Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bible Study

When it comes to studying and knowing the Bible, we Episcopalians have a bad reputation. Some of it is unfair, but there’s enough truth to the stereotypes to give some credence to a joke I heard several years back that goes like this:

An elderly cradle Episcopalian was invited by friends from another church to attend their Bible study. She did. After several weeks, she went up to her rector and, with great excitement, said: “Father Bob, I never knew how much of the Prayer Book is quoted in the Bible!”

Actually, that joke makes an important point. Not only do we hear several readings of scripture read in a typical Sunday worship service, but almost every page of the Prayer Book quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to specific passages of scripture. We Episcopalians take scripture so seriously that we don't just hear scripture read and interpreted in preaching. We pray scripture in our worship.

As critically important as that is, it’s no excuse for failing to regularly read and study the Bible. There’s no legitimate reason why we Episcopalians should not be as well-versed in the stories and teachings of the Bible as our Baptist and Methodist friends.

Which is why I commend an essay posted over at Episcopal Café by the Rev. Will Scott, associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA, who encourages all of us in our home parishes to offer Bible study groups.

Here’s an excerpt from his essay:

The truth is that we Episcopalians could stand to learn a thing or two from our evangelical Bible thumping brothers and sisters. Even when we know quite a bit about what’s upon those pages, we are bashful about sharing our knowledge in a way that communicates strength, agility and comfort with these strange stories in which our faith is rooted. This is not to say that our approach to scripture needs to lack sophistication or nuance, but rather than castigate literalists we would do well to engage the narrative and offer more varied interpretations that are accessible to all. There are likely lots of reasons why we Episcopalians are so often accused of not knowing the Bible, some of which are completely unfair, but as the late Tammy Faye Messner said, “if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

As Christians, we read and study the Bible, not just for information, but for formation - and for transformation. And that's a journey that takes a lifetime.

Here are some final thoughts from Marjorie J. Thompson's Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995):

Scripture has been compared to a lake whose depths have never been fully plumbed. On the surface it looks like any other lake; that is, we see human words like those in other books. But when we jump into the lake and begin to swim downward, we may be unable to find the bottom. It is as if those human words become transparent to some mysterious and infinite depth we can never fully grasp. Perhaps that is why one writer can say, "Sounding in and through the human words of scripture, like the sea within a conch shell, is another reality, vaster than mind or imagination can compass. God has chosen to be bound to the words of scripture; in and through them, the Holy One comes near (pp. 19-20)."


bls said...

I was in Year 1 of EFM last year, and am looking forward to Year 2 next month. (And, thank goodness, about a tenth of the reading!) It's a great program, and I really enjoyed reading most of the Hebrew Bible, even though I didn't get through the materials in some weeks. I still have to read Joshua, Proverbs, and Job, plus the minor Prophets and few other things.

I was very happy to have at last read all of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Amos (and even that cranky Hosea). And I loved Judges, believe it or not!

Having the critical materials right at hand is a really great way to read the Bible, IMO; I'd never have got as much out of it without that.

Bryan+ said...

I'm glad that you've been working through the Bible with EFM. I hope you'll complete the full course. And remember: regardless of qualifications prior to doing EFM, everyone who does one or more years of it develops skills for facilitating small groups - like small group Bible studies.

It really is amazing how much stuff there is in the Bible that, unless we read and study, we never hear about. And, contrary to what some folks may think, critical approaches to the Bible don't have to be the enemy of faith. Quite the contrary - they can be the very means by which our faith takes root, grows, and blossoms.

John Bassett said...

"...critical approaches to the Bible don't have to be the enemy of faith. Quite the contrary - they can be the very means by which our faith takes root, grows, and blossoms."

Oh absolutely! The more I know about when and where and why a text was written the more I can see the similarities and differences between the situation of the first audience and my situation. And that's when I can really begin to see how it can be God's word for me, and how I, like those first hearers of the word, can be led to be a doer of it as well.

I'm also currently plowing through the Hebrew Bible again, but this time using the Jewish Publication Society translation. It's just fascinating to see such a different perspective on some familiar passages. Plus, it's a very readable translation.

Bryan+ said...

Thanks, John.

I'd like to know more about the specific Bible translation you're talking about. What I've found on-line is The Jewish Study Bible.