Thursday, June 21, 2007


"When people in the church talk about authority they are very often talking about controlling people or situations. They want to make sure that everything is regulated properly, that the church does not go off the rails doctrinally or ethically, that correct ideas and practices are upheld and transmitted to the next generation. ‘Authority’ is the place where we go to find out the correct answers to key questions such as these. This notion, however, runs into all kinds of problems when we apply it to the Bible. Is that really what the Bible is for? Is it there to control the church? Is it there simply to look up the correct answers to questions that we, for some reason, already know?"
N.T. Wright, in a lecture called "How Can the Bible be Authoritative?"

This seems to be a common supposition in some circles now, and I've encountered something like it online a few times--that there are people out there who see the Bible primarily as a book of answers and directions, and that such a view does not do the Bible justice as a book of stories. Whether they would necessarily go so far as to say that the Bible has no rules or directions or instructions in it, I don't know (I doubt it, to be fair), but there is the hint that looking to it for those things is somehow not right.

There have been times I had thought this to be incorrect, both in representing certain people's way of thinking about the Bible (it has usually been stated that way by people who do not approve, like Wright, of that way of thinking) and of the Bible itself, I haven't until recently been able to think why it is wrong. But I think that I have put my finger on it.

To illustrate my thoughts, let us look at a child, a young boy, and his parent's relationship to him. The roles the parents must play for the child will be numerous--nurturers, providers, playmates, teachers, rule-makers, story-tellers, rules enforcers, and probably more that I can't think of at this moment.

Parents are not just rules-makers, though it would be as wrong to say that they never make rules that they expect the child to follow. Parents are not just teachers or instructors, thought that is one part of their duty as parents.

By that same token, the Bible is obviously not just a book of rules and instructions, but just as obviously the Bible does have rules and instructions. I can't help but think that to deny that aspect of the Bible, or to downplay it in favor of something like that storytelling aspect, is not to do it justice.

To get back to the parents and child illustration, let us imagine the child is with some adults, and they are asking him to do something. The child refuses to do it, because he has been told by his parents to not do such things. The adults hear this, and conclude that the child sees his parents only as rule-makers and instructors.

Of course, give that half a thought, and such a conclusion falls aparts. If the adults were to see the parents having dinner with the child, or pushing him on a swing in the park, or reading books to him, they would easily see that the parents are much more then just rule-makers, and that the child does not always sees his parents only a rule-makers.

In that same way, I think very few if any Christians see the Bible as only a book of rules and instructions. They know that it is filled with stories and historical events, poetry, parables, and wise sayings, as well as rules and instructions. The fact that they find in the Bible rules and instructions, and that in today's culture much debate is about various rules in the Bible and whether they are applicable today or not, is not to say that they see it only as an instruction book, or a rules book.

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