I don’t know about the rest of you, but I enjoyed Dan’s post yesterday in that it shows us the power of God’s word to reform sinful menand they don’t come any more sinful than Dan and I, so let’s not get too puffed up here. But there’s an issue underneath Dan’s post which is sort of running around the blogosophere right now and, since Wednesday is my day, I thought I’d drop in a few words on the subject here at TeamPyro.
What’s at issue is the matter of whether the word of God means something in particular or not. By that I mean, the Bible is an object in the worlda literary objectand we encounter it as people in the space-time continuum, right? On my desk right now is a Coke, a coffee mug, my Palm Tungsten E, a $19.99 1 GB USB stick I picked up at WMT, a Bible, and a pen. It would be somewhat absurd to pick up my Coke and try to discern what saith the Lordand it would be equally absurd to pick up my Bible and try to get a swallow of sugary, caffeinated heaven from it.
So just on that superficial level, the Bible’s not very good to get a snack from. It’s also probably not a great handbook for fixing my beater Nissan. So whatever is in that book, there are some things it does tell us, and some things that it doesn’t tell us. But here’s the kicker: how will we ever know what it is actually good for?
Maybe we rub it on our foreheads?
I don’t know if this is my college egjookayshun showing here or what, but it seems to me that we have to read the Bible to figure this out. You know: like you’re reading this blog right now.
Now, the complaint will inevitably come back, “cent, you disasterous Baptist, how do we read the Bible? By what means? With what method? Doesn’t your somewhat-stoopid affirmation here overlook the problem of the text?”
Actually, I think it turns out that this particular criticism is startlingly self-ignorant. Do I have to rehearse why right herethat someone writing has the audacity to assuming that someone reading what they have written doesn't know how to read?
That said, “by what means” is also a very fair question when we realize that reading is not just like connecting H/O scale train cars. The phrase:
METHOUGHT I saw my late espousèd Saintis not as transparent, for example, as the phrase
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Joves great Son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."You shouldn’t read the first one the way you’d read the second, and vice versa.
But how do you know? Seriouslyhow do you know whether it’s poetry or historical narrative or something else?
Well, let me ask you: how do you know how to read the newspaper vs. how to listen to the lyrics of a song? That’s question is not as simple as it seemsbecause most of us, I imagine, know to read the newspaper with a certain degree of skepticism, and to listen to song lyrics with some other kind of detachment, but we still derive some enjoyment from that. This is something everyone does every day, btw, and it doesn't cause chaos in the streets.
But we know, don’t we? The first time you heard the insipid “Jesus take the Wheel”, you knew it wasn’t a news report, right? And when you read Dan’s post yesterday, you knew it was a historical report of sorts as wellin spite of the fact that he referenced God’s action in eternity past?
So what’s the clue? What’s the high sign? Is there just one?
Here are some suggestions:
 The author tells you in some way. With the patch of Milton, above, Milton is writing in a recognizable verse form, and we know to read poetry. In Dan’s post yesterday, he said, “this is my testimony”. Now, you can call Milton a hack and Dan a liar if you are inclined, but doing that before you try to read what they have written is a little less than engaging.
 The text itself tips you off. This is another way the author tells you something, but sometimes they are telling you something they don’t intend. For example, when you read the newspaper, it gets tired when the same reporter/columnist makes the same factual error for the 10th time this quarter. When someone is being dishonest, or disingenuous, or biased, or on the positive side transparent, or exhuberant, or is simply enjoying himself, it’s in the text. The words, the phrasing, the pace, the diction, the technique simply gives itself away.
 You’re not the only one who “gets it”. This can cut both ways sometimes, but more often than not, in any text, when you are coming up with a unique or paradigm-shattering understanding of some text, you’re probably out past the safety bouys.
And these are things you didn’t need me to tell you. You’re doing it right now.
But think about this, please: the Bible, above all other pieces of literature, needs to be read with the same degree of honesty you would use to read any other text. There is a great reason for this, and you can find that reason in Deu 6:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.See: God gives us this word, He charges them with it (Paul says He “entrusted” this word to Israel), in order for us to use it for the purpose of not forgetting who and what God is.
And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant--and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
God gave us His word for the purpose of telling us who He is in order that we would never forget. Implicit in that is the notion that somehow the words are the foundation of that “memory”.
So reading the words ought to be more meaningful to us than having a good well which we didn’t dig for ourselves; it ought to be better than a vineyard we didn’t plant but that we come into possession of; it ought to be better than a safe wall which protects us even though we didn’t build it. Listen: that's a lot more transparent than what Paul says to Timothy about what Scripture is good for. Paul sounds downright seeker-friendly in comparison to what God has told Moses here.
That criticismwe don’t know how to receive the Bible, or that we have this lavish liberty to receive it a variety of waysis more than a little disconnected from what the Bible says about itself. And I have a testimony about that, but this is already 3 pages single-spaced, so we’ll have to come back to that another time.