In April, I heard Adam Hamilton speak at Ginghamsburg Church’s Change the World Conference. This wasn’t the first time I had heard Hamilton speak, but what set this event apart was that it was the most convicted I’ve been by what he had to say. His latest book, Making Sense of the Bible, was an attempt to help Christians of all stripes experience the fullness and richness of God’s Word while dealing with some of the questions that all of us have with this Word that redefines our world. At one point in the talk, he challenged those of us who are United Methodist by saying that we have to have a conversation within our churches about how to read the Bible faithfully in the 21st Century.
Tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Fountain City United Methodist Church, I will begin facilitating a class for several weeks on Hamilton’s book – Making Sense of the Bible. I’m excited about this for a lot of reasons and it has been gratifying to hear from so many people who are looking forward to the opportunity to read and discuss how to encounter the Bible in a way that will bring hope and growth to their faith and relationship with God.
This is the first of my attempts to accept Adam’s challenge – to begin a conversation in a place where I have some influence about how we read the Bible. We’ve heard a lot about accepting challenges these days with the Ice Bucket Challenge in full swing, but I’m convinced that this is a challenge that is equally important for the church. The challenge of how we read Scripture isn’t about staying culturally relevant or developing PhD’s in Scriptural Exegesis.
It’s a question for all of us who are trying to be people of faith – for people who are trying to discern what God’s will is, for people trying to wrestle with what it means to follow Jesus in light of Ferguson, Gaza, ISIS, for people trying to experience a deep and transforming relationship with God in the midst of raising children, being a faithful spouse and thinking about how and why we spend our money. It’s about the big stuff and the mundane stuff. Ultimately, how we read the Bible determines the picture we paint of God and how we connect with the God who longs to be connected to all of us.
It’s been my experience as a pastor for more than a few years now that so many of the people God puts in our care long to be able to read the Bible, long to be able to find a deeper connection with God and a deeper meaning through the Bible, yet often feel helpless and caught in a whirlpool of cultural distance, lack of contextual confidence, and the idea that they are somehow reading the WORD OF GOD. Throw in hot-button questions about gender, violence, and sexuality in the midst of making sense of the details of the temple, Old Testament geo-politics and John’s Revelation and you have a recipe for frustration and giving up.
To create a space to read and ask questions about the Bible isn’t a space for copout. No, its a way to help all of us read the Bible with all our lives, to bring the text beyond Sunday and the sanctuary into the boardroom and to the family table. This is a conversation we’ve got to have – not to get our way on whatever controversial issue is the dividing point of the day but to help us connect – with God, with one another, and with the saving faith all of us need.
If you are in Knoxville, I’d love for you to join us beginning tonight.