22 October 2009

Nurtured on the Word

This is crossposted with First Things' Evangel blog:

Some Christians accept without reservation the teachings of their church, including the status of Scripture as the Word of God, but they nevertheless seldom read it and consequently do not know it very well. This is definitely not true of most evangelicals, who from an early age are taught to read and love the Bible. And even to collect bibles! As an adolescent I once went through our family home and counted all the bibles I could manage to locate, including those in Greek. (My parents had had a bible school education and my father had grown up speaking modern Greek.) When I had finished counting, I was astonished to discover that among the eight of us we owned more than 80 copies of the Bible! Our own experience was obviously quite different from those households that may own but a single copy gathering dust on one of the upper shelves of the home library.

I am part of the last generation to grow up with the King James version, although other translations were beginning to be published at the time. I recall with special fondness my mother reading to us from J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament, whose fresh and colloquial renderings made God’s Word come alive for us children. Nevertheless, when we undertook to memorize passages from the Bible, as we were taught to do in sunday school, the KJV still held sway.

It was in sunday school and church that we learned that the Bible is not merely a collection of legal codes, genealogies, moral advice and wise observations about life. Nor is it a series of episodic vignettes from the national experience of a people distant from us in both time and place. Rather, the Bible is a grand story covering the entirety of history from beginning to end, from creation through the fall into sin, to redemption in Jesus Christ, up to the final consummation of his everlasting kingdom, as recounted in the Revelation. This was our own story, and we identified with the foibles and struggles of persons who lived long ago, but whose lives and actions vividly manifested God’s mighty acts in history, culminating in the sending of Jesus into the world.

The late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin writes that Christians are those who indwell the biblical narrative, who make it their own and find their place within it. This indwelling conditions everything they do, in the full array of their life’s responsibilities. Furthermore, it is incompatible with finding one’s place in another pseudo-redemptive narrative, whether it be the liberal expectation of a progressive expansion of freedom or the Marxian expectation of a classless society. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

Those of us who grew up steeped in Scripture early came to love it. Its world is intimately familiar to us and its worldview is not the least foreign to our apparently modern sensibilities. For myself this love has worked itself out in my praying a simple form of the Daily Office throughout the past 30 years and in singing the Psalms, about which I will have more to say in the near future.

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