We started the Bible Basics course last night, so I’m going to start posting some materials here that pertain to that.
This introduction is different from the introduction we covered last night, but is a decent way to get oriented to the basic purpose of what we’re doing.
I’m also going to post a little note on “finding a framework for reading the Bible as a whole,” and some notes about Genesis 1-11.
Being a Christian today in North America is probably no harder than it was for the first Christians, who lived in the first century in the Roman Empire. At the same time, we shouldn’t imagine that it’s any easier either. The pressures are different, but the problem is the same: the world isn’t congenial to growing in Christian faithfulness.
We are always being bombarded with images and ideas that threaten to crowd out the great story we’ve been given. That story – the gospel – tells us that the God who made us has planned to rescue us from the fallen condition we have brought on ourselves through disobedience. It tells us that he became one of us, living a life as a Jewish man in the first century A.D., suffering and dying on the cross for our sins. It tells us that he was raised to life again, and that his resurrection that was the first and decisive step in God’s redemption of his creation. It tells us that those who believe in him – the Church – live now in the power of the Holy Spirit as witnesses to God’s great salvation as we look forward to and pray for that great and final rescue.
The world we live in makes it easy to forget our story. In the words of one theologian, the world has actually “lost its story.” But God has given us our Scriptures to read together to hear his voice calling us back to the truth – truth about God and the world and ourselves. Over the centuries, the Church has returned to Scripture again and again, seeking to make sure that our message and our teaching remains faithful. At the same time, we recognize that God’s Holy Spirit has made and kept the Church for all these years, which means we depend on the wisdom of Christians who have gone before us, people who lived before we were even born. This concern to remain faithful to Scripture and to the Church’s consensus of understanding can be summed up as the task of theology in the Church.
Theology Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
“Theology” is a scary word for many people. We imagine that it refers to dry, abstract talk about God and the Bible. But it doesn’t have to be as daunting as that. In fact, we should make sure we don’t think of it that way, because theology is important to all of us who are Christians.
We all have our thoughts about God, and these thoughts come out in the way we live our lives and the way we talk. In the words of Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson, “everyone is a theologian…Anyone who reflects upon life’s ultimate questions – including questions about God and our relationship with God – is a theologian.” As soon as you say “God” you are “doing theology.” The question is, will it be bad theology or good theology? Will it be faithful to the truth about God we’ve been proclaiming for almost 2000 years, or will it buy into a false conception of God? Good theology leads to the truth being proclaimed; bad theology misleads, no matter how sincere it is.
So what we are going to do in this course is theology, but that doesn’t mean it’s beyond you. It means we’re going to think about God so that we can live for God, praise God, and tell about God in a way that is true.
Reading the Bible Like a Detective Story
Our approach will be to survey the Bible’s story as a whole. Many Christians are lost when it comes to understanding what to do with the Bible. How do I make sense of all this? What is the relationship between those two Testaments, and does the Old Testament even matter to us today? Is there a knack to reading the Bible?
By trying to follow through the main story of the Bible as a whole, we will discover that there is a way to get to know the Bible that will serve us well in the future. But this book is just so big; how do we know what to read and what to leave for another time?
Historian David Steinmetz has suggested that we approach the Bible something like a detective story. The first time we read a detective story, there are leads going in every direction. First you think the maid was the killer, then you think it was the grandfather. Finally you discover that it was actually the doctor. Once you know that, the whole story looks different. If you start reading again, knowing this time that it was the doctor who committed the crime, the story changes. Some leads that used to be interesting look more like blind alleys the second time around. Other subtle hints that you missed the first time seem much more significant.
As Christians we come to the Bible knowing that the story leads toward salvation for humankind through Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came into the world to give up his life on the cross for our sins. When we read the Old Testament, we can’t pretend we’re clueless about where it’s going. We’re able to pick up on certain things that we wouldn’t if we read the Old Testament without knowing anything about Jesus.
So in this course we will attend to the Bible as a connected narrative with Jesus Christ as the culmination. This doesn’t mean we’ll be spotting Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. In fact, it doesn’t even mean we’re going to be looking primarily for “predictions” of Jesus’ coming. It means we’re going to follow the story of the Old Testament in such a way that by the time we read about Jesus in the New Testament we realize why his story is called “good news” (the meaning of the word “Gospel”).
All of this work is for a purpose. The story of the gospel doesn’t end with the New Testament. As we read the New Testament we will see that the Church today is the logical continuation of the story we read in the Bible. Our life together now is somehow the work that God is still doing in the world while we wait for the consummation of his plans. As we read this two thousand year old story we will start to find in it the basic rhythms of Christian life that still serve to carry us along as we seek to be faithful to our God.