The Bible is to me the source book of faith and guide to life.
But it is a very long and complex collection of documents from a range of cultural and historical settings, and thus it cannot be read like a novel, a computer manual, this morning’s newspaper, or a church’s doctrinal statement. In some ways it’s more like a warehouse of parts for assembling a realistic worldview and a healthy spiritual life. The warehouse must be known fairly well, and the parts must be understood and assembled with appropriate care, or the resulting assembly can be useless or even dangerous.
It’s not really a job for the isolated novice or for the cynic, though with a good heart and some common sense one can obviously get daily inspirations and some spiritual guidance from it. (Unfortunately, common sense is not as common as we wish; we really do need each other.)
I like the way Jesus approached the Scriptures that were available to him. He obviously knew them very well and loved them; but he seldom quoted them by explicit reference. Rather, he apparently soaked in them for years, with an earnest but questioning mind and heart, and the values and metaphysics he absorbed were integrated deeply into his personality.
Thus Jesus was an excellent example of his remark about “a scribe of the kingdom” who “brings out of his storehouse things new and old.” The “storehouse” is the well-furnished mind of the “scribe”, and a good part of that furnishing is a broad and sympathetic familiarity with the Scriptures. The “things old” include much Scripture awareness, but also insights derived from other areas of study. The “things new” include matters of translation, cultural-fitness, and new insights and applications to current situations. With both Jesus and Paul, the “things new” are actually the bulk of their teaching and writing, but the basis in both cases is profoundly Scriptural. I think that is a very good model.
It is also very significant to me that both Jesus and Paul quoted much more from Isaiah, Deuteronomy, and the Psalms than from, for example, Leviticus or the history books. Their selectivity means to me that the moral or spiritual teachings of the “Old Testament” carry far more significance for later centuries than do the legal teachings and formal religious or political structures. That is on the face of it a very sensible approach which we should obviously take, but my point is that it is the approach of Jesus and Paul. I am, after all, a self-described “Christian” – and this is a Christian site – so I choose to put the greatest weight deliberately on the perspectives and priorities of the one we call “the Christ.” This is very important.
Other aspects of my approach to all this are well represented in the two brief excerpts below. These are two deeply spiritual and Biblical writers, and both are highly credible for their intellectual credentials. (Paragraph numbers added for convience.)
1. . . . my assumptions about the Bible: on its human side, I assume that it was produced and preserved by competent human beings who were at least as intelligent and devout as we are today. I assume that they were quite capable of accurately interpreting their own experience and of objectively presenting what they heard and experienced in the language of their historical community, which we today can understand with due diligence.
2. On the divine side, I assume that God has been willing and competent to arrange for the Bible, including its record of Jesus, to emerge and be preserved in ways that will secure his purposes for it among human beings worldwide. Those who actually believe in God will be untroubled by this. I assume that he did not and would not leave his message to humankind in a form that can only be understood by a handful of late-twentieth-century professional scholars, who cannot even agree among themselves on the theories that they assume to determine what the message is.
3. The Bible is, after all, God’s gift to the world through his Church, not to the scholars. It comes through the life of his people and nourishes that life. Its purpose is practical, not academic. An intelligent, careful, intensive but straightforward reading – that is, one not governed by obscure and faddish theories or by a mindless orthodoxy – is what it requires to direct us into life in God’s kingdom. Any other approach to the bible, I believe, conflicts with the picture of the God that, all agree, emerges from Jesus and his tradition. To what extent this belief of mine is or is not harmfully circular, I leave the philosophically minded reader to ponder.
from The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard, c 1998, HarperSanFrancisco, p xvi
1. Seek Him in the very depths of your souls. But you say, “I thought we were to seek Him in the Bible.” I should reply, He is not in the Bible, as such. For the Bible, as such, is a book, and words; and what you want is not a book but a living God; not words, but the Word, the Living Word.
2. It is not the words of a book, but the Living Word who animated and owned those writers who wrote the Bible, that we crave. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” The Book points beyond itself to Him who has been found by its writers. And because He is already in the deeps of your own souls, these words of the Bible are made living and vivid to you.
3. Read your Bibles, but that isn’t being religious. Read your Bibles, and feel your way back into that Source and Spring of Life which bubbled up in the Bible-writers. And you’ll find that Source and Spring of Life bubbling up within you also. And you’ll find yourself in deep fellowship with these writers, because your life and theirs go back into the same Living Spring. It is as Robert Barclay says. The Scriptures are not the Fountain, but a declaration of the Fountain. And it is into that Fountain itself that we would step, when the angel troubles the waters, and be healed.
from the article “Secret Seekers”, in The Eternal Promise, Thomas Kelley, c 1966, Harper and Row, and Friends United Press, p 119
[Dallas Willard, a Southern Baptist, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, and has taught at UCLA, the University of Colorado, and Fuller Seminary. His books include In Search of Guidance; Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge, Early Writings in the Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics; The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives; and The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God.]
[Thomas Kelly, a Quaker, taught philosophy at Wilmington, Earlham, and Haverford Colleges. He died in 1941. His books include The Eternal Promise, A Testament of Devotion, and The Reality of the Spiritual World.]