2014 Religious Trends
The Problem Isn't the Bible
Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Progressive Christian community here.
Earlier this year, I blogged my hunch that this would be the year of the Bible. I felt we were reaching a tipping point after which the cat would be out of the bag, by which I meant that important conversations about the Bible would escape from the seminary classroom to the local congregation. With important releases by Adam Hamilton, Peter Enns, Steve Chalke, and many others (including, I hope, my newest book), that hunch seems to be coming true.
Many people, of course, think there are only two ways to read the Bible: their way and the wrong way. But there are actually multiple options, as this matrix shows.
Within these four general categories, there are countless locations or points of view, and many of us move back and forth from one quadrant to another, depending on our mood or context.
There's one other feature to the diagram that's relevant to ways the Bible is being re-thought. While some people read the Bible as an academic or intellectual exercise only, many of us—as indicated by the shaded circular space that overlaps all four quadrants—read it with some sense of personal need, maybe even desperation. In this circle, we are seeking guidance and wisdom for how to live our lives because we are aware that as individuals, families, communities, nations, and civilizations, we are always on the verge of tipping over into self-destruction.
In other words, those of us in the gray circle aren't primarily seeking information from the Bible. Rather, we're seeking meaning, hope, guidance, perhaps even salvation from something that threatens to destroy us. And—dare we say it?—we may even be seeking revelation, some encounter that gets our minds into realities too big to be contained within our minds. We feel ourselves to be in trouble, in a predicament, on a quest, and we're ever vigilant for news that might help us cope with the mysteries and challenges in which we find ourselves. So the shaded circle represents a personal or predicamental approach, as opposed to merely an academic, doctrinal, analytic, political, or informational approach. It can bring people from all four quadrants together.
As a boy, I was introduced to the Bible from the lower left quadrant. When I got older, I moved to the lower right quadrant and gained new insights. I was never attracted to the upper left quadrant, but I read many authors who wrote from that quadrant. From them I gained the freedom to apply critical thinking to this text that I had come to love. Finally, I found myself at home in the upper right quadrant, where I can enter the Bible as a library, a literary collection containing poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and other genres, and where I have complete freedom to ask questions about the Bible's sources, development, internal tensions, biases, accuracy, cultural context, and genre. In my movement from quadrant to quadrant, I have remained in that shaded circle of reading personally, because I still feel myself deep in the mysteries, dangers, and wonders of the human predicament.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders. His dozen-plus books include A New Kind of Christianity, A Generous Orthodoxy, Naked Spirituality, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? He and his wife, Grace, live in Florida and have four adult children and four grandchildren. He's an avid wildlife and outdoors enthusiast. His newest book, We Make the Road by Walking, is available now and offers 52+ fresh readings of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.