phrase “the word of God” to refer to a collection of previously written Scriptures.

Sure, some passages can make sense like that. We hear Jesus say to the religious leaders, “You make void the word of God for the sake of your tradition,” and it can make sense to think of that as referring to the Jewish Scriptures, our Old Testament. But in the story Jesus is referring to a specific “word of God,” the particular command to “Honour your father and your mother”—not “the Scriptures” as a whole.

Or, we hear Hebrews say that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” and it can make sense to think of that as referring to the Scriptures. However, given the opening words of Hebrews, about God speaking “in many and various ways by the prophets” and now “in these last days…by the Son,” it’s more likely that “the word of God” here refers to any true “message from God.” It may even have the specific sense of “the gospel,” since that’s how the phrase seems to be used elsewhere in Hebrews.

That’s the thing about the uses of “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord” in the Bible—some can make sense to us today as referring to the Bible, but that wouldn’t have made sense to those for whom the Bible was first written. That’s not least because they simply wouldn’t have thought of “a bound collection of written Scriptures” in the way we think of “the Bible”—they didn’t have any “bound collection of written Scriptures.” But it’s also because they tended to think of “word of God” or “word of the Lord” as a discrete “message from God,” a particular divine message given at a particular time for a particular purpose. Furthermore, while these various “words of God” could certainly be compiled together and written down, they were still typically thought of as oral proclamation, as spoken messages.

This is why the earliest Christians so frequently used “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord” or “the word of Christ/life/truth/grace/ salvation/etc.” to describe the gospel message (see here, here, here, here, and here). This gospel was an orally proclaimed message from God, with a specific content, given at a specific time in human history and for a specific purpose. This is, in fact, by far the most common use of this kind of “word” language in the New Testament.

And this is what makes John’s description of Jesus as God’s eternal “Word” so interesting. God has spoken many “words,” given many divine messages, in the past: commands, teachings, promises, and prophetic pronouncements. But Jesus is the “Word” behind all those “words,” the Divine Message extraordinaire—and this ultimate Divine Message has been “made flesh and dwelt among us.” The eternal Word behind all those divine words has become embodied in a particular human person, Jesus of Nazareth.

So what’s the upshot of all this? How should we as Christians think about the Bible, the gospel, Jesus, and “the word of God”?

The Bible records many “words of God”: commands, teachings, promises, and prophetic pronouncements, given to particular people in a particular time and place for a particular purpose. We need to pay close attention to those divine messages—they are among those inspired Scriptures that are useful for us to learn God’s ways—but we must recognize that not all of these past “words of God” are directly applicable to us today.

The Bible describes the saving “word of God”: the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that in Jesus, the crucified Messiah and risen Lord, God has acted to make right all that has gone wrong in the world because of human sin. We need to hear this gospel well, and repeatedly, and respond to this good news with repentance, faith, and obedience.

And the Bible witnesses to the living “Word of God”: Jesus of Nazareth himself, the embodiment of the eternal Divine Message that stands behind all these messages from God, the one in whom all these “words of God” find their coherence and their fulfillment. We need to look to Jesus as the clearest and most complete revelation of God and God’s will, seeing the eternal message of God embodied in his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, and respond to the living Jesus with loving devotion and faithful allegiance.

For more on how we should think about the Bible, see my post, “What is the Bible, and How Should We Read It?”

For an in-depth, academic examination of the language of “word of God,” “word of the Lord,” and the like, see my JSNT article “The ‘Gospel’ and the ‘Word,’” as well as my LNTS book Discerning the ‘Word of the Lord.’

The Bible is clear: God endorses slavery.

There are at least seven passages in the Bible where God is depicted as directly permitting or endorsing slavery. Two of these are in the Law of Moses: God permitted the Israelites to take slaves from conquered peoples permanently, and the Israelites could sell themselves into slavery temporarily to pay off debts (Exod 21:2-11; Lev 25:44-46). The other five passages are in the New Testament, where slavery as a social institution is endorsed and slaves are called to obey their masters “in everything” (Eph 6:5-9; Col 3:22-4:1; 1 Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9-10; 1 Pet 2:18-20).

But slavery is viewed positively in Scripture well beyond these commands. Owning slaves was seen as a sign of God’s blessing (Gen 12:16; 24:35; Isa 14:1-2), and there are literally dozens of passages in the Bible that speak of slavery in passing, without comment. Slavery was simply part of life, and most people saw it as just the way things always were, even the divinely ordained order of things.

slaveAnd yes, in case there is any doubt, this was real slavery: “the slave is the owner’s property” (Exod 21:21). Both Old and New Testaments called for better treatment of slaves than many of the peoples around them, and the Law of Moses in particular called for better treatment of fellow Israelites as slaves. But slaves could be beaten (Exod 21:20-21; 1 Pet 2:18-20), and slaves could be taken as concubines (Gen 16:3-4; Exod 21:8-11) or even raped without serious consequence (Lev 19:20-22).

These passages are all pretty straightforward. One could even say that the Bible is clear on this: the institution of slavery is permitted by God, endorsed by God, and owning slaves can even be a sign of God’s blessing. This has in fact been the Christian view through history: it’s only in the last 150-200 years that the tide of Christian opinion has shifted on slavery.

So why do Christians today believe slavery is wrong? Why don’t we believe “slavery is permitted by God, endorsed by God, and owning slaves can even be a sign of God’s blessing,” even though the Bible is pretty clear on this?

Well, there are two main reasons, it seems to me.

The first reason is simply that our society has shifted on this. The reasons for this are complex, but in basic terms this shift has happened because 1) a vocal minority first called for the abolition of slavery, which 2) eventually prompted governments to enact legislation abolishing slavery, and 3) the simple passage of time has normalized this disapproval of slavery among us as a western society.*

It is instructive to read arguments back and forth between Christians on African slavery during the 19th century. Christians in support of slavery—mostly powerful white landowners—pointed to all the biblical texts I’ve outlined above, along with things they saw in the Bible that supported the inferiority of Africans in particular.

But a segment of Christians—former slaves and white activists—joined others in opposing slavery. These Christians emphasized biblical teachings like “love of neighbour” and the Golden Rule and all people created in God’s image and “there is no longer slave or free in Christ.” It took decades of arguing their case, often being shamed and vilified by opposing Christians—the dispute even touched off a bloody civil war—but eventually their view won out.

The passage of laws legalized their view, and the passage of time has normalized their view. We no longer worry about the social instability that abolishing slavery might cause, nor are we concerned that somehow we’re being unfaithful to God by not following the biblical teachings on slavery.

This points to the second main reason Christians today believe slavery is wrong in spite of the clear biblical passages that permit or endorse slavery: we have developed a different hermeneutic, a different way of reading the biblical texts on slavery.

The early Christian abolitionists paved the way. Rather than emphasizing the specific Bible passages that directly approve of slavery, they looked at other biblical texts and themes that they saw as more big-picture, more transcultural and timeless: the creation of humanity in the “image of God,” the “liberation” and “redemption” themes of the Exodus, the love teachings of Jesus, and the salvation vision of Paul. That is, they set the stage for a way of reading the Bible that was not grounded in specific texts of Scripture, but in a trajectory of “Exodus to New Exodus centred on Christ,” or “Creation to New Creation centred on Christ”—a larger biblical narrative with Jesus at its heart.

And so when Christians today read the slavery passages in the Bible, this is what we do. “Sure,” we’ll say, “the Bible says this here—but we know from Genesis 1 that all people are created in God’s image, and we know from Galatians 3 that there is no longer slave or free in Christ, and don’t forget about God redeeming Israel from slavery and Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

In other words, we no longer take the slavery-approval passages as direct and straightforward teaching for all times and places. Rather we take these as instances of the way things were done in the past but not the way God really wants things to be. They are descriptive of what once was; they are not prescriptive of what is to be.

So the next time we hear someone talk about the “clear teaching of Scripture” on women’s roles, or saying that “the Bible is clear” on homosexuality, or whatever the topic might be, think about this: the Bible is at least as clear on slavery, yet thank God we no longer believe that slavery is God’s will. We’ve read the Bible, and we’re following Jesus.

