Guest Post: Why Getting the Bible Right is Critical for Our Faith

Guest Post: Why Getting the Bible Right is Critical for Our Faith June 6, 2012

Today’s post is by J. R. Daniel Kirk, assistant professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary who blogs over at Storied Theology. Daniel is very smart, as you can tell by the fact that he has two whole initials in front of his first name; one name cannot contain him. He has also written two majorly awesome books,  Unlocking Romans
and Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?

Daniel is also a good friend who writes clearly and provocatively about Jesus. Today is the first of his two guest posts.


The Bible lies at the heart of Christian belief and practice. Wherever we find ourselves on the broad spectrum of Christian belief, the Bible has to be dealt with and answered to.

The Bible will lie at the heart of what, as Christians, we believe we are supposed to do in order to honor God. This is why it is critical that we continue to ask two critical questions. (And, yes, I learned to ask these questions from Pete):

  1. What is the Bible?
  2. What are we supposed to do with it?

Around the New Year, I surveyed some questions that I thought would continue to haunt evangelicals throughout 2012: evolution / Adam, women, homosexuality.

But more important than any of these questions is the prior question that separates many of us from one another before we even begin to talk about the issues: what is this Bible on the basis of which we are having these discussions and forming our differing opinions?

People come to the Bible with different expectations.

I remember the experience of being in youth group, going to camp, and hearing moving calls to read the Bible. Here, we were told, is the “owner’s manual” God gave to us to tell us how to live our lives.

Running home from camp and flipping open the Bible, the owner’s manual metaphor quickly runs out of steam. “Uh, dad? I want to know if you think the Bible’s an owner’s manual, because I just read the story of Jephtha and… um… well… if you’re going to kill me to honor a promise to God I’m out of here.”

Other folks treat the Bible as a source of eternal truths–in essence, a source book for systematic theology.

In the theological tradition I cut my teeth on, the phrase, “History of Revelation” was sometimes used. The idea was that God gradually disclosed eternal truths, and only now, in retrospect, can we put all the pieces together into a coherent puzzle.

The problem with each of these perspectives is that they are too static, too timeless, and even too unified. The books of the Bible, when brought together as a collection, represent a much more dynamic story.

This is why I advocate for thinking of the Bible as a story.

In good stories, people, situations, and even acceptable actions actually change. Characters develop. People’s failures create dead-ends such that the easiest way to accomplish the story’s goal is not realized. And, good stories will open us to the ways that different characters perceive and interpret the goings on they encounter.

I understand the appeal of an owner’s manual. It’s so simple, and comforting, to flip to a page and do what it says.

I understand the appeal of a systematic theology. It’s comforting (if not always so simple!) to turn to a passage and distil how it fits into the eternal truth of God.

But either approach will eventually shipwreck the Bible we actually have.

Story is much more fluid. It is much more difficult to control. To find ourselves embraced in a narrative, even one whose ending we know, is to find ourselves on an unpredictable journey toward that end. It is to find ourselves called to faithfully enact parts that are in continuity with what has come before but which can never be a mere repetition of what came before.

So how does a storied theology not become, simply, a free-for-all, where each person and each church can do or say whatsoever they please? How does it not become a mere baptizing of our culture’s whims with the name of Christ?

The answer lies in apprehending the story within our story. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus become the measure of our fidelity to God’s story. I’ll unpack this more next time.


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  • Judy S-N

    This guy is pretty good. I may have to check out more of his stuff. Good choice, Pete!

  • Andrew Vogel

    I’m glad you guys are friends. I remember wondering a few times in the past whether you knew each other.

  • Jamie Rehmel

    Check out his blog, Storied Theology, and/or follow him on Twitter! I go to Fuller in Pasadena, I wish he would come by and teach a summer class or something.

  • I believe that it was Stephen Spielberg who said “I would rather tell a society’s stories than make its laws”. Story is a powerful force in society. It used to be novels like One Flew Over the Couscous’s Nest., Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and Animal Farm. Today it is movies. Yet we don’t treat the Bible as story and we don’t really know its story or its stories. That inevitably leads to low Bible impact.

  • Forrest Long

    Good post! It’s interesting how Protestants treat the Bible and he brings out two common perspectives. But we are all part of a story and it is ongoing, reflected in Scripture, centered in Jesus Christ and moving on to it’s ultimate end. Good thoughts to ponder.

  • Robert Drysdale

    I do not understand why systematic theology and narrative are necessariy mutually exclusive–which seems to be the assumption here.

  • I do not understand why systematic theology and story or narrative are necessarily mutually exclusive…which seems to be the position of the author.

  • Joe Rutherford

    The Bible contains scripture about a form of godliness without the power, a people without the Holy Spirit trying to be Christians. Many will call out to Jesus one day saying, “Lord, Lord”. He will inform them that he never knew them. They will name things they did in his name. They will enter eternity lost. We can only get the scriptures right by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be people of the Holy Spirit, endued with His power.

  • Terry A. Douglas

    I agree that it is essential to have a proper understanding of the nature and role of the Bible. Of course our relationship to God through Jesus Christ is primary. I agree that the Bible is a story. Perhaps we should see that it is a bunch of (related)(true) stories within a grand Story. I see the Bible primarily as God’s Story. That is not to discount the human element. There are both. I see golden and silver strands of themes weaving their way in and out of the tapestry of the greatest piece of literature ever written. I agree that the story of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the climax of the Story (maybe the first climax, arguably). But I would disagree that we can then disregard the rest of Scripture (esp. the OT). The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the Apostles. There are also two trends that I see happening that I disagree with. One is the seeming effort to make our position(s) on faith and practice palatable to non-Christian critics. The second is the practice of peeling off the layers of the Bible until there is (seemingly) nothing left and saying “Oops! There wasn’t anything there after all.” If God is the Author of the Bible then surely man is not the measure of it.

  • I think I have a more precise and scriptural way to say what the author is saying.

    “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6 ESV)

    I think we have forgotten this commandment, or made into something that “those silly ancient Hebrews did”. No. That word ‘likeness’ can be a mental model of God which we call ‘God’. Yes, we can create an idol of God in our heads. I would go as far as to say that e.g. when Calvinists over-emphasize “the sovereignty of God”, they are worshipping an idol. These are probably fighting words, but things of value must be defended!

    How do we avoid creating an idol which we then call ‘God’ and worship?