Friday, February 04, 2005

Scripture as a Relational Moment

Before the invention of the printing press the reading of scripture was a relational event, something heard aloud in the company of others rather than an individual activity one experienced within oneself. We could even back up further to the oral tradition that preceded much of scripture - even more relational.

Today we carry scripture around in books, on PDA's, access it on our computers, and have the opportunity to bring ourselves to scripture constantly. Of tremendous importance is the mindset I bring to that encounter with holy writing.

I've heard many metaphors which compare the Bible to some other type of printed material: it is a blueprint, the constitution of the church, an owner's manual for human beings, the book containing all the answers (like a dictionary or encyclopedia), a road map, or something else. All of these suggest a mentality one should bring to an encounter with scripture. Come looking for a pattern or bylaws to govern things, bring your questions about life, ask your questions about anything, find out how to get where you are going, etc.

There are other metaphors that I've not personally heard people use, but they use the Bible in other ways. One is as a business model. A really bad one is that Bible is a treasure map with clues to wealth and success.

I will concede that none of these metaphors is totally without some truthful aspect, but some only have a sliver of redeeming application and in general are quite misleading. Each metaphor suggests the intention of scripture, and therefore the mindset I should bring to reading scripture.

One deficiency I see with all these comparisons is that they emphasize that the Bible is a resource of information. Our interaction with scripture is therefore primarily intellectual.

Since scripture is written, it would be easy to think like this. But if we take seriously the Hebrew writer's statement that the Word of God is living and active (4:12), and believe that scripture is the Word of God, then in a mysterious way the person of God is encountered through scripture. And so I believe that some relational metaphors, instead of informational ones, might be better to set my mind in the proper frame.

As far as the people whose stories are found in the Bible I think about the possibility of approaching them as I would a family reunion. If your family is like mine, not everyone you see at the reunion is who you'd choose if it was a 'friends' reunion. Some might seem downright strange, to my way of looking at things. Reunions are where the family history is revisited in many ways, often the good and the bad. There is information, but only in the context of relational interaction - people with people. That is different than a person with a document: a person and a blueprint.

Undoubtedly wisdom, family history, and a perspective of one's own narrative would be informational benefits of the experience. Though the metaphor is hardly sufficient, I think there may be some benefit in orienting myself in this way rather than as if I am about to read a roadmap or constitution. I am about to enter a living conversation.

When it comes to encountering God, I think the relational becomes even more pronounced. For me scripture then becomes a 'place' where I interact with God. Rather than being God's instructional manual for me (almost suggesting God has left that in place of His personal presence), scripture is more like a coffee shop - a venue for dialogue. Though the words within the books of holy scripture don't change, they are the place where God speaks and so become a meeting place of creature and Creator where new things happen (certainly not the only meeting place, by any means).

Is there something helpful about opening your Bible with the expectation of entering an ongoing conversation rather than intending to search for and extract information? What happens when we change the expectations we bring to reading our Bibles?


Mark said...

Looking at an encounter with the Bible this way sure does bring a fresh look to the idea of daily Bible reading. Kind of like enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend!

Kevin said...


just came across your blog... you make a great point about the relational aspect of scripture. It is a lot more dangerous, however, to allow the word of God to be living and active, instead of just giving us facts to know.

I have heard a great deal about your ministry in Tanzania; my wife and I are preparing to join the current Mwanza team. We would love your insights on your time in TZ!!!