For the first week of October, I will be in St Paul at Luther Seminary’s Celebration of Biblical Preaching. The theme of the event is “Biblical Preaching As a Matter of Life and Death.” I’ll have the chance to hear some very good preachers and participate in workshops around the importance and relevance of biblical preaching.

As I get ready for this event, I’m thinking about the fact that our Wednesday morning Bible study is no longer meeting. Attendance had been dropping off, and the “faithful few” decided not to begin again after the summer break. For what it’s worth, I’d be more than happy to start Bible study with a new group (we would probably need to choose an evening time), but I know that we all have plenty on our schedules.

I know I’m not the only one who misses that study hour. I also know that many of us have something of an ambivalent relationship with the Bible. This relationship is on my mind as I consider a lectionary reading coming up on October 17. We only read two of the four passages recommended by the lectionary on a given Sunday, so this may not come up in worship, but I’m pondering on this sentence: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When I say, “All Scripture is inspired by God,” what are your first feelings? Some of you will feel a familiar smile, as if I’ve just complimented an old friend. Some of you will feel a sense of obligation, a reprimand from a Sunday School teacher who insisted you memorize your verse for the week. Many of us feel a kind of unease, the sense that this book is going to tell us that our faith is wrong. I have to admit that I tend to get my defenses up just a bit when this verse is quoted, because it can easily be used to oversimplify a book that is intentionally very complex.

So, a couple of clarifications: First, when the author of 2 Timothy wrote the word Scripture, he was certainly referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, which more or less corresponds to the Old Testament in our Bibles. Remember that the New Testament, of which this passage is a part, was still being written! Second, the words ‘inspired by God’ (God-breathed in the Greek) don’t tell us precisely how God inspired either testament. Faithful Christians have taken just about every imaginable position on the details of this little word, from the idea that the Bible is God’s verbatim composition to the understanding that the texts are essentially human records of events that were attributed to God.

While I can sympathize with many ways of reading Scripture, my personal understanding is that the Bible contains human words through which God chooses to speak to us. There are at least as many human authors represented as there are books in the Bible, and they each brought their own vocabulary, cultural assumptions, and relationship with God into the text. I think the Holy Spirit must have been at work in the process of developing and recording the various stories, poems, letters, and sermons that make up the Bible, but not in the sense of being a cosmic copy editor who made sure every word was historically and scientifically true. Instead, I think the Spirit continues to show us truth that mysteriously lives within these otherwise imperfect words. It’s because of the Spirit, not the letters, that I love to pore over the Bible, waiting for something beyond its literal words work ever so gently on my soul.

The real thrust of the claim to biblical inspiration, I think, is in the use of Scripture – which we now take to include the New Testament. Rather than worry about how God inspired Scripture, we can ask, “What did God inspire it for?” For teaching, correction, and instruction in right living; as equipment for doing good deeds. That sounds like a pretty good guideline to use in approaching the Bible: If a given way of reading doesn’t equip you to do good, it’s not speaking God’s truth. And since our beginning, the Church has claimed that the Bible is indeed useful for telling us truths that support the works of love.

Those truths, I think, are God’s truth. We don’t do good works because the Bible told us to, but rather because we know the God who rejoices at every good thing we manage to do. This God is present in stories from the past that tell us how other people have experienced Her reality. God is present in promises that we can have great hope for the future because He is in control. God is present in Scripture’s view of the present that is never really satisfied until all God’s children have been fed and clothed. That is the God who longs to be sought and discovered in these beautiful, challenging, confusing and sacred pages.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

P.S. Just before I finished this newsletter column, Leanne and I appeared in court to finalize Ian’s adoption. That was the moment when Ian officially became our son. And now? More paperwork, of course, and more of the same love and quality time we’ve been sharing all along. Thank you to everyone who turned out for the hearing, and thank you all for the support you have given us during this process.

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