In a recent article for GQ, the editors said, “We’ve been told all our lives that we can only call ourselves well-read once we’ve read the Great Books.”
From there, they proceeded to call out the “Great Books” for being “really, really boring.” J.D. Salinger made the list twice, as did Ernest Hemingway. Brace yourself – Tolkien appeared too for The Lord of the Rings.
It seems his meticulous attention to landscape instead of character development irked reviewer Manuel Gonzales. Having not read many of these acclaimed novels myself, I suppose I’ll have to exercise a measure of faith regarding their analyses and subsequent recommendations.
Speaking of faith, I was taken aback to see the Bible included in their list.
“The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it,” said Jesse Ball, author of Census. Based on his summation of it being “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned,” I would surmise that Mr. Ball has studied the Scriptures. Maybe he grew up in the church. Maybe he even read it cover to cover for the sake of thoroughness.
Though I haven’t read any of Mr. Ball’s works, I have spent many years in the Bible. I’d like to respond to a few of his remarks and close with a hopeful word.
The Bible is Not Self-Contradictory
Ball’s assertion about the Bible contradicting itself led me to a 2010 Fast Company article. “Infographic of the Day: What The Bible Got Wrong” displays a stunning chart commissioned by well-known atheist Sam Harris to single out all the contradictory verses between the Old and New Testament.
Though I’ve read but a handful of tomes about apologetics, we can and should give thanks for the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the defense of the Bible.
Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next, decided to respond to that Fast Company article with a thought provoking article of his own two days later.
“Crying out ‘contradiction’ when we see tension in the Bible is lazy and superficial. It leaves us with uncreative level one thinking, rather than bringing us deeper into a fuller understