Reading Both Books for Building Better Bridges

One of the things that’s most annoying about what’s come to be called “Christianity” in western civilization is its tendency to create people who are withdrawn from the real world.  This happens because of a false understanding of what “the world” means in scriptures like this one.  The result is an inherent suspicion of anything other than the Bible, “Christian” books, “Christian” music, “Christian” schools, blah blah blah. The fruit of this mindset is a group of people who are fearful and suspicious of culture at large, and unable to speak intelligently about much of anything, including the Bible.  They become the caricature of genuine Chrst followers that its o so easy to mock – socially awkward and prone to dish out Bible verses, often offered way out of proper context, as the answer to every problem, or at least the “appropriate word” for some setting.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who are intent on being relevant.  They know bands, film, literature, maybe even theater or all manner of sport.  But they don’t read their Bibles, or Christian literature at all.  “It’s too confusing…nobody really knows what it means”, or “the Bible’s been used to justify slavery” as a way of explaining why they have time for Colbert, but not scripture or Henri Nouwen.  The fruit of our obsession with relevance and neglect of the scripture is exactly the same as the Bible thumpers in the first paragraph: both are unable to build bridges between time and eternity, spirit and flesh, culture and Christ.

This is a tragedy of major proportions, both a loss to our beautifully broken and hungry world, and a loss to those following trying to Christ down either  of these misleading paths, for neither path leads to real intimacy and joy in Christ.  There’s a better way:

1. See our world as sacred – Whether its Les Miserables, Mumford & Sons, a conversation on the bus, a novel on the NY Times bestseller list, or a night spent under the stars, the reality is that art, literature, conversation, creation, politic, can all speak to us of what is true and vital in our world.  There are many reasons for this, but two stand out:

First, humans are created in the image of God, and as such are capable of remarkable creativity, the kind that shakes us awake to see things we’d never otherwise see.  Sure you can talk about forgiveness by leading a study in Romans, but Les Miserables might articulate the same thing more powerfully.

Second, God has placed eternity in our hearts, and as a result, we’re prone to ask the right questions over and over again in powerful ways, even if our answers aren’t always right.  Our longings for intimacy, justice, health, security, and celebration are in us because God put them there.  As a result, we’re offended when someone breaks their marriage vows, and anxious when the threat of war looms.   As a result, our world is filled with poetry, music, paintings, photo essays, sculptures that shake us awake, enabling us to see our world and our won longings with greater clarity.

2. See the Bible as a map – If we only read culture, but not the Bible, we’ll see our longings with clarity, but step into a fog when it comes to our strategy for fulfilling them.  This is because the same culture that reveals our longings with such resists looking to the Bible for answers.  At a level the resistance is understandable.  The Bible’s been misappropriated to justify all kinds of horrific stuff down through the centuries, leading people to see it as dangerous, which it is.

Food’s also dangerous, and sex, and flying.  So what?  That the Bible’s been misused shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all Bible readers, who should understand better than most that humans are prone to evil and stupidity.  Instead of running from the bible, if we have even a shred of hope the Jesus provides hope and answers for our own lives and this broken world, we’d do well to study it more, not less, so that the abusive misuses can be named for what they are.

It’s vital to see the Bible, not as a legal code, but a meta-story, revealing the core of our planet’s problem, and providing clarity regarding the future trajectory of history because of Christ.  The road map invites us into the story God is writing in the world, and shows us the fulness of a hopeful ethic found in Christ.  Yes!  There are answers to humanity’s broken condition.  Yes!  We can become part of the solution, and play a role in the story of hope that God is writing in the world.  Yes!  Knowing the Bible well is vital if we’re to fulfill this calling.

3. See our calling as bridge builders – Christ followers, at our best, are “carefully observing” the cultural icons and markers wherever they live.  They’re readers, or movie-goers, or sports fans, or concert goers.  They know their culture’s politic, it’s world view(s), it’s environmental and humanitarian challenges.  And we give a damn.  At our best we’re people of hope who are able to point to our artists and say with Paul “as your own poets have said” – as we show how the longings and truths articulated in culture affirm the reality of the story God is writing in the world.

Don’t hide in a pseudo Christian world.  It’s boring and fear based.

Don’t, in the name of relevance, be ignorant of the Bible.  You’ll be able to identify with the world, but clueless regarding answers to the questions we’re all asking.

As Thomas Merton said, “A Bible in one hand… the Times in the other”  – That’s the way I want to live.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://www.KeithSh Keith Shields

    I have always attributed the Bible and newspaper quote to Karl Barth. I have read that, in an interview in 1966, Karl Barth said, “We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.” Both the Barth statement and the Merton statement are elusive. Do you know where Merton said this?
    Keith

  • Kathy

    Good article. It describes what I struggle with concerning my students and their parents. I’m an English teacher in a Christian school, so I frequently have to explain my literature choices. I appreciate the insight God is giving you concerning our culture.

  • http://listenquietly.me Roberta

    This is a reason I can’t stand Christian bookstores. I know why we have them and they often have good content but the language and presentation is so off-setting to someone baby stepping into faith or even agnostic. We need our language to reflect our heritage but to also be crystal clear to those with whom we are sharing anything – a concert, a Bible discussion, a pizza. Thanks for a very good post; and thanks to Tom Basson for re-posting it.


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