“You don’t get to make up your own Bible!”
The study group had shared careful exegesis. There was serious conversation about the text and the context. Then, an individual started an expository rant with, “Now I’ll tell ya the way I see it!”
Consultants told me recently the first steps in a Faith Formation strategy are to learn the sacred texts, teach the sacred texts, and live the sacred texts. Long story short, they declared that we just don’t know our Bible very well. To which I add, when we don’t know the Bible, we make up what the Bible says.
In 2007, Dr. Walter Brueggemann published a “Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church.” Well before widespread use of terms like fake news and alternate facts, he expressed his conviction that the sacred texts reveal an alternate society far better designed for safety, joy and community than the dominant “script” embraced by today’s society—and too often by the church itself.
He labels our time as one immersed in “therapeutic technological consumer militarism” which distorts our notion of God and is powerless to save us and the world. The sacred text, by contrast, mandates neighborliness rather than nationalism, pursuit of the common good rather than privilege, and “makes us joyous in a way that the comfort and ease of the consumer economy cannot even imagine.”
Our frantic search for clues into the malaise of the 21st century church may want to include an examination of what the church is actually teaching, or not teaching, about the radical expressions of faith and the commitment captured in these ancient texts.
We scramble to understand and remedy the mindset of Millennials which the Pew Research Center documents as the least outwardly American generation. We have yet to worry as much that active and supporting church members of all ages no longer attend church as often as they used to.
Kenda Creasy Dean labels much of what the church offers as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which bears little resemblance to Christianity, Judaism, Islam or any other major religion. It majors instead on how to be nice and helpful, makes no demands for commitment, is basically self-serving, distorts the Bible, and leaves God in the background.
At the heart of the decline, she observes, is a faith community that does not know how to talk about faith, doesn’t know much more than a few stories from the Bible and even then isn’t sure how to extract what those narratives could possibly mean in the 21st century; and, therefore, provides no useful mentoring for families in the generations that will follow us.
Sociologist Mary Eberstadt seems to agree when she asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”
Could it be that we are making a false idol out of the Bible rather than a doorway to the beloved community, just world, and peaceful universe – the kin-dom God intends for the earth? Does this sound like a “back to the Bible” call? Maybe so.
For sure, we don’t get to make up our own Bible. But what might happen if we treat the text seriously, study it carefully, and live it faithfully? Could that be the first steps in a Faith Formation strategy which leads to vitality in the church and commitment to missional engagement?
A haunting comment by Kirk Hadaway and David Rosen is one of the few I remember without looking it up each time I share it: “Churches whose primary concern is making people full of God are also churches
whose pews will be full of people.” Make it so!