Nave's Topical Bible, Strong's Concordance and Unger's Bible Handbook, and sometimes Adam Clarke's commentary around him as he studied. From a very early age I had my own personal copy of the Bible that I was encouraged to take to church. I still have a red leather bound Thompson Chain Reference King James Version I got from my parents as a teenager. I remember singing Pricilla Owens' hymn "Give Me the Bible,"
Give me the Bible, Holy message shining
Thy light shall guide me in the narrow way;
Precept and promise, law and love combining,
Till night shall vanish in eternal day
I learned from virtually every direction that the Bible was special. It was holy. It was God's Word. It was to be held high. It was to be respected. No it was to be revered ... But Scripture was not really meant to be enjoyed.
My experience is probably not that unique. I revered the Bible and was ready to defend it against all comers (especially after I gave my life to Christ in baptism) but ironically my respect, singing, and bellicose rhetoric betrayed an awful lot of NONREADING! I "loved the Bible" but I did not "Enjoy the Bible." I have come to believe that my sin is shared with millions of other Bible believing, church attending and God fearing people. The Bible is probably the most "worshiped" book yet the least read book in the world.
Let me rant for a moment. Many Christians know little the contents of the book they reverence, almost to the point of idolatry. Rather than knowing the Biblical Story Scripture is turned into nuggets in "Bible Promise" books. I had a discussion with a disciple that had been baptized and had attended church for 30 years and was surprised to learn of the "divided" kingdom in the "Old Testament."
I suspect that much of the biblical illiteracy rampant among disciples today stems precisely from the manner in which Restoration and Evangelical churches have come to habitually approach the biblical text. The Bible is not a string of commands. It is not a series of propositions for theological debate. The Bible is not a jigsaw puzzle with a hidden code. The Bible is not even a book of contextless promises. The Bible is not even twelve steps to a happier more successful you. The Bible is a Story, God's Story of the redemption of the world he created.
When I say Story I do not mean "once upon a time" make believe story. I do mean by story a narrative, a drama, an epic! Narratives, stories, epics have inherent power to draw the reader within. The Story in the Bible is unified narrative. Like all good stories it has the plot and sub-plots. It has the Star (God) and then supporting characters (Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, etc). It has conflict and resolution. Stories have one more quality ... Stories capture our imagination! Stories are compelling. Stories are are enjoyable!
In my own upbringing, I never understood that the Bible was a unified Story. In Churches of Christ it was nearly part of my DNA to see the Bible "piecemeal" rather than holistically. I was trained to jettison the "Old Testament" (while embracing the rhetoric that "we believe in the Old Testament to counter 'the denominations' that claimed we didn't). That the New Testament was really the "final chapter" of a long story never occurred to me. My preacher played biblical hop-scotch and I never attempted to keep up with him in a sermon ... a sermon that was topical rather than expository. This usage of the Bible did not encourage enjoyment rather it led to treating the Bible as if it were a bound version of Religious Trivial Pursuit.
Before I go further I want to say there is nothing wrong per se with Bible Promise books or books like The Prayer of Jabez or (insert self-help title) ... I am saying that it is only by having the Story singing in our hearts and our heads that we are protected from half-truths and Scriptures taken out of context. It is the Story that gives the Promises meaning! It is the Story that gives the commands substance. It is the Story that keeps us from seeing commands as the goal and protects us from the Heresy of Legalism. It is the Story that continually forces us to gaze upon the awesomeness of our God and his Mission ... not making role models out of the damaged goods that are the supporting cast! The Story calls us to enjoy it. To relish it for what the Star has done, is doing, and covenants to do.
The Enjoyment of Scripture (I borrow the term from Samuel Sandmel, a Jewish scholar) is enhanced when we appreciate its overall narrative quality and structure. From the beginning the Bible narrates one (not two or more) Story of a passionate, loving, gracious God that creates the world as a place where he and humanity can fellowship and live. The Bible begins this way ... and the Bible ends this way. There may be two Testaments but there is still only one single Story and the second testament is grossly misunderstood divorced from the previous three-fifths of the narrative. Here is a short outline from Bartholomew and Goheen's marvelous work, The Drama of Scripture. God's Story looks like this ... these are my own descriptions of the six scenes ...
Scene 1: God Creates his Kingdom with humanity as coregent of his very good world (Gen 1-2)
Scene 2: God's coregent rebels turning the shalom of the kingdom into a scorched earth (Gen 3-11)
Scene 3: God the Creator creates Israel to be his instrument of blessing and redemption to all creation (Gen 12-Malachi)
Dramatic Interlude: A Pause filled with longing ... the Maccabees and other stories of the Apocrypha testify to the longing of Israel for redemption ...
Scene 4: God sends the New Adam to be King in God's kingdom through whom redemption is accomplished and shalom will be restored through his life, death and resurrection (Gospels)
Scene 5: God calls Gentiles to be with Jews in a restored Israel - a renewed humanity - to witness to the Good News of God's redemption of creation through Jesus ... the task of the Gathered People of the Lord (Acts/today - Rev 19)
Scene 6: God commands the Return of the King. Redemption is consummated. Grace, Justice and Shalom prevail in God's good creation when the city of God descends from heaven to the earth and God dwells with humanity once again in his purified redeemed earth (Rev 20-22)
This Story is incredibly compelling. The enjoyable story tells us "what on earth God is doing" and "why it matters" and at the same time teaches us our own task.
In our next post we will examine some features that make God's Story not only theological but enjoyable. I am convinced that we, as Christian leaders, need to model the enjoyment of Scripture. Once we get into the Story ... the Story takes over ... there is little room for getting bored with the Word of God.
May the Lord bless us and keep us and make his face shine upon us as we enjoy the Story of his passionate love for his creation narrated for us between Genesis and Revelation.