Thursday, February 7, 2008

What is the Bible?

Sitting on my laptop I have a draft of a book on the Bible. Its tentatively called 'Grace and Truth: Scripture and Evangelical Theology'. But its sitting there, rather than making progress, because I lack clarity about what its distinctive message is - that is, the message which is worth publishing in a world with lots of books on the Bible. Lately I have returned to thinking about this. One way forward is to orient the book more to answering the question in the title of this post, What is the Bible? I ask the question because I am often at odds with the kinds of answers I see Christians giving to the question. Its not - in my thinking - a text-book, a resource book, an historic book, an instruction manual or a book of inspiration. Yes, it includes elements of all those possibilities, but its not reducible to any one of them. I think what also troubles me is the emphasis on the Bible as a 'book' - for then it is easy to move to 'being a Christian is someone who studies this book'. But being a Christian is someone in relationship with God. The Bible is God in communication with us through writing. In this definition the emphasis falls on God who communicates with us; and we read the Bible in order to hear from God, not in order to be experts on a book (albeit the most important book of all) or to be conformed to the contents of a book.

In this line of thinking 'Scripture' is a better term than 'Bible' for it acknowledges that we hear from God who communicates with us through writing. The way is then paved for answering the question 'What is the Bible?' with (say) 'God's written Word' where 'Word' is the revelation or disclosure of the mind and will of God for humanity, supremely expressed in the life and death of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. The Bible then is God's Holy Scripture or written Word by which I am enabled to enter into and be nurtured by the very life of Christ. To complete the trinitarian character of the answer, we also profess that Scripture records the words of the prophets and apostles as they spoke by the Holy Spirit and we understand the meaning of Scripture as the Holy Spirit illuminates these words for us as readers and hearers bound together and into the being of God through the indwelling Spirit of God.

What is the Bible? Technically it is a 'book' but it is also a door opening up heaven (Revelation 4:1), and a light shining God's truth on our lives (Psalm 119:105). It is in this sense of the Bible as a lively and living communication from God, written long ago, rewritten on my heart as I read it today, that I think I want to take up my book again in an attempt to make a point which I suspect is lost from some talk today.

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