Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Strange Silence of the Bible

I've been doing a little research lately for a course I'm teaching next summer called "Narrative Theology." George Stroup, in The Promise of Narrative Theology, begins his text by describing the "identity crisis" of Christianity (in the early 1980's) in the face of a burgeoning religious, cultural and social pluralism. Oddly, most Christians (and most churches) proclaim their unfailing adherence to the Bible's authority, but have lost the ability and/or will to actually use the Bible as a central component of the church's liturgy and life.

This is a phenomenon I have noticed for many years. Even within my own evangelical tradition, which prizes and proclaims the Bible's authority, and upholds the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and infallibility (the Bible is completely true in everything it teaches), many churches and many Christians seem to have lost both the facility and the will to use the Bible effectively and often in worship, preaching and life. Many have just given up! I recall in the conservative Baptist seminary I attended, one chapel speaker after another waving the Bible in the air, proclaiming, with as much bravado as they could muster, the Bible's inerrancy but then completing disregarding it or atrociously misusing it in their sermons. Karl Barth once referred to the "strange new world" of the Bible; it may be that the "stranger" the biblical world sounds to our technological, modern ears, the less of a central role the biblical witness may play in the formation and transformation of the Christian life and the Church. But this would be a tragedy that could lead to the loss of the heart of the Christian faith itself. And surely it does not need to be the case. We can neither retreat from the twenty-first century nor neglect the story of God from ancient days. But herein lies the challenge.

So here are some questions: In your own life, what challenges do you face in giving the Bible a genuinely central and authoritative role? In your church experience, how is the Bible "used"? Does your church's actual use of the Bible match its proclamation of biblical authority?


Scott Strand said...


Great questions. As to the first my struggle is knowing what I believe, making sure what I believe holds true to what the Bible teaches, and then living out what it is I say I believe and the Bible confirms as truth. Why the struggle? Because this takes both time and effort. Most people today seem to lack time for a quick read through a passage of scripture let alone an in depth evaluation on ones own beliefs and their Biblical groundings. We are a society of 30 second sound bites not 30 minute conversations.

As for my church, the Bible is referenced but a lot of the message seems to revolve around stories. Don't get me wrong, stories or narratives are great tools, but the substance of the message needs to be grounded in scripture.

Don't know if I answered what you were asking, but this is where my ponderings have been for a while now.

Kyle A. Roberts said...

Scott, thanks for your comment. Your point raises the question for me of how much the Bible does (or does not) either sanction or condemn all of our beliefs about everything. Aren't there some things you "believe," that the biblical writers would not? You believe (I assume, anyway) that the earth spins on its axis around the sun. But did Moses? Did Paul? Must your "beliefs" about cosmology be confirmed by the Bible? Or are you thinking of doctrinally, related theological beliefs? (e.g. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised on the third day)? Of course, it gets a bit murky when we realize that there's no easy distinction between "theological/doctrinal" beliefs and scientific (cosmological or otherwise) beliefs.

As for the use of the Bible in churches, one positive thing the narrative theology movement gave us is a challenge to let the "strange new world" of the Bible speak to us on its own terms, rather than trying to make the biblical world conform to our own world, and "apply" it to whatever felt needs we think we have. I wonder why we try so hard to substitute for the intriguing, interesting, rich biblical narratives, so many anemic stories of our own?

Scott Strand said...

Kyle, I agree that there is a murkiness as one looks at various beliefs. I have been thinking about your comments, is it possible to categorize our beliefs? I was thinking along the lines of natural or scientific beliefs (weather, cosmological, etc), doctrinal beliefs (virgin birth, the resurrection, etc), and functional beliefs (the beliefs that cause us to act or respond). As I write this though things don't seem to be getting clearer in my mind only more murky. Hummmmmm, I might have to ponder on this a little more.

Anyway, if you want to check our the randomness of my thoughts you can get to my blog my clicking on my name in this comment section.