Sometimes it seems inconvenient that God gave us the kind of Bible that He did. Wouldn't it be easier or His people to understand what He wanted of them if He would have just dictated a series of propositions that clearly say, point by point, who God is, who we are, and what He wants from us? Probably. But then, most of us who read the Bible realize that "easy" is rarely in the job description.
In his commentary on Colossians, N. T. Wright deals with the problem of figuring out the relevance of an anciently conditioned text to a modern audience, saying, “It is part of God’s plan for his people that they should wrestle, in reading the Bible, with puzzles and problems that a library of mere timeless truths would never produce, and thus to grow into a maturity appropriate for fully human beings.” (41)
This, I think, is insightful. The reasons that God has not given us a collection of propositional timeless truths are probably manifold, and certainly more than I can handle in full in one blog post. But one element in Wright’s analysis seems absolutely correct and quite helpful, namely that God is not so interested in developing a bunch of merely well-informed folks. The Bible is a book that is meant to challenge not just our understanding, but our character. God’s Spirit uses His Word to form each part of us.
So God acted within history and guided His people to record the results and reflections thereof. The result is that we are confronted with an array of difficulties in figuring out how to be His people as we read His book. There are plenty of implications for this, but let me briefly note just one (though I’d be interested in your comments on others): we should argue about the Bible.
Arguing presupposes a community of faith. If we were saved as individuals, perhaps we could get away with not arguing. I would go to my room with my Bible and try to figure it out between me and God. But that is not, in fact, how he saved us.
Wright says that we should work at our interpretations of the Bible “…in the context where they can be worked at with faith and hope and (especially between disagreeing parties) love.” (41) It seems to me that within these bounds and for these aims, arguing about the Bible is, well, Biblical.
If arguing about the Bible is done well, it will take the whole person- or rather, the whole persons. I and my arguing partner should think seriously, love deeply, and be genuinely open to correction (Proverbs informs us that it is only the fool who refuses to listen).
I hope this has helpfully introduced a topic that I will finish discussing in my next post, which will probably be next Wednesday. In that post I will go into some more detail about some specific ways that God has used arguments about the Bible to draw me to Him and to my brothers and sisters in Christ, including some lessons I’ve learned about how to do this well. I’d be glad for your input at any point.