Over the years my approach to the Bible has changed. I shall resist the temptation to say overmuch about this here, but I will give you the basic principles that I have learned.
Principle 1: The Gospels are the centre on which everything depends. It is no coincidence that there are four Gospels. God is wanting to bring them to our attention – he is underlining them, double underlining them and then colouring them in. The Old Testament provides the context and the epistles provide the commentary. And it is also the whole of the Gospels that are important – not just the last few chapters, with Jesus firmly at the centre.
Principle 2: The Bible is reliable and rooted in history. I hold scripture far more loosely than I used to. The Bible is an ancient set of texts, deeply rooted in history. We need to take them for what they are, and not for what they are not. They were written by those inspired to write them and preserved by the community. A work of (largely) men, but with the Spirit involved throughout. Now, while God is infallible, we are not – as the footnotes in any modern Bible will attest. So, what we have is, in some way, a mixture. Which is a view that can be unsettling. Yet, I am fully convinced the Bible remains reliable.
I have worked for many years with digital communications and all are prone to error, but we have numerous ways to ensure those errors don’t damage the message. If we can do it, why do we doubt God’s ability to do the same? God is more able to preserve his truth – even in a text entrusted to us.
Principle 3: The story matters. Ever since the Greeks, we have sought to understand scripture theoretically. Yet that is not how it was written. It is primarily books of poetry and ancient narrative. For sure, it is deeply rooted in history, but its concern is not that of the modern historian – or scientist for that matter. It is the story of a relationship between a God and his people. To then decompose that story into verses to create a system of theology is, in my view, a travesty. We need to recapture the story that the authors were telling. The story really does matter – as does our place in it.
Principle 4: All important truths are simple. I am increasingly struck by the power in the important truths, which are always easy to understand. There is no difficulty in understanding that God came as man, was crucified and rose again. You could spend your life deliberating the consequences of those truths – which is largely what the Apostle Paul did. For sure some of his deliberations did get complex, but they are all commentary on those simple truths. The icing on the cake.
The corollary of this is that if it is complex, then it isn’t important, so don’t worry about it too much.
So, over the years I have learned, somewhat to my surprise, that the Bible does not need my protection, it is for my benefit. I need it to do its work on me, to soak myself in its narrative and to allow myself to become a part of its story, a story that will utterly demolish me – if I but let it. And that is what reading the Bible is about. Not that we understand it, but that we allow it to change us forever.