For the last few Sunday evenings we’ve been studying the book of Judges. There have been many head-scratching moments as we’ve navigated questions concerning the historicity, morality and significance of the text. It has sent me back to the books. One helpful source has been John Goldingay’s Fuller Lectures on the Torah which, although not about Judges, handle some similar issues (it’s actually a podcast). While you may not completely agree with his perspective, one thing is clear, he really loves the Bible.
His enthusiasm is infectious. Combined with reading Pete Greig’s ‘How to Hear God’, it’s been a vital reminder of this most important vocation for pastor-teachers: we are here to teach the Bible. For me, this sometimes gets lost. Amongst the calls to mission, fresh expression, pastoral care, community development, and the impositions of presbytery planning, church management and financial reduction, the Bible is drowned out.
Don’t misunderstand me, I keep preaching and teaching. Church continues to be centred around sermons and studies. But my own delight in Scripture sometimes wanes. Perhaps the Bible feels feeble compared with the endless possibilities of ecclesial innovation or missional novelty. Perhaps it feels powerless in the light of church statistics and strategy.
And yet, without the Bible we have nothing but minimal, unreliable, shadows of ‘The Divine’. Without the Bible, we have no Gospel, no Christ Jesus and our churches are folksy gatherings for good advice and singalongs. Without the Bible there is no prophetic imagination, no purpose in evangelism, no foundation of pastoral hope. Mission becomes self promotion and discipleship an act of narcissism.
We do not worship God, Father, Son and Holy Bible. But without the Bible we cannot know Father, Son and Spirit. At New College, Professor David Wright said that while we shouldn’t idolise the Bible, we require a very high view of it. This was an important lesson when later classes dismembered the text, questioning its authenticity, provenance and occasion, yet seldom considered its ultimate source and meaning. But in the years since, more than any textual critical approach, ministry, itself, has often obscured the Bible. The Word has been overtaken by the pressures of charity management. Well-meaning, retired pastors may now interject a solution; don’t leave your study before lunchtime and then, only, to make multiple visits. This does not provide an achievable model for contemporary ministry, but the passion for the Bible is worth imitating.
All of this leads to the question, what if we have been excited about the Bible and have been preaching it faithfully for years with little response? There are many possible answers. Perhaps we should shake off the dust and move on? Perhaps we are planting in the wrong soil? Perhaps spiritual forces are hindering the message?
But one possible answer returns me to the starting point of this entire blog. The Bible, in the hands of the Spirit, is powerful, dynamic, mind-blowing and soul transforming. Are we obscuring it? Are we hiding it within the walls of the Kirk? Is our message connecting with those outside of the church? Is anyone else hearing the stories of the Bible? And are we enthusing and equipping the saints to handle God’s narrative gift to the World? Is it possible that our methods of sharing, teaching and proclaiming are generally ineffective or even counteractive?
And lastly, how can we as pastor-teachers re-awaken a delight in the Bible, both in ourselves and in others? How do we prioritise it and dwell in it? Some of the world’s most popular stories are derivatives of the Biblical narrative. How do we allow God’s story to form and reform our imagination so that our creative responses rival the latest streaming saga?