by Ryan Gear
Can I share something with you?
Sometimes I’m embarrassed to tell people I’m a pastor.
There, I said it.
When I meet someone for the first time, I dread the inevitable, “So what do you do for a living?” It’s just awkward. I actually feel bad for them.
You probably understand why. The reason I’m embarrassed is the reputation so many American Christians have earned. If a person doesn’t already know me, my assumption is that they will instantly project their generalized experience of Christians onto me and wonder if I’m “one of those.” In what should be a devastating realization for U.S. Christians, that often means a Bible-thumping, politically partisan, backward person.
Along with that expectation of what Christians are like, there is usually an accompanying assumption that the Bible is an irrelevant, backward book that is most often used as a weapon to hurt other people. That too should be devastating to Christians like me who love the Bible and find so much meaning in it.
It saddens me because I know how fascinating and mind-expanding the Bible and Jesus-inspired spirituality can be. I understand that this is a cultural challenge to some, but the truth is that people who drink lattes, use iPhones, and watch TED Talks can take the Bible seriously. Even some Christians I know hold the view, perhaps unconsciously, that the Bible is passé. Their church involvement is motivated by their friendships or an affinity for their congregation’s stance on political issues, and the Bible figures quite small in their lives, even if they claim it plays a larger role.
Once you decide to move past your own preconceived notions and what other people have claimed about the Bible, you can approach with an open mind and for what it is. No, the Bible is not one cohesive book. It was not dictated by God. It is not objective, scientific history that demands Christian kids argue with their high school biology teacher.
It’s far more interesting than that.
The Bible is a collection books (originally scrolls) written by different authors, in different languages, living in different cultures, in different geographic regions, over a period of over 1,000 years. The books were clearly written by human authors (although, yes, I personally do believe they were inspired in some way by the divine). While the books of the Bible are not objective history, they are a fascinating and meaning-filled record of ancient people’s spiritual and cultural journeys that can change your life and mine.
Reading the Bible is like stepping into another world, one that opens your eyes to your current experience of the world in a new way, challenges your assumptions, moves you, and generally forces you to rethink your view of life and the world around you.
Some parts are inspiring. Learn from those things (ex. love your neighbor).
Some parts are horrifying. Learn from those mistakes (ex. don’t drive tent spikes into people’s heads.)
If you’ve never read the Bible, a good place to begin is at the beginning. I would suggest reading the first three chapters of Genesis. Again, remember that it was never intended to be a science textbook. Genesis 1-3 appears to be a mash up of two creation accounts. The first one ends at chapter 2, verse 3. It was likely written or compiled 2,600 years ago by Jewish priests after their land had been conquered and they were taken captive and exiled in Babylon.
You could Google some cultural context to help you understand the backdrop of what you’re reading. Wikipedia is better than nothing. What did the Babylonians believe about the origin of earth, the purpose of the sun, gods, and relationship of human beings to the gods? Try to avoid assuming you know what a word or statement means. While you read, ask yourself:
- What do these two origin stories communicate about God (especially contrasted with a Babylonian view of God and creation)?
- About human beings?
- About our relationship to God?
- About our relationship to other human beings? (ex. what does it mean that Eve is created from Adam’s side, “side” is a better translation than “rib,” and not from his head or his feet?)
- About our relationship to the natural world? (to be created in the image of God is like being a king or queen that cares for creation on God’s behalf)
- About growing up, learning about life, and facing temptation?
Genesis chapters 1-3 are meant to facilitate the experience of looking into a mirror and learning about ourselves. Read it a few times and ask if you can relate to anything in the two creation stories.
If you can do this, you just took the Bible seriously and let it speak to your spiritual life…
Even though you might be embarrassed to tell anyone.