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Why Does the Bible Matter?
If only the Church would realize that within the Bible there is a “strange new world.”

Many Christians think of themselves as “people of the book.” One of the things that has surprised me in my travels to a variety of different Protestant churches over the years is just how little a role Holy Scripture actually seems to play in the life of the church and of God’s people in general. No doubt Scripture is referred to on many occasions, but often only in passing, and frequently as part of a larger program that treats it only as a kind of launching point.

… the Bible offers us not what we first seek.

As a preacher and theologian, this saddens me. I say saddens because I suspect so many Christians and Christian pastors have adopted a kind of casual relationship to Scripture, most likely because they already suspect that they know what is there and what the basic message is. If only the church would realize that within the Bible there is, to use the Swiss German theologian Karl Barth’s words, a “strange new world.”

Now why would Barth use words like “strange” and “new” to describe the Bible and its message? This was his way of expressing the basic truth that so many of us come to the Bible expecting to find what we are seeking. But if we should do otherwise and ask the question, “What is within the Bible?” not expecting to know what we should find, we just may come away quite surprised. For what the Bible contains is a story not of our own devising – a story about ourselves. Rather, we find in the Bible a story that witnesses to God’s costly love for us manifested in Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the Bible offers us not what we first seek. For if we are honest with ourselves, we often approach the Bible expecting to find stories that guide us in the way of moral living, encouraging pieces of advice, and role models for this or that. Many North American Christians treat the Bible as a kind of manual for solutions to the complexities and challenges of everyday life. That is not necessarily a bad thing per se: I am not suggesting that the Bible is indifferent to the everyday mundane concerns of men and women. But I am suggesting the Bible offers us not at all what we may first seek in it.

What then does Scripture offer? Scripture offers something far more profound, more alive, more life giving. It offers us “the doings of God” (Karl Barth). It offers us the doings of a God who fulfills the promises to His people Israel in the crucified and resurrected Jew from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. Indeed, throughout the pages of Holy Scripture we find God’s thoughts about human beings. In other words, the Bible is not a book describing what we think of God but rather what God thinks of us. Barth writes, “The Bible tells us not how we should talk with God but what He says to us; not how we find the way to Him, but how He has sought and found the way to us.” What Barth is simply saying, is that the Bible discloses a world of God’s sovereignty, God’s glory, and God’s incomprehensibly costly love.

Christians confess that the Bible contains a spectacular message about God, for it announces that God became one of us in the Jew Jesus. Through the life, death, and resurrection of the man Jesus, all is made new. God becomes man in Jesus Christ and in so doing brings into being a new world where the first are last, and the last first, where one finds life by dying to oneself and learning to live together in community with God and God’s people.

Might I encourage you this fall, regardless of your “biblical knowledge” to take and read. The church’s lectionary is currently taking us through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans is certainly a difficult book; but it is well worth the effort, for in it we see how God not only declares things right for us in His Son but makes them right. In other words, we learn anew in Paul’s ancient letter to the church in Rome just how God is setting the world right through the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, from which nothing can separate us.       

Christopher R.J. Holmes, Associate Professor of Theology, Providence Theological Seminary




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