Taking the Bible for granted by being Biblical!
Australia has been affectionately dubbed ‘the lucky country’. Many Australians interpret the term lucky as a synonym for blessed—a land of ‘golden soils and wealth for toil.’ However, when Professor Donald Horne first coined this oft-misquoted phrase in his 1964 book The Lucky Country; he was actually implying the opposite. Horne believed Australia’s prosperity was mistakenly based on ‘good luck’ and not ‘good management’: ‘In the lucky style we have never “earned” our democracy. We simply went along with some British habits.’
Australians like the idea of a secure, safe, and prosperous country—they believe it is a right. However, vigilance in keeping it safe, secure, and prosperous is often insincere. Despite the benefits of security and material prosperity, Australians constantly complain about paying taxes and the rising cost of protecting their borders. Yet in Professor Horne’s estimation only those who live in a fool’s paradise naively claim ‘prosperity’ as a right. Horne’s challenge is straight-forward, if we take our privileged position for granted, it won’t be long before it is lost.
Horne’s thesis, by way of analogy, represents a timely challenge for Evangelical Christians and their reliance on their Biblical heritage. We have been trading on the good will of the Reformation for nearly 500 years, claiming the privilege of its hard-won truths as our ‘god-given’ right. However, are those of us who stand in this tradition, taking for granted the Bible as ‘God’s Word?’
We believe in the ‘idea’ of the Bible; we uphold the concept of an ancient text which supplies a cogent foundation for our doctrinal systems; we rejoice at the message of eternal security it offers; we claim its theoretical foundation for our ministry endeavors; and embrace its conceptual framework for a religious and moral way of life.
But, do we really treat the Bible as if we are dealing with the very words of God; living words that teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness, even when its truth is inconvenient? Furthermore, when the pages of this sacred book are opened, is it simply providing the content for our next: sermon, devotional talk, bible study, or daily life-lesson; or do we ‘really’ see it as God’s life-transforming Word?
As you know, the Bible has spawned an entire industry: University departments devoted to its detailed study, publishers print versions of the Bible for every conceivable human situation, there are Bible commentaries, Bible Colleges, Bible Societies, Bible Camps, Bible Land Tours, Bible software etc.
Now I am not suggesting there is no value in any of these things, but I do want to draw our attention to the fact that the machinery of religion which has grown out of the Bible can easily subsume the Bible (as God’s Word) if we are not careful. Is the very thing given to prevent us from falling into idolatry, in danger of being distorted into a source of idolatry, providing us with a secure religious existence outside of a vital dependence on the God of the Word?
The casual familiarity of the people of God in Isaiah’s day, provide a tangible example of those who had forsaken a living relationship with God in exchange for contrived forms of religion that upheld the theoretical authority of God’s Word, yet ignored it’s personal challenge. Isaiah pointedly reminded them that religion within this frame is abominable to God (Isa 66:3). He challenged God’s people to renew their vision: ‘But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.’ (Isa 66:2 ESV)
That familiarity breeds complacency there is little doubt, as it seemed the lessons of Isaiah failed to sway the Pharisees, those, who in Jesus’ time held a high view of the Bible, but in their familiarity with it failed to grasp its personal challenge.
Assuming the privilege of a Biblical heritage may make us feel secure, but unless we embrace it with a sense of humility and awe we will never actually understand what the Bible is saying and why!
Although a critical reading the Bible has value as a scholarly endeavor, in actuality the Scriptures were intended to be read in a pre-critical manner, a manner that doesn’t ‘simply’ subject the Bible to technical examination, but approaches it as Holy Scripture that has been given to lead us an increasingly richer relationship with God—with all that entails.
Reading the Bible with a humble expectation of God challenging us, we see it less about gaining a correct technical interpretation and more about encountering the God of the Word, with all the life transforming consequences that attend this.
Yes, it may be a privilege to stand in a Biblical tradition, but never forget what the Bible is, why it was given, and who gave it. If engaging with it doesn’t lead you to a deeper and richer life of obedience, then just maybe you might be allowing your devotion to be biblical to trump the bible?