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* I’m well aware that slavery still exists in the world, but I don’t know of any Christians who approve of it. Maybe that’s just because I don’t hang out with those Christians. I’m also well aware that the abolition of slavery has not brought about full freedom and equality and justice for people of African descent in the western world. My focus here is on the institution of slavery itself, but that’s just one side of the coin: racism, both personal and institutional, is the other, and is still ongoing. See also my comments below, in particular on whether recent western slavery was radically different in kind than ancient Greco-Roman slavery.

“All Scripture is inspired by God” doesn’t mean “All Scripture is equally important”

I think most Christians assume that the Bible is a monolithic entity, like a seamless cloth or a fissure-free rock.

We may know that there are in fact 66 books, but we view these as essentially different chapters of the same, single book. We may know that there were different human authors in different time periods and cultural settings, but we view this as effectively irrelevant—every book has the same divine author behind them, and that’s what really matters. And since this divine author produced every jot and tittle in the book, every statement is important, even every word.

road-to-nowhere-1For most Christians, in other words, the Bible is a “flat” text: it’s all from God, so you can’t elevate any passages or books above any others, or ignore any passages or books either. It’s all inspired by God, so it’s all equally important—and we need this “whole counsel of God.”

In theory, that is. In practice no Christians actually do this. Every Christian prioritizes some biblical texts or themes above others, whether unknowingly or through some elaborate theological justification. But most won’t admit they do—no one wants to be accused of having a “canon within the canon.”

Well, I’m here to admit to my own “canon within the canon,” and to declare that this is actually okay. In fact, I think the Bible itself points us to this. Here are three reasons why I think “all Scripture is inspired by God” cannot mean that “all Scripture is equally important.”

First, the New Testament authors don’t use all Scripture equally.

Estimates of New Testament citations of the Old Testament vary—there are no quotation marks in the Greek text, so sometimes it can be hard enough to tell for certain that something is a direct quotation, let alone a more indirect allusion. One good estimate, though, is from the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament (4th edition): 343 direct quotations of some portion of the Old Testament, and 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels to Old Testament texts.

Here’s what’s interesting: there are some clear patterns in all these quotations and allusions, patterns that show that some Old Testament books and ideas were more significant to the New Testament authors than others.

The top five most-used books? By a pretty fair margin it’s the Psalms and Isaiah, followed by Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy. Some of these are, of course, longer books, so you’d expect more quotations from them. But other lengthy Old Testament books are further down the list, not cited nearly as often, including Leviticus and Numbers, Samuel and Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, Job and Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

But it’s not just that some Old Testament books are cited much more frequently. It’s the way in which they are cited, the particular passages that are used, and how these fit within the New Testament texts.

The “in the beginning” of creation, the creation of humanity “in God’s image,” the Abrahamic covenant, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, the “love your neighbour” command, the “love God” command, the Davidic and Royal Psalms, the “Servant” and “Good News” passages of Isaiah—these are some of the texts and stories and themes that show up over and over again in the New Testament, that shaped the theologies of the New Testament authors. These, in fact, are what provide the basic plot points of a larger narrative that underlies much early Christian theology.

Other Old Testament passages, including some that many Christians today really like—the “days” of Creation, the Flood story, most of the particular laws of Moses, the Conquest narrative, specific stories of Israel’s kings—these get hardly a mention in the New Testament.

In other words, the New Testament authors prioritized some books and passages over others in their own Scriptures, our Old Testament. They had a “canon within the canon”—a set of biblical texts and themes that stood out from the rest as more significant.

Second, the Gospels portray Jesus as reading Scripture in a selective way, a way that points to himself.

This follows much the same pattern as the rest of the New Testament noted above. In the Gospels Jesus’ ministry is cast primarily in the light of the prophet Isaiah and the Psalms of David. Other prophets—both storied prophets like Elisha and writing prophets like Daniel (especially Daniel’s “son of man”)—also get a strong nod. The Creation of humanity, the Abrahamic covenant, and Moses and the Exodus are important for shaping the life and teachings of Jesus, though these are mostly filtered through the lens of how Isaiah used these stories and themes.

tissot-sermon-of-the-beatitudesBut specific laws of Moses? By and large these are cited by Jesus only to qualify them in some way, or to offer a different interpretation of them than Jesus’ opponents, or even to overturn them entirely if they don’t fit within Jesus’ larger understanding of what God was doing in the world through him. The major exceptions to this? The commands to love God and neighbour.

All this means that when Luke says that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to the disciples the things about himself in all the Scriptures,” this can’t mean that Jesus is behind every rock or shadow in Scripture. Or that when Matthew says that Jesus has “not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” that “not one jot or tittle shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” this can’t mean that every command of Moses must be directly applicable to Jesus’ followers.

Third, the New Testament describes Jesus, not Scripture, as the ultimate revelation of God and God’s will for humanity.

The New Testament writings are remarkably unified on this, though they describe this in different ways.

There’s Matthew, picturing the resurrected Jesus as having “all authority in heaven and on earth” and so calling disciples to “obey everything he has commanded” in his teachings—indeed, his teachings are the “rock” upon which his followers are to build their lives. There’s John, calling Jesus the eternal “Word of God” made flesh, the one who has made the invisible God known to humanity, and decrying those who “diligently search the Scriptures” to find salvation without realizing that Jesus, the True and Living Way, stands among them.

There’s Paul, describing the gospel of Jesus the crucified Messiah and resurrected Lord as “of first importance” and the basis of salvation, and declaring Jesus to be “the image of the invisible God” who has supremacy above all things. There’s Hebrews, depicting Jesus as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his very being,” the one through whom God has authoritatively spoken in these last days, even in distinction from the Hebrew prophets of old. There’s Revelation, portraying Jesus as the one who speaks God’s word like a sword, bringing encouragement to God’s people and judgment on God’s beastly, death-dealing enemies.

All these New Testament depictions of Jesus point to the same conclusion: Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and God’s will for humanity, not anything else, not even Scripture. This means, then, that as Christians we read Scripture in order to know Jesus, and then we strive to follow this Jesus whom Scripture has revealed. And this in turn means that there is a natural prioritization within the Bible: those texts that more clearly and directly speak of Jesus have greater priority for Christians than those that speak of Jesus less clearly and directly.

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). We can potentially learn good things for a godly life from any passage in Scripture.

But in terms of fundamentally shaping our worldview, our theology, the essential framework of our faith? In terms of providing the basic lens through which we even read the rest of Scripture? The Bible itself points to a layered “canon within the canon”: first, the New Testament descriptions and interpretations of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and second, the Old Testament texts and stories and themes that shaped these New Testament understandings of Jesus.

That’s my “canon within the canon,” and I’m not afraid to admit it.

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A few extra notes on this:

1) What I’ve described, of course, is a Christian way of reading the Christian Bible. However, most of the Christian Bible (our “Old Testament”) is also the Jewish Scriptures, the Tanakh, and Jews will naturally read their Scriptures differently than Christians. Although I think the “canon within the canon” approach I’ve described above makes the best sense as a Christian, I see great value in the approach that many Jews take to their Scriptures. A common Jewish approach is not to take the Scriptures as a “flat,” monolithic text either, but rather to see the various biblical texts as diverse voices, even sometimes conflicting voices, within a conversation that we as readers are invited to participate in and learn from.

2) Yes, the “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is the Jewish Scriptures, essentially the Christian Old Testament. However, I think the basic idea applies to all the ancient human writings the historic Church has identified as “Scripture,” including our New Testament: they are all “inspired by God” or “God-breathed,” and therefore “useful” for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training” in the way of God. However, I also think the same basic prioritization I’ve described here also applies to the New Testament: the New Testament writings do not equally clearly or directly point to the life and teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.

3) For a more scholarly sketch of my approach to these things from a different angle, see my book chapter called “Scripture and Tradition: Seeking a Middle Path.”

Second image: James Tissot, “Sermon of the Beatitudes”

My Pastoral New Year’s Resolution

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I’ve tried them in the past, but they’ve never worked. “Resolution” can sounds so decisive, so irrevocable. So guilt-inducing.

