Welcome back to the theology column on Gold Hill Online. This month, I am exploring some of the building blocks of the way we do theology. I’ve asked what theology is, and what we can trust when we explore it. My conclusion was that it is the Bible which needs to be our highest authority when developing our theology.
But that itself begs lots of questions. How do we read the Bible and understand its message? In particular, there’s one idea I believe is very important for us to grasp: a big picture view of the Bible.
A small Bible
There can be a tendency, I think, to make the Bible too small. I don’t mean by cutting bits out, though we can be guilty of ignoring certain parts of Scripture to the point they may as well not be there. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean having too small a view of how the Bible works.
What I mean is that we have a question or an issue we want to understand, and we ask “What does the Bible say about X?” It’s a good question, but how do we then answer it? What we often end up doing is searching for a verse or a passage that deals with X and then thinking we have the answer, it’s wrapped up and dealt with. There are two dangers here.
The first danger is that if this is the only way we engage with the Bible, we are elevating our questions far more highly than we ought. We are interested in X, so X is important. But what if Y is also important, the Bible says lots about Y, but we never hear it because we’re asking about X?
And the second danger is that this way of thinking about the Bible can end up treating it like an encyclopaedia, a compendium of true statements, facts and bitesize answers, all given in a vacuum. That’s not the way God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible works.
So how does it work?
A big Bible
The Bible isn’t a list of doctrines and statements. It is a mixture of story and poetry and law and letters and all sorts of different types of literature. It’s not a compendium of knowledge, but a great big story that we are each invited into. And each of those bits of writing was written into a particular context at a particular time.
So if our only approach to the Bible is to hunt for nuggets of wisdom or truth, we’re missing out on a far more exciting discovery. The discovery that God is telling a story and we are invited to be part of it, to find our place within it.
This means that instead of taking a verse of Scripture in isolation, we must understand where it comes in the grand narrative of the Bible. When thinking about a theme or a question in our lives, we don’t just look for a nugget. Instead, we try to understand how that theme develops and is gradually revealed through the course of the Bible.
Jesus Himself did this. When He was trying to explain His death and resurrection to people as they walked along the road, we read this:
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)
He didn’t just pluck out a verse or two. He walked them through the Old Testament and showed how all of it was pointing to Him. It’s a big view of Scripture, an expansive one that asks us to dive into this eternal story and work out where and how we fit.
Big picture thinking
This is exciting, but also a challenge. It invites us to join something big, but also means we need to raise the level of our thinking, studying and being to that level.
If we’re honest, would we sometimes be more comfortable with a smaller view of theology, of the Bible, of God? It would be easier to take hold of, to feel as though we’ve understood it all, nailed it, got it in neat boxes. It would be simpler, if God would just lay it out on a plate for us.
But God’s interest isn’t just that our thinking would be right. He wants all of us. He wants us to wrestle, to step into His story. He is more interested in the journey than the destination. He is the God who speaks through the story of His people.
Will we allow our thinking to be expanded, to become bigger? Will we try to grasp the whole of God’s revelation, to see how it develops, to allow it to be more expansive and more complicated than our brains can deal with? Will we choose to embrace story and poetry and pictures, not just statements and facts?
Will we step into God’s story instead of expecting Him to speak into ours?
For more posts in the theology column, click here. This post was written by Dave Criddle (@DaveCriddle), the online pastor at Gold Hill. He has his own blog, Limping into Truth, if you want to read more of what he has written.
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