Are You Ready to Read the Bible?

January 4, 2013

Are you one among many who have made a New Year’s Resolution to read the entire Bible in 2013? If so, and if you actually carry through on the resolve, you are in a very good place to build your faith. For through the Word of God written, the Christian becomes acquainted with God, who turns out to be remarkably open with those who seek him this way. According to The Fellowship Theology Project, the paper giving an exposition of “the essential tenets of the Reformed faith,” the first essential has to do with God’s Word as the authority of our confession. It is the starting place for any consideration of the foundations of our faith. By the Holy Scriptures, God’s Word written, we are introduced to Jesus Christ, God’s Word incarnate and our Savior. That introduction is a very long story, involving cosmic forces and a tiny nation, featuring exemplars of the faith and notorious sinners, and employing many different genres to tell it. But reading the whole narrative is worth the effort!

As we ring in the New Year, the new movie Les Misérables starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway has just been released. It brings back warm memories of the amazing, fast-paced stage musical production that opened in London in 1985. I had been told before seeing the touring production in San Francisco that the words and action moved very quickly and it would be a good idea to watch a movie to get familiar with the story. My husband and I checked out a copy of the black and white 1935 Charles Laughton version because it was the shortest. The story focused tightly on the moral dilemmas of Jean Valjean and his adversary Inspector Javert. On a roll, we decided to check out a later movie, in color this time, and shot on location. We were astonished that this version highlighted the love story as an emotional epic. Now thoroughly acquainted with the basic story line, we saw an entirely different slant in the musical production. But it made us curious: what was the real, complete story? The only way to answer that was to read Victor Hugo’s 1800 page novel, which hubby did. And his verdict: “The story is just too big to be contained in one three-hour rendition.”

Why do we have four gospels, for instance? Like Les Misérables, the story of Jesus is too multi-layered and rich to be contained in one version of his life story. The Bible is a big book, because it tells a long story from the vantage point of many witnesses through biblical history. The story amazingly hangs together, despite the many contributors who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, submitted the next installment of God’s unfolding plan and purposes. The gospel writers were part of this great cloud of witnesses, unveiling Jesus and making known the person and work of our Savior, that we might have life in his name (John 20:31).

Despite this inherent unity within the Bible, centered on Jesus Christ, the book can also be confusing and even controversial. Somewhere in the past couple of centuries the authority of Revelation was replaced in the minds of many by the authority of Reason.  But when reason becomes a standard as well as a tool, clouds of moral confusion and spiritual ignorance appear. It is at this point that some dismiss the Bible as a discredited book. So just to be clear, you need to know that I don’t dismiss or discredit the Scripture of the Old and New Testament. I embrace the Bible because it is the Word of God, divine in inspiration even while humans were involved in its authorship. We have no other way of knowing God’s view of himself, of us, of history, or of the great calamity he came to redeem. We have no other way of knowing Jesus or what he taught or did, other than through the testimony given from the many vantage points in this book. There is something very exciting about the fact that God, in a sustained project over millennia, sought to make known what would otherwise be complete mysteries. How fortunate we are to have a God who wants to be known and to be active among us!

The beliefs encoded in our Book of Confessions are wonderful expressions of the faith we have inherited. But the Book of Confessions is not the source of our beliefs. Only the Bible claims that distinction, and anything the church might create—any drama or worship video it might produce, any song it might write, or confession it might detail—is a faithful rendition only so long as it conforms to the Word of God, the Scriptures, “our only rule of faith and practice.” Many people have attempted to whittle the story down into manageable pieces, but the Bible is the full story and the authority for our confession. We do well to embrace it and receive it as God’s gift of self-disclosure.

So are you ready to read the Bible in 2013? Are you ready to mine its riches and discover other essential tenets of the Reformed faith in it? In the next few days, I will be exploring some of those themes as a way of introducing a soon-to-be-released study guide for the essential tenets.





2 Responses to “Are You Ready to Read the Bible?”

  1. Stephanie Strom Says:

    Dear Mary,
    This is a voice from your Menlo Pres. days! I have followed your blog for a long time and have quietly thought that your clarion call to Biblical truth has been so compromised, ignored and blasphemed within our denomination. (The pres. church I attended for quite a while here in OR just joined the evangelical denom.) I left it about 8 years ago, as the congregation continually needed years to decide its position on the church’s denom. stance clearly out of line with Scripture.
    I had to put up with a lot of flack/crap from the pastor and his wife and Skip!! We all survived it, and Laura (she said nothing to me about it) remains my dearest friend. Skip is much quieter than he used to be, and the pastor and his wife and I have a great renewed friendship also.
    Grateful thanks to you for sharing His TRUTH and refusing, to mince, dice, divide or ignore His teaching. You are one of my modern day heroines.
    Carry on under His banner of Life,
    Stephanie Strom

    • revmary Says:

      How great to hear from you, Stephanie, and particularly glad to hear that these [mutual] Christian friends have supported you through the years. It isn’t always clear how an individual or a congregation is to respond to the waywardness of both the denomination and the world. We are all called to trust God, abide in his Word, and obey him…but there isn’t one answer to the “stay or leave the PCUSA” question. In my consulting with pastors and elders around the nation, circumstances vary enough that staying for some is the right thing to do; for others, leaving is the only solution. Wherever we land, though, we are called to the Truth without second-guessing God, to unwavering faith in God’s revelation, and courage to be and do what is required to make Christ known. In no place is this easy, as you have experienced in the last several years.

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