Let’s call this my pastoral New Year’s goal, then. Here’s what I’m aiming for as a pastor for 2017: to be patient in love, persistent in prayer, faithful in teaching the Scriptures, and bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

commitmentIf that sounds like liturgy, that’s because it is. This was the commitment I made before our congregation when I was installed as pastor. Really, then, my 2017 pastoral New Year’s goal is simply re-committing myself to this calling.

I’ve often been distracted from this. To be fair to myself, though, it’s awfully easy to get distracted from this.

Many pastors feel like they have “a hundred bosses,” or whatever the size of their congregation is, because every person in the church has a different, particular understanding of what it means to be a “pastor,” who a pastor is supposed to be and what they are supposed to do. Some want a congregational visitor, others a community activist, some a spiritual guru, others a private therapist, some a thoughtful theologian, others an extroverted evangelist—and that’s only a small sample of the options. Just imagine the multiple personalities required to do all this, let alone the superhuman skills and physics-bending time and energy.

Into this vortex of competing expectations and impossible demands I hear Jesus’ simple call to me as pastor, a call nicely summarized by that installation liturgy: be patient in love, persistent in prayer, faithful in teaching the Scriptures, and bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Be patient in love. This is not so much a specific task to do as it is a general orientation for everything I do. And this is as difficult for me as it is for anyone else—contrary to another common expectation, pastors are not inherently “more spiritual” than others. Yet it is an orientation all Christians are called to nurture in Christ by his Spirit. In whatever tasks I do, in whatever roles I take on, in 2017 I want to strive to be patient with others as I seek to love them in the way of Jesus. (Lord, have mercy!)

Be persistent in prayer. Here my pastoral calling starts to become more specific, and in this I have much room for improvement. This is not incidental to my ministry, but central: to persevere in prayer for those among us and around us, to be deliberate in making and taking time to speak the names and stories, joys and sorrows of our congregation and community before God. May this year be a year of rekindled prayer in my life, in every area of my life.

Be faithful in teaching the Scriptures. You’d think this would already be well in place. After all, this is an area of expertise and experience for me, and teaching the Bible is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I have a Ph.D. in biblical studies, for goodness’ sake! But for various reasons this has been pushed to the margins in my ministry. No more: in the coming year I am determined to re-claim this calling, to find and create opportunities to teach the Scriptures in all their difficult challenge and inspired insight.

Tissot - Jesus TeachingBe bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something I have been doing—every sermon I preach is a proclamation of the gospel—but I am resolved (yes, on this I’m “resolved”) to do this even more. Our world—and each one of us—desperately needs to hear God’s good news again and again and again. But beware: this is not the gospel many of us grew up with. It’s the gospel of God’s kingdom come on earth, justice and peace and flourishing life for all, brought about through the crucified and resurrected Jesus. It promises true life, abundant life, but it demands our very lives: walking in the cross-shaped footsteps of the resurrected Jesus. In 2017 I intend to preach this gospel of peace at every opportunity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that these are the only things I’ll be doing as pastor this year. There are all kinds of specific tasks, necessary or urgent or both, that are part of a lead pastor’s role in this day and age. But these are the things I’ll be focusing my time and energy on, for these are the things to which I have been called.

So watch out, world! Look out, Morden Mennonite Church! Pastor Michael is on the loose! Let 2017 be the year in which I take a leap of faith closer to the goal for which I was commissioned: being patient in love, persistent in prayer, faithful in teaching the Scriptures, and bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

By God’s grace, may it be so.

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.

“Read it Again—This Time with Imagination!”

Have you read 1 Corinthians 10 recently? I mean, really read it? Because there are some pretty odd things going on there.

In the passage Paul refers to several stories in ancient Israel’s history, stories we find in our Old Testament books of Exodus and Numbers. Most of us probably know these stories.

There’s the story of Israel’s exodus, being freed from slavery in Egypt. There’s the story of Israel crossing the Red Sea. There are the stories of Israel wandering in the wilderness, receiving manna from the skies and water from a rock. And there are the stories of Israel grumbling and complaining, rejecting God and worshiping other gods.

There are at least half a dozen different Old Testament stories about Israel that Paul alludes to here in 1 Corinthians 10. That’s not what’s odd. What’s odd are things like this:

  • Paul says the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” when they went through the Red Sea under the pillar of cloud.
  • Paul says that the manna that fell from the sky was not merely some kind of bread, but it was “spiritual food.”
  • And the rock they got the water from? That rock, Paul says, was actually Jesus. Christ was a “spiritual rock” that “followed them” everywhere they went, and he provided “spiritual drink” for them, not merely H2O.

None of this is actually found in any of the stories in Exodus or Numbers. Rather, Paul is reading these things into the biblical stories.

In other words, Paul is using a pretty hefty dose of imagination in reading his Bible.

Paul is imagining Jesus always present in the background of the Bible—even those passages that don’t say anything about Jesus. And Paul is imagining the church as the intended audience of the Bible, even being in the biblical stories as if they were there—even though the stories were written for people long since gone.

What Paul does in this passage might seem really strange. In fact, I wouldn’t stretch the text of Scripture quite as far as Paul does, or in exactly the same ways (hey, he’s an apostle). But Paul’s example of using his imagination to read the Bible is still a helpful model for us today, in three particular ways.

First, when we read the Bible we should imagine Jesus as its fulfilment.

I don’t think we should try and see Jesus behind every rock or prophecy in the Old Testament. But we should imagine how Jesus relates to everything we read.

For example, try reading the biblical stories and imagining Jesus among those who were oppressed, who suffered and were killed—not among the strong conquerors. That is, in fact, the story of Jesus, that he identified with the weak and the suffering, not the powerful and successful. And if we use our imaginations in this way, suddenly new stories might pop out at us in fresh ways.

We might see Jesus in the life of Ruth, the Moabite woman trying to find her way in a patriarchal Israelite world. We might see Jesus in the life of Mephibosheth, the disabled grandson of King Saul, and in the way King David treated him with surprising mercy and compassion. We might see Jesus in the life of Jeremiah, the prophet who spoke truth to power and in so doing endured ostracism and imprisonment.

Here’s a second idea: When we read the Bible we should imagine ourselves in the story.

We should use our imaginations when we read the stories of the Bible, and put ourselves in the sandals of each character in the story, whether “good” or “bad,” big or small.

Jesus’ stories are particularly good for imagining ourselves in them as different characters. In fact, he invites us to do this imagining.

The Good Samaritan - Ferdinand HodlerYou know the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: the Jew robbed on the way to Jericho, the priest and then the Levite passing him by, the despised Samaritan stopping to help him. As Luke tells the story, Jesus invites his hearers to use their imagination: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who was robbed?”

Put yourself in each of their sandals, Jesus says. Imagine yourself in their place. Which one was the true neighbour?

And you can almost feel the struggle in his Jewish listeners, afraid to put themselves in the sandals of a Samaritan, then being forced to admit that their scorned enemy was in fact a loving neighbour.

This is what we need to do, if we really want God to speak directly to our hearts through the Bible. We need to imagine ourselves in the story, even when it challenges our preconceptions, even when it hurts our ego.

A third suggestion: When we read the Bible we should imagine how its message can be lived out in our lives.

Jesus doesn’t end the story of the Good Samaritan by simply getting the right identification of the hero from his audience. He ends the story with these words: “Now go and do likewise.”

Go and do likewise.

Not, “Go and repeat exactly the same thing.” Not, “Go and find someone who was robbed and beaten and then bind up their wounds and take them to a safe place to heal”—though, of course, that’s not a bad thing!

No, it’s “Go and do likewise (homoiōs), do similar kinds of things.” Follow this example of mercy shown to a neighbour, a stranger, a foreigner, an enemy, the “other.” But there may be a billion different ways this same neighbour-love can be shown. It depends on our context, the needs around us, where we are at in our own story. And so this requires some imagination.

1 Corinthians 10 gives us a window into how the Apostle Paul and the other early Christians read their Bibles—loaded with imagination. We’re invited to do the very same thing when we read our Bibles.

Where is Jesus in the biblical story? Is he right there, front and centre, like in the Gospels? Or is he in the background, where we can just see the contours of his character? Does the story prompt a question that Jesus answers, or pose a problem that Jesus solves? How does what we see in the story relate to the way Jesus lived his life, the things he taught?

Where do we fit in the biblical story? Are we one of the “good guys” or one of the “bad guys”? (Don’t presume to know the answer!) Are we up among the powerful and privileged in the story, or down among the weak and lowly? Are we one of the insiders, or one of the outsiders? What is God saying to us, whichever role we find ourselves in at this particular time?

How does the biblical story fulfilled in Jesus intersect with our life? What encouragement does it give us? How does it challenge the way we think, the way we live? How can we “go and do likewise” in following Jesus in the particular circumstances of our lives?

Where is Jesus? Where are we? And how do we then live? May God stir our imaginations to answer these questions as we read the Scriptures, both on our own and together as God’s people.

Images: James Tissot, “Moses Strikes the Rock”; Ferdinand Hodler, “The Good Samaritan.” This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Morden Mennonite on September 18, 2016, as part of a series called “Stirring Our Imagination.” For more suggestions on how to read the Bible, check out my post on “What is the Bible, and How Should We Read It?”

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.

What is the Bible, and How Should We Read It?

What is the Bible? And, as Christians, how should we read it?

NRSVThese questions lurk in the background of every single hot-button, emotionally charged, divisive issue Christians wrestle with today, from homosexuality to human evolution.

The reasons for differences of opinion among Christians are complex. Personal experience, social and cultural realities, traditions that can in some cases stretch back centuries—all these play into why we believe what we believe about anything. But this is a crucial part of the mix: what we understand the Bible to be, and how we think it should be read.

These questions are also often on the minds of Christians as we navigate through the uncharted waters of a post-modern, religiously plural world. The very humanness of Scripture, its historical origins, can no longer be ignored—this has been mainstream scholarship for more than a century. And we are more aware now than ever of the sacred texts of other religions, as well as their similar and competing religious claims.

In light of these things, how should we as Christians view our sacred text, the Bible? How should we read it?

Over the past two-plus decades as a biblical theologian and pastor I have found it helpful to think of the Bible in four inter-related ways: as inspired Scripture, as ancient literature, as diverse anthology, and as witness to Jesus. And understanding the Bible in these ways has some very practical implications for how we read it.

The Bible as Inspired Scripture

“All Scripture is inspired by God…”

It may well be that no words in the Bible have had more read into them than these words.

These well-known words are from 2 Timothy 3:16.  For the moment let’s leave aside whether this is the best way to translate the Greek text. And let’s bracket off the question of whether this description of the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) should also be applied to the New Testament. Those are valid questions. But even if we move past those hurdles, there’s at least one significant thing 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t say: it doesn’t say how Scripture is “inspired” or “God-breathed.”

Rather, we have to import our own ideas about the how of inspiration into our reading of 2 Timothy 3:16. And very often our ideas of exactly how Scripture is inspired come from some very questionable assumptions.

We imagine, maybe, that the human authors of the Bible—Moses, David, Isaiah, Luke, John, Paul, to name a few—sat down at their writing desks, quill in hand, parchment laid out before them. Perhaps they reflected prayerfully on what God wanted to say through them, and then, as the Spirit moved in them, they began to write. Steadily, thoughtfully, carefully, always attuned to the Spirit’s inner promptings. When they finished, there before them was an inspired, inerrant manuscript—God’s very words in still-drying ink.

But wait a moment. Is that really how it worked? Consider this:

Paul used a scribe (Rom 16:22). Likely, even for a literate person such as himself, this was his normal practice. Perhaps, if the scribe was well-trusted, Paul might even have just dictated notes to the scribe, who would then flesh out those notes into a letter, getting Paul’s authorization—and maybe a brief handwritten note (Gal 6:11)—for the final product.

Luke used sources (Luke 1:1-4). He read previous writings about Jesus, he talked with people who knew Jesus, and then he carefully planned out his two-volume story of Jesus and the early church. In other words, he did the work of an ancient—not modern, mind you, but ancient—historian.

John’s Gospel was edited by others (John 21:24). There’s a “beloved disciple”—possibly John, the son of Zebedee, but who knows for sure?—who “testified to” and “wrote down” certain things about Jesus. But then there’s a “we” who comes after, who collectively added their own testimony to this earlier disciple’s testimony.

The Psalms were collected over centuries (Pss 23:1; 90:1; 137:1). Even if we take the Psalms’ opening ascriptions at face value—another difficult question—we have to face the fact that we have a psalm that claims to go back to Moses, right alongside several that state they are David’s, mixed in with some that clearly come from Israel’s exile in Babylon.

Use of scribes, use of prior sources, later editing by an individual or even a community, collection by different peoples over many centuries—the fact is, these realities are the norm for the writings we have in the anthology of ancient literature we call the Bible.

These realities are also the bread and butter of biblical scholars. They are the basics of the business: comparing ancient manuscripts, discerning prior sources, tracing out later editing, sketching out how these writings have been received and read over the centuries.

But these realities are not easily accepted by many Christians—and much of the reason for this is all those questionable assumptions we import into 2 Timothy 3:16, bringing in some (quite frankly) untenable ideas about what “inspiration” must involve. For it turns out that our imagined biblical author—the individual person before God, perfectly in tune with God’s Spirit, producing inerrant truths in written propositions—is a projection of our own modern sensibilities. This image has nothing to do with the way the biblical writings actually came to be.

Are the biblical writings actually inspired by God? I believe so. As a church we confess this to be so. “All Scripture is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit for instruction in salvation and training in righteousness,” our church denomination’s Confession of Faith says. But we stop short of insisting on a particular view of how God inspired these ancient human writings. Instead, we are wise simply to say, as our Confession of Faith goes on to say, that “God was at work through the centuries in the process by which the books of the Old and New Testaments were inspired and written.”

To say, then, that the Bible is inspired by God, is to say that God was at work in this complex and very human process, through authors and scribes and editors and compilers and communities—and that God can speak to us through this ancient, diverse collection of human writings.

The Bible as Ancient Literature

Because that’s what we have in our Christian Scriptures: the Bible is an anthology of ancient literature.

Norton AnthologyI don’t know what comes to mind for you when you think of “literature.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “writings in prose or verse; especially writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.” That’s not a bad definition, both the generic side of it (“writings in prose or verse”) and the more specific (“writings…expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest”).

To say that the Bible is a collection of “literature” means, then, that what we have in the Bible is “writings in prose or verse.” More specifically, we have different kinds of writing in prose or verse, different literary genres—and these different genres are not unique to the Bible.

A few examples:

The opening chapters of Genesis are ancient origins stories, akin to origins stories from Egypt and Mesopotamia and elsewhere. The move from original chaos to order and abundance? Humans made from mixing dirt and divine essence? Sounds like Genesis, and it is, but these and other features are also found in other—and even earlier—ancient origins stories. Yes, the Genesis stories are distinctive—giving a strong monotheistic, “one true and living God” outlook, for instance—but as literature they’re in the same ballpark as these other stories.

The collections of laws of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy are in the same vein as other ancient legal codes. Hammurabi’s law code from ancient Babylonia covers religious matters, slavery, military service, social conduct, and more—just like the Law of Moses. “Eye for an eye”? It’s in there, a few hundred years before Moses. The biblical laws flow in this stream of ancient legal codes, even as they present some distinctive perspectives on God and religion and society.

The stories of Jesus we know as the Gospels are ancient biographies, similar to those of Plutarch, Lucian, and the like. A focus on a particular individual, skimming their adolescence and jumping into their public life, presenting some of their important sayings and key life events, highlighting their death, all to commend them as worthy of admiration or imitation—these elements of other ancient biographies are evident in the Gospels. The claim that the subject of your biography is the promised king in David’s line bringing about Yahweh’s reign on earth, or that he rose from the dead? Not so much—but then that’s what Christians claim makes them “gospel,” or “good news.”

The book of Revelation is an example of ancient apocalyptic literature, one of a dozen or so such Jewish or Christian apocalypses from that era. Things like angelic guides and multi-headed beasts and repeated numbers might seem weird to us, but they’re the basic grammar of ancient apocalypses. They’re subversive literature, the literature of a minority feeling under siege, re-imagining their world in light of God’s coming kingdom—and John’s Revelation is no exception.

Gutenberg BibleLike all the scribes and sources and editing and collecting behind the Bible’s production (see above), these kinds of historical and literary features are commonplace for biblical scholars. They are part of the scholar’s everyday work of understanding the biblical writings in their historical and cultural settings.

But these sorts of things can be scary for many Christians. And, as I suggested earlier, much of the reason for this fear is all those questionable assumptions we bring to what inspiration must involve. We have a view of inspiration—even just a view of the way God works in the world in general—that assumes that if God does something it must be clearly, discernibly divine, nothing human about it.

That’s strange, really, when you think about it. After all, one of the most fundamental convictions of Christianity is the claim that God has become human in Jesus—both fully divine and fully human, the eternal God revealed in the man Jesus.

If that’s true, why do we then insist inspired Scripture be somehow less than human?

But even if we can move past those wrong assumptions and accept the divine-voice-through-human-words of Scripture, even if we can confess that this anthology of ancient literature is in fact inspired by God, a crucial question remains: How do we hear God’s voice in Scripture?

We’ll get to that in a bit. But first, there’s still more we need to explore about what Scripture is.

The Bible as Diverse Anthology

A key idea I’ve emphasized here is that whatever we mean by Scripture’s divine inspiration, it cannot mean that the biblical writings are somehow not genuinely human writings. As I said earlier:

Written in ordinary human languages and idioms, making use of conventional genres, employing scribes, relying on prior sources, edited by individuals and communities, collected by different peoples over many centuries—the fact is, these realities are the norm for the writings we have in the anthology of ancient literature we call the Bible.

This really shouldn’t bother us. If anything, we who believe that God has been revealed most clearly and fully in a human being, the man Jesus, should expect that God’s voice in Scripture is to be heard only through the utterly human voices of the biblical authors.

And it truly is a diversity of voices in Scripture. The Bible is not really a single “book.” It is, as I’ve just described it, an “anthology”—a collection of different writings by different human authors.

Consider some examples:

We have two different creation stories side by side in Genesis. The first (Gen 1:1-2:3) describes God as Elohim, the Mightiest One, who stands beyond the earth and speaks creation into existence, crafting a well-ordered and richly filled palace-temple for himself, with humans as his priest-kings and priestess-queens. The second (Gen 2:4-25) describes God as Yahweh Elohim, God in covenant with Israel, who comes to earth and gets their hands dirty in shaping the Human to care for their flourishing garden.

We have two different histories of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament. The first (Samuel-Kings) tells the story through the lens of Deuteronomy: good kings uphold the covenant of Moses, bad kings do not, and in the end it all goes bad because the people of Israel and Judah abandon Moses’ Law. The second (Chronicles) tells the story through the lens of David: the worship established by David in the Temple built by David’s past son must continue, and the kingdom promised to David will be restored to David’s future son.

We have 150 Psalms giving a dozen different portraits of worship. The rugged individualist hanging out with God in nature? The Temple liturgist composing for antiphonal choir amidst all the smells and bells? The bibliophile scribe caught up in the wonders of the Torah? The exiled poet leading others by a foreign river, pining for a temple, doing the best they can with what they’ve got? Glorious tapestries of song, rich in theological expression? The “God, give me what I want and I’ll praise you” kind of worship? It’s all there.

We have four different biographies of Jesus in the New Testament. There’s Mark’s sparse, orally crafted story exploring what it means to claim that this crucified Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God.” There’s Matthew’s didactic adaptation of Mark, highlighting the Moses-like teachings of Jesus for a Jewish Christian audience. There’s Luke’s well-crafted, liturgically rich alternative to Matthew’s story, presenting Jesus to a wider audience: not just Jews but Gentiles, not just men but women, not just rich but poor. And then there’s John’s alternative to all the rest, giving the “beloved disciple’s” expanded re-presentations of Jesus’ life and teachings as the Word made flesh, come to bring life to the world.

This diversity can be problematic for Christians. For some, it’s terribly uncomfortable. We want God to speak clearly and consistently, a single voice on every issue. Some even go to great lengths to harmonize all these differences, to reassure ourselves and our communities that there is one clear biblical teaching on x and y and z. So when we begin to recognize the Bible’s diversity, especially on some central matters of Christian belief and practice, we get antsy.

This diversity can be problematic beyond just the discomfort we feel about it. For the history of biblical interpretation makes one thing abundantly clear: we can justify almost anything by appeal to the Bible, even things that are contradictory.

War, even genocide? Yes. Pacifism? Yes.

Slavery? Check. Abolition of slavery? Check.

Patriarchy? Yep. Full equality of women? Yep.

Death penalty? You bet. No death penalty? You bet.

All of these things are “biblical.” All of these things are “clear from Scripture.”

The problem, again, is one of wrong expectations based on false assumptions. We assume the Bible’s divine inspiration ensures a uniformity of teaching on all things, but the biblical writings never actually claim such a thing. There are plenty of claims in Scripture about Scripture—claims of biblical writings being God’s “word” or “message,” of God “revealing” God’s self or God’s will in or through them, of Scripture being “useful for teaching” for faith and life, or of Scripture reliably “testifying” to Jesus, of Scripture being “true.” But it’s only our assumptions that make us think these claims must mean Scripture presents a clear, uniform perspective on any particular question or issue we might face.

But there is something that unites these diverse writings. An “anthology” is not just a random collection of writings, and the Bible is no exception. There is something that unites this anthology, that makes it make sense as a collection. And, I would suggest, we are indeed right to see in that “something” the Voice of God that we are searching for.

So how do we get there? How do we find that “something” that unites this inspired Scripture, this diverse anthology of ancient literature? To answer that question, let me start with a few general observations.

The unity of Scripture is not uniformity, but unity in diversity. It’s not a monochrome picture, but a whole spectrum of colours. It’s not univocal, a single voice, but polyvocal, many voices. It’s not a monotone, but a whole array of tones: sometimes discordant, sometimes harmonious, often haunting, profound, encouraging, challenging.

The unity of Scripture is not static, but dynamic. There is change in thought from earlier to later biblical books, sometimes even intentional, direct change. This change is good, we say by faith: it’s a progression, not a moving backward, or sideways. This change is even sometimes that of a trajectory that aims beyond Scripture, giving an unfinished arc that invites us to step in and complete it.

And the unity of Scripture has a significance greater than the sum of its parts. The “something” that unites Scripture is in fact a Someone. The many voices of Scripture are like echoes of their Voice in a dark tunnel, which we hear, dimly. Or they’re like the many voices of a choir that together make a single choral Voice—which is the whole point of these many voices, their very raison d’être.

In other words, the progressive unity in diversity of Scripture, the Voice through the Bible’s many voices, is rather like this:

Okay, so the Bible is inspired by God, but this doesn’t deny its humanness. It is a diverse anthology of ancient literature. But its inspiration by God does mean that God speaks through Scripture, somehow. The Voice of God can be heard through Scripture, if we have ears to hear. But how does that work? How does God speak through this ancient collection of diverse human writings?

By pointing us to Jesus.

The Bible as Witness to Jesus

Imagine that you’re reading a really good story. It’s the kind of story you hate to put down and you can’t wait to get back to. It’s got an interesting premise, a believable world, compelling characters, and a riveting plot. It’s enlightening and challenging and entertaining and disturbing and refreshing.

Now imagine that you’re reading along in this story, you finish a chapter, you turn the page—and it’s blank. The story just ends, abruptly. “Wait a minute,” you think, “that can’t be it. There must be more!”

So you talk with others who have read the same book, and you find they feel the same way. There are too many expectations unfulfilled, too many questions unanswered, too many tensions left unresolved, too many characters undeveloped, too many loose ends. The story is terrific—it’s just incomplete. It needs a sequel.

van Gogh - BibleAs you talk with other fans of the story, though, you realize everyone has different views on how the story should end. You argue back and forth, and different camps emerge: some say the story would best be completed in one way, others say, “No, it has to finish this way!” and still others think they alone have the best ending to the story.

This was the way it was for the people of Israel after the time of the Old Testament, after the ancient kingdoms had fallen, after the exiles to Assyria and Babylon and beyond, after some had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild a city, a temple, and a way of life. In those centuries, the Jewish people read their Bible just like this story: it’s compelling, it’s enlightening, it’s challenging—but it’s incomplete. There was something more to come. There just had to be.

The Jewish Scriptures presented a story in search of an ending. But Jews of that day disagreed about how the biblical story should end, and different views emerged.

Some expected God to come in a mighty supernatural act to overthrow God’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Others longed for that same result, but thought God would only act if everyone followed the Law of Moses the way they were supposed to. Still others thought God would not act supernaturally, but God would only act through God’s people, so the Jews needed to be prepared to fight God’s enemies when God came. Some thought they needed to begin the fight right now. And still others thought all this was nonsense: God comes among us now when we worship in the Temple, they said, or when we study the Law of Moses.

Today we know of these different groups as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots—and there were others, and factions within them. Each of these groups saw Scripture as a story in search of an ending, and they each offered a different ending to the story.

For the first followers of Jesus, the earliest Christians, nearly all of them Jews, Jesus was the proper end to the biblical story. To use the Apostle Paul’s words, Jesus is the “end” of the Law of Moses—he is its telos, its “completion,” its purpose and goal, its fitting conclusion (Rom 10:4). To use language especially loved by Matthew, Jesus “fulfills” the Scriptures (e.g. Matt 5:17-18). All those biblical expectations of God coming to God’s people, of God acting on behalf of God’s people, of God bringing in God’s kingdom on earth—Jesus fulfills these expectations. All throughout the New Testament, this same idea comes through in different ways (e.g. Luke 24:13-27; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 3:15-171 Pet 1:10-11).

The Jewish Scriptures—the Christian Old Testament—present a story in search of an ending. And, for Christians, Jesus is the fitting ending to the Old Testament story.

To say that is an act of faith, of course. Not everyone in Jesus’ day agreed with this, and not everyone agrees with it today. But one of the earliest and most basic confessions of Christian faith is “Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah,” and to confess that is to say exactly this: we believe Jesus is the promised king in the line of David, the one who will bring in God’s kingdom on earth and fulfill God’s purposes for Israel and all humanity. In other words, Jesus is the fitting ending to the Old Testament story.

We also, of course, need to be careful how we say this. We must not devalue the Old Testament in its own right. These are the sacred Scriptures of Judaism, the Tanakh, and they are challenging and entertaining and disturbing and refreshing and enlightening—through the many voices of these Scriptures one can still hear the voice of God. But even Jews today acknowledge in some sense the “incompleteness” of these Scriptures centred on the Torah, the Law of Moses, and so they look to a long line of interpretive traditions, most significantly the Talmud, to complete them through explanation or expansion. Many Jews await a completion still to come.

So the Old Testament is a story in search of an ending. And by faith we as Christians say that Jesus is the fitting ending to the Old Testament story. But what difference does this make for how we should read the Old Testament? Let’s go back to that picture we started with: reading the story that ends abruptly.

Let’s say that in talking with others about this unfinished story, someone shares an ending to the story that is so compelling you can’t help but wonder if they are reading the author’s mind. All those unfinished plot threads are woven together. Characters are developed in believable ways. The questions are answered, the problems are resolved, the expectations are fulfilled. It’s a fitting ending to the story.

But let’s say this ending is surprising. We’ve all read books or watched movies that have a surprise ending. It’s still a fitting ending to the story, it makes sense of the story and brings everything to a satisfactory conclusion, but it’s different than anyone could have guessed.

What do you do with that book or movie? Well, the next time you read that book or watch that movie you’ll read or watch it differently, won’t you? The story is the same as it has always been, and much of it won’t seem any different. But you’ll see hints of that surprise ending that you never noticed before. Some of those things that seemed odd now make sense. Whole sections of the story take on new significance. You might even reconsider what the story’s really all about, now that you know how it ends.

That’s what it’s like for us reading the Old Testament, confessing that Jesus is its fitting ending. Because Jesus certainly is, in many ways, a surprise ending to the story.

Most Jews in Jesus’ day expected a Messiah, but no one expected a Messiah like Jesus: a Messiah who fed the poor and healed the sick and touched the lepers and ate with outcasts and forgave sinners.

Most Jews in Jesus’ day expected God to bring in God’s kingdom on earth, a kingdom of peace and justice, but no one expected the kingdom to come about like Jesus did it: not with an army but with a dozen straggling followers, not with swords but with words of truth and deeds of love, not with power and might but in weakness and self-sacrifice.

Most Jews in Jesus’ day expected God to act on behalf of Israel, but no one expected God to act like Jesus did: born into poverty, living in utter humility, utter humanity, suffering and dying in shame and disgrace.

Jesus is a fitting ending to the biblical story, but he is also a surprise ending to the story.

So what do we do with that surprise ending? We re-read the story in light of it.

Rembrandt EmmausThis is just what the Apostles and the earliest Christians did, and we follow in their footsteps left for us in our New Testament. They proclaimed Jesus, they explained Jesus, and they did this in large part by re-reading their Scriptures in light of Jesus, the completion to the story.

This doesn’t mean we try to find Jesus explicitly on every page of the Old Testament. No, the plural “Let us make” in Genesis 1 is not a reference to the Trinity. No, the “angel of God” that appears to Abraham is not a pre-incarnate Jesus. No, there is no secret Bible code in the patterns of Hebrew words that spells out “Jesus” (not even ישוע). We still need to read the Old Testament in light of its genres, its different kinds of writing. We still need to hear the different voices of the various Old Testament writings.

Rather, it’s more that Jesus answers questions that are raised in the Old Testament. Jesus solves problems that are posed in the Old Testament. Jesus resolves tensions that are presented in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfills expectations that are prompted in the Old Testament. Jesus lives out values and virtues that are affirmed in the Old Testament. Jesus brings together important ideas that are highlighted in the Old Testament.

So, for example, we see in Jesus an emphasis on love, that God loves us deeply, that the most important thing we can do is love God and love other people—and so we read the Old Testament as Jesus did and find running through it streams of hesed and tsadiq, loyal love and covenant faithfulness.

We see in Jesus a rejection of physical violence, a refusal to repeat the cycle of violence, a willingness to absorb violence himself in order to spare others that fate—and so we see in the violence of the Old Testament something less than God’s ideal, and we highlight the Old Testament calls for forgiveness and mercy and enemy love.

We see in Jesus God bringing about healing for broken people, even a broken creation—and so we find in the Old Testament a recurring pattern of God creating something good, then humans distorting that good thing through sin, and God never giving up, always responding with forgiveness and restoration.

So as Christians we read the Old Testament as if Jesus is the fitting ending, yet the surprise ending, to the Old Testament story. We read the Old Testament in light of Jesus, and we see in the Old Testament all those threads that are woven together in Jesus—threads of peace and justice, repentance and forgiveness, liberation and healing, suffering and joy, love and life, death and resurrection in the kingdom of God.

But there’s still more to the story. And this “more” is the most surprising thing of all.

Let’s go back once more to that image: reading that story that ends so abruptly, the unfinished story. Let’s say you hear that ending to the story that you find compelling, that surprise ending that still completes the story in a satisfying way.

But let’s say a big part of the surprise at the end is this: the author has written themselves into the story.

Because that’s what you find in Jesus. The New Testament claims that the Author of it all, the God who has shaped humans out of the stuff of earth and breathed life into them, the God who has taken up the writings of Scripture and “breathed” life-giving power into them—this God has entered the human story in Jesus.

Take a look at the opening words of Hebrews, for example: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” Jesus is this “Son” who is the very voice of God in “these last days,” this time in which God is bringing to completion God’s purposes for human history. The passage goes on to say this about God’s Son, Jesus: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb 1:1-3).

Rouault Christ DisciplesIt’s quite the statement. Jesus has come, and everything has changed. God still speaks to us in many different ways—through creation, through each other, through many surprising ways, and yes, through Scripture, written by many different prophets and apostles in the past. But Scripture is no longer the best voice of God we have. We now have a better Voice of God, an exact imprint of God: Jesus.

This idea is expressed in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. Colossians describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God,” the one in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” and thus the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 1:15-18; 2:3, 9). Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”—in other words, the authority of God (Matt 28:18-20). Revelation describes Jesus as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”—that is, the one who brings together the whole of human history (Rev 22:13).

But there’s one passage that highlights this truth in an especially profound way: the opening to John’s Gospel. Take a fresh look at some of those most familiar statements.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus is the eternal, divine “Word”; Jesus is God’s eternal message, the message God has been speaking from eternity past.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17). The eternal, divine “Word,” God’s eternal message, the message God has been speaking from eternity past, has become human and lived among us in Jesus of Nazareth. This Living Word, this living message of God, is connected to the messages God has given before, like the Law of Moses, but it’s also different: it is the embodied message of God’s grace and truth, the enfleshed glory of God.

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus of Nazareth, God’s unique Son, the eternal, living message of God, has made the invisible God visible to us.

Again, it’s quite the statement. Jesus has come, and everything has changed. God still speaks to us in many different ways, including Scriptures like the Law of Moses. But these other “words” of God, including Scripture, are at best echoes of the eternal “Word” of God. We now have a better Voice of God, the eternal message of God come in the flesh, showing the world the fully embodied grace and truth of God: Jesus.

Jesus is the Voice of God we have been searching for. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, not Scripture, whether Old Testament or New. Jesus is the fullest and clearest picture of God we have.

So if we want to hear God’s Voice most clearly, most fully, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—through the Bible’s many voices, through the Bible’s mixed messages, through the Bible’s diverse genres in different eras, to the Jesus who lived and taught and healed and died and rose again, who lives among us still by his Spirit.

If we want to know who God is, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we find an eternal Creator who comes near to us, who becomes one of us, who lives among us, who loves us deeply and wants us to experience full and flourishing life.

If we want to know the way God works in the world, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we find God doing surprising things, working through the humble and lowly, through suffering and weakness, always to bring about good for humanity and all creation.

If we want to know what God values, the things God thinks are important, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we see that God values people, and the earth, and self-giving love and loyal faith, and repentant sinners and joyful parties and little children and telling stories.

If we want to know what God requires of us and desires for creation, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus—and we find that God wants us to love, to care for each other even when it hurts, to show compassion even to an enemy, to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

If we want to know God and do God’s will, we need to look through Scripture to Jesus. In other words, we need to read the Bible to follow Jesus.

And that’s the final surprise in all this: Jesus invites us to continue the story. Jesus calls us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him. Jesus calls us to take up our own cross and follow him. Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs, and live. Jesus calls us to continue the story, our story set within his story, his story set within the story of Israel, the universal human story, the story of God.

This doesn’t mean we learn the words of the story and repeat them by rote. It doesn’t mean we learn the precise movements of its characters and act them out over and over. In other words, it doesn’t mean we treat the Bible—Old Testament or New—like an owner’s manual or a rule book, prescribing once and for all our every move for every time and place.

It means entering Jesus’ story ourselves, soaking Jesus’ story into ourselves, his teachings and actions, his attitudes and values, his character and virtues—living in the Spirit of Jesus. And then it means stepping out in faith and hope and love, improvising our parts together within the drama of life as we respond to the always-fresh, always-surprising movement of the Spirit of Jesus among us.

Kierkegaard Scripture Christ

The sections of this post are modified from separate posts that first appeared from August 2013 to July 2014 at http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl

Seeing God Face to Face

Seeking God’s Face

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, O Lord, do I seek.

There are many ways to think about Christian spirituality, but these words from Psalm 27 do a pretty good job of summing it all up. You could say that the spiritual life is all about “seeking God’s face.”

Different words are used by different people, of course. Pursuing God, desiring God, knowing God, experiencing God, loving God. Being filled with the Spirit, walking in the Spirit. Being at one with our Creator, touching the transcendent, sensing the divine.

Different words are used by different people, both Christians and others. But they all reflect the same longing: there is a spiritual dimension to being human.

There is something within us that craves something beyond us.

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, O Lord, do I seek.

This longing to experience God, to “seek God’s face,” comes through in different ways throughout the biblical stories.

In Genesis 3 God walks with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day—until that fateful day when sin enters the story, and they hide from the Lord God. They are ashamed because of their selfish, prideful actions, and they no longer want to see God’s face.

In Exodus 33 Moses asks to see Yahweh’s divine glory. God allows Moses to see a measure of his glory, but God says to him, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” Even that measure of divine glory, that glimpse of Yahweh’s back, is enough to make Moses glow with the radiance of his experience of God.

In Isaiah 6 Isaiah sees a vision in the temple: the Lord God, sitting on a throne, high and lofty, surrounded by heavenly beings. Really, though, Isaiah can only see God’s feet: God’s face is too high, too holy, too transcendent, too far beyond for anyone to see.

Each of these Old Testament stories, and many others besides, point to this “something within us that craves something beyond us,” this human longing to know God, to touch the transcendent, to sense the divine. Yet the people in each of these stories never quite get there. They get a taste of God, a fleeting glimpse, or they hide from God or put God behind all kinds of protective barriers.

And so that longing of Psalm 27 continues:

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, O Lord, do I seek.

Seeing God’s Face

There is a profound shift that happens in the New Testament with all this: yes, there is still something within us that craves something beyond us—but that something beyond us has now come among us.

We no longer need to search desperately for the face of God—because God has already shown his face, and it’s the face of Jesus.

This is what’s behind John’s words in John 1: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” God has shown her face, and it’s the face of Jesus.

This is what’s behind Paul’s words in Colossians 1 and 2: Christ “is the image of the invisible God”; “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” God has shown his face, and it’s the face of Jesus.

This is what’s behind the anonymous author of Hebrews words in Hebrews 1: “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son… He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” God has shown her face, and it’s the face of Jesus.

James Tissot (French, 1836−1902). Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray (detail), 1886−94. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1138 x 61⁄4 in. (28.9 × 15.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.137From Matthew to Revelation, the New Testament writings are united in the conviction that the man Jesus of Nazareth shows us the God of Israel. The man Jesus, who lived a certain way and taught certain things, who healed the sick and forgave sinners and cast out evil powers, who suffered and died and was raised to life again—this man Jesus shows us who God is.

God has shown God’s face, and it’s the face of Jesus. So to “seek God’s face” we need to seek the face of Jesus.

How do we do this? How can we, two thousand years after Jesus walked this earth, see Jesus, and so see the face of God?

As the Bible itself acknowledges, we can no longer see Jesus in the flesh (John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8). But we can still see the imprint of Jesus, we can still discern the Spirit of Jesus. How do we do this?

Well, we can read the Bible’s stories of Jesus, the Gospels. Read Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John. And as you read, ask yourself some questions.

What does this tell me about Jesus? What does this tell me about Jesus’ character, his desires, his motivation, his way of thinking, his way of life?

And so, then, what does this tell me about God, who God is, how God relates to us? The character of Jesus is the character of God. The desires of Jesus are God’s desires. The things that motivate Jesus to speak or act, those are the things that motivate God. How does Jesus think? That’s a window into how God thinks. How does Jesus live his life? That’s a parallel to how God acts in the world.

And then, what does this tell me about who I am, who I can become? No, we are not God, we cannot be God. But we are all created in God’s image, we can reflect God in all these ways.

So the character of Jesus shows us the character we should seek to develop ourselves. The desires of Jesus show us what we should desire. The things that motivate Jesus to speak or act, those are the things that should motivate us. How does Jesus think? That’s a pattern for how we should think. How does Jesus live his life? That’s a model for how we should seek to live our lives in our world today.

So we can see the face of God in Jesus by reading the Bible’s stories of Jesus. But we can also read Jesus’ Bible, our Old Testament. Read Genesis, or Deuteronomy, or the Psalms, or Isaiah, or Daniel, or Amos. Read any Old Testament book—but read it in the light of Jesus.

So ask yourself: How does this particular passage parallel Jesus’ character, his desires, his motivation, his way of thinking, his way of life? How do I see the God revealed in Jesus, here in this Old Testament book?

Then re-read the Bible’s stories of Jesus. Go back and do it all again.

We can read the letters and other writings of Jesus’ first followers, our New Testament. Read Acts, or Romans, or 1 Corinthians, or Ephesians, or Philippians, or Hebrews, or James, or 1 John, or Revelation.

And ask yourself: How does this particular passage describe Jesus? How does this New Testament book take the character and attitudes and life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and apply it to the specific situation of these early Christians and their world?

Then re-read the Bible’s stories of Jesus. Go back and do it all again.

We can think about Jesus, ponder his way of life, mull over his teachings, contemplate his sufferings, revel in his resurrection. We can gather together with other Christians and consider Jesus together, honour Jesus together, cry out to Jesus together, bow down to Jesus together.

Then re-read the Bible’s stories of Jesus.

We can talk about Jesus. Read well-researched books about Jesus. Watch time-tested films about Jesus. Study classic paintings of Jesus. We can see how other people have envisioned the man from Galilee.

Then re-read the Bible’s stories of Jesus.

James Tissot (French, 1836–1902). Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches, 1886–96. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 103⁄16 x 79⁄16 in. (25.9 × 19.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.109We can look for Jesus in other people. The poor, the stranger, the suffering. The merciful, the gentle, the steadfast, the kind. We can look for Jesus in ourselves. In our own hardships and sorrows, in our own moments of joy and delight, in our own sometimes-surprising feelings of empathy and compassion and forgiveness.

Then re-read the Bible’s stories of Jesus.

You get the picture.

We can see the imprint of Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus, in lots of different places, and so see God’s face. But we see Jesus most clearly, most completely, in the stories and teachings of Scripture. Indeed, this is what the Bible is for.

The Bible is not an encyclopedia of all truth—though it speaks the truth we most need to hear. It is not a comprehensive moral handbook—though it gives us guidance on how to live.

No, the Bible is first and foremost a witness to Jesus. We read the Bible to see Jesus.

And then, as we learn about Jesus from the Bible, we can learn to see Jesus in other places. And when we see Jesus, we see who God is, and we see who we can become as those created in God’s image.

Seeing God Face to Face

Let me leave you with two Bible verses to ponder.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says that as we “see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Paul is talking about looking to Jesus, seeing God’s glory in Jesus, and being transformed in the process, being re-made in the image of God in Jesus. That’s just what I’ve been talking about: seeing Jesus, and so seeing God, and so seeing who we can become as those created in God’s image.

But you’ll notice the little phrase, “as though reflected in a mirror.” It’s an acknowledgment that we don’t see Jesus face to face. Even in looking to Scripture to see Jesus, even in carefully discerning the imprint of Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus, diligently seeking Jesus’ face in all the ways I’ve talked about, it is still only like seeing a reflection of Jesus in a mirror.

1 Corinthians 13:12 picks up on that same idea, but gives us some powerful encouragement: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, O Lord, do I seek.

There is something within us that craves something beyond us—and that something beyond us has now come among us in Jesus.

God has shown his face, and it’s the face of Jesus.

For now, we see Jesus’ face by looking for his imprint in the Scriptures, by looking for his Spirit in his followers and in the world. But one day—one day!—we will see Jesus face to face.

And then our craving for something beyond us—the transcendent, the divine, the presence of God—will be fulfilled. Then our quest to seek God’s face will finally be at an end—an end which will be just the beginning of a new and even better story “which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle).

This is adapted from my sermon at Morden Mennonite Church on February 21, 2016. Artwork is by James Tissot; click on pictures for more details. Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl

Taking the Bible Seriously

“The Bible is clear on this. You’re not taking the Bible seriously.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. It was about ten years ago, and the man had come to see me with questions about my view on women’s roles in church leadership. Or maybe it was the age of the earth, or the timing of Jesus’ return, or the Church’s obligation to the poor, or Christian participation in the military, I’m really not sure. I do remember the look in his eye, though, the tone in his voice.

He leaned forward.

“You don’t believe the Bible.”

Both my eyebrows were now up. I sighed, audibly.

Really? I thought. I don’t take the Bible seriously? I’m spending thousands of dollars and several years writing a 200-page doctoral dissertation on a three-word Greek phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, and I don’t take the Bible seriously?

I don’t believe the Bible, really? I’ve given most of my adult life to studying the Bible in order to know God and discern God’s will and help others do the same, and I don’t believe the Bible?

“I can assure you, my good man, that I do believe the Bible, and I take it with utmost seriousness.”

No, I didn’t say that, though I like to think that I did (in my best English accent).

I can’t really remember how I responded, just as I can’t recall the specific topic. But I do remember these accusations. They’re hard to forget, because this was the same conversation in which I was firmly labeled a “liberal”—and that’s memorable, because in that same week someone else called me a “fundamentalist.”

Go figure.

Yes, it’s true that my view on women’s roles has changed over the years, from a complementarian to a full egalitarian view. Yes, it’s true that my view on the earth’s age has changed, and my view on the “end times,” and non-violence, and matters of social justice, and probably dozens of other theological and ethical hot potatoes.

But here’s the thing: each of these changes has been prompted in large part if not entirely by my study of the Bible.

Take my changed views on women’s roles in church ministry, for example.

Gutenberg BibleI read Judges’ description of Deborah’s leadership in ancient Israel. I read Luke’s description of Jesus’ encouragement of women disciples. I read John’s description of Mary’s apostle-esque commission, and Paul’s description of Phoebe the deaconess and Junia the apostle, and 2 John’s description of the “chosen lady’s” church leadership. And I began to see that there’s more to the story of women’s ministry roles than just the situation-specific prohibitions of female leadership in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

Or take my changed perspective on young-earth creationism.

I read Genesis 1 and 2 carefully, even literally. I found one creation story that speaks of creation in six “days” and a second creation story that speaks of creation in one “day.” I noted that in the first story three days are already marked before the sun and moon are even created to “mark” the days. I saw that these two stories use different names for God, talk about God’s creative role in different ways, describe events in different orders, and more. And I began to think that these stories are concerned about something other than exactly when and how God created all things.

Here’s my point: my views on these things didn’t change because I stopped taking the Bible seriously. They didn’t change because I was trying to accommodate the prevailing culture, or because I succumbed to some liberal agenda, or because I was affected by some spiritual malaise.

My views have changed precisely because I have taken the Bible seriously, reading the Bible carefully, in context, and across both Testaments.

I have to confess, I have at times thought back to that “you’re not taking the Bible seriously” conversation, and I’ve thought to myself, “It wasn’t me that wasn’t taking the Bible seriously—it was him!” But then I catch myself. The man in my office that day was taking the Bible seriously—he was just interpreting it differently than I did. Wrongly, I still think, but I certainly can’t accuse him of not taking the Bible seriously.

And I remind myself that this is another necessary, if difficult, part of taking the Bible seriously: taking seriously the fact that this God-inspired collection of ancient human writings has generated an astonishing variety of interpretations and theologies over the centuries—most of which have been attempting to take the Bible seriously.

May we be slow to accuse other Christians of being “unbiblical,” of “not taking the Bible seriously,” of “not believing the Bible.” Instead, may we be quick to listen to each other, willing to be challenged afresh by the Bible’s stories and teachings, ready to learn and grow and change, seeking to follow Jesus more faithfully in love.

Then it can truly be said that we are taking the Bible seriously.

For some related thoughts on this, check out my post on “When Everyone’s Biblical and We All Disagree.” Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.