Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bible Reading

The night I became a believer (almost 38 years ago), I was given a green padded-cover copy of The Living Bible. I had read portions of the Bible before, and even memorized scripture for catechism (King James Version), but I had never really read the Bible before.

I was told to start reading the Gospel of John. I had never read it, and it was like reading a revolutionary treatise. Yes, Jesus loved me. Yes, he had a wonderful plan for my life.

But Jesus was a bomb thrower.

I hadn’t met this Jesus before. He didn’t mince words. He could be loving and tender, but he could also be fierce. He didn’t duck confrontation. And he had this laser-like ability to cut right to what the real issues were.

This was a Jesus I had never met before, almost a complete stranger.

In Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, reading the Bible and especially the gospels is what Michael Spencer says will change your life, and possibly change it radically. He also says that it is exactly this practice of “reading Jesus first-hand” that many in the church find so threatening.

I pondered that: the American Christian church would find reading the Bible to be radical and threatening? This sounded almost pre-Reformation.

I didn’t know what I thought this until I pictured Jesus showing up to turn over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple – and it could have been where the prosperity gospel was being preached.

Or showing up at any church that believed it had the whole thing figured out and theologically mapped. Or how he might challenge our own learned teachers and theologians. Or that we would likely find him in the inner cities and Third World ghettos instead of the typical American suburb. He would be wherever the hurting, the needy and the poor would be found.

Spencer isn’t advocating the overthrow of the church. “I believe in the importance of Christian community and the ministry of that community to provide boundaries and definition to our spiritual growth and healthy spirituality,” he writes. “I mourn, however, the loss of our openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit directing us in new and important Jesus-shaped directions…The natural conservatism of institutions is deeply rooted in the desire to survive, and that desire colors and limits the way they read the Bible and how they see God functioning in the world.”

I believe in the church. I believe in the local church. I believe I attend a solid, Bible-teaching, Jesus-based church.

But I still have that copy of The Living Bible. And I remember what it was like to “read Jesus” for the very first time.

Nancy Rosback at Bend the Page, Fatha Frank at Public Christianity and I have been reading Mere Churchianity. Check their blogs for more discussion. See in particular Fatha Frank’s post on “The Perfect Church?” and Nancy’s post on chapter 9 on the book.


Jerry said...

I started with a Good News Bible paperback. Read it feverishly when I was sixteen. Just last night I was talking with a friend about the church(local and univeral)and where it might be heading. It proved to be a very deep conversation about connection.
We attend a mega church that has everything and yet I wonder really what Jesus would do if He entered through the doors.

Doug Spurling said...

Thanks Glenn for asking these questions and turning on these lights. I kept thinking "it's not IF Jesus were here or there... He IS - We "the church" are His hands and feet. I pray we represent Him well and to do that like you have said so well - we must get to know Him, personally. I love that green padded Living bible - mom gave me one when I went off to Evangel a long time ago - it's still Living today as is HE.

MTJ said...

Hi Glynn,

This past January, I re-dedicated my life to God. For years I lived in spiritual apathy and sin (although I offered myself convenient excuses). I'd grown tired of the rhetoric I heard in church that left me wondering, Why am I doing this?

I have a real problem with attaching status, position, wealth and materialism to one's position with God as a result of the redemptive salvation of Christ. I had enough of hearing messages wrapped in a blanket of religious legalism; earning my brownie points with God and my "spiritual advisors".

For months, I grappled with stepping back through the doors of a local church. Finally, I attended worship service at my wife's church. I'm not convinced that this is where I need to be, but I'm trying to remain open to the Lord. Recently, the pastor has begun a series of messages on "God Wants You to be Prosperous"...I'm not dissillusioned with God but I have no desire to "chase church".

I know with God all things are possible to those who believe but I'm beginning to see how extremely difficult it is for large, mega, pseudo-mega, and aspiring mega churches to be radical for Christ.

I see this book is available for download, so I'll give it a read. I'm not familiar with Michael Spencer but I'll be open to reading his observations.

Blessings and peace.


Real Live Preacher said...

I think reading the Bible is dangerous. It should be. Reading the Old Testament in particular is very confusing. It forces a person to either engage God and begin some scholarship with the scriptures, or dismiss them as incredibly violent fairy tales.

What I don't appreciate is church people who act like the Bible is easy and sweet and simple. It isn't.

Anonymous said...

there is a lot in those words.
some of which i can't explain.
those words can speak in so many ways.

H. Gillham said...

Glynn -- I too was given a paperback Bible when I became a Christian --- like Jerry, I think mine was The Good News, and I read it like a novel. How interesting that you brought TLB up, Glynn -- I hadn't thought about that in years. How that was given to all newbies. :)

I studied the Gospel of John last year in BSF -- it's so rich a book.. and I know of one girl in my study group who said that when she reads John, she becomes a believer all over again. I liked the fact that she finds comfort in that renewal.... and you're right, John does draw a strong picture of Jesus, perhaps the strongest of the Gospels?

God's word is pretty clear, isn't it?

I'm studying Isaiah now -- and just wow.

H. Gillham said...

MTJ -- I hope you find what you need.

Fatha Frank said...

Glynn, I still have my first Bible. Held together with duct tape even. Reading it opened my eyes. It was radical. It was, as RLP says above, dangerous. And it should be. It is a sword afterall. But we can't just run around swinging it aimlessly, we need to learn how to wield it.