What’s The Bible, Again?

I made the comment in passing on Rachel Held Evans’ blog yesterday, but it bears repeating here (and even if it didn’t, it’s my blog, right?!):

When we debate issues such as women in the church, the underlying debate is “What is the Bible?”

At the beginning of the year, I posted some thoughts on what are pressing issues for evangelicals: gospel, gender, human origins, and the Bible.

In fact, the “What is the Bible?” question is the one that most fundamentally underlies all of those. But the differences aren’t about those who take the Bible as authoritative versus those who don’t. It’s not about people who are inerrantists versus those who acknowledge errors.

Behind even those kinds of debates lies a plethora of competing ideas about what the Bible is: is it a handbook for life? is it the maker’s instruction manual? is it a theology text–the revelation of the eternal counsel of God?

My blog is called “storied theology,” provocatively sub-titled, “Telling the Story of the Story-Bound God” because all of the theological and exegetical particulars that get worked out here are built on the prior commitment to the Bible as, fundamentally, a lengthy narrative.

Why does this matter?

For one, it matters because in stories people change.

For another, it matters because as stories and their characters develop, different actions become acceptable or not, real changes take place, because the circumstances have changed.

In stories, there are false starts and dead ends–for characters, for groups–but the story can continue.

When reading stories, our imaginations are shaped. We are changed, not by legal requirement or didactic necessity quite so much as visioning a new world and being drawn up into it.

I take recent kerfuffles about women and about Adam (see today’s Kevin DeYoung post and James McGrath’s reply) to be manifestations of conflicting ideas about what the Bible is, and how it functions as sacred scripture.

There is a compelling pull from the conservatizing elements, compelling because it feels more biblical to see certain passages in a given way. Treating the whole Bible as a treasure chest full of compatible theological insights is one way to treat the Bible with respect as God’s word.

Except that this is not the Bible that God has actually given us. We do not have a systematic theology text. We are not given the easy task of taking one verse and assuming it will fit with the rest.

Instead, we have a story. We have God in dynamic relationship with people. We have a Redeemer who actually changes what it means to live as the faithful people of God on earth.

Christ’s is a narrative that transforms the others. His is a story that reinterprets not only the biblical promises and commands and stories that came before, but also the lives that follow after.

Reading stories is easy. Interpreting them well is difficult.

For evangelicals, this difficulty lies at the root of our various partings of ways. First, we need to start thinking about the Bible differently. Then we can start talking about what it’s actually trying to tell us.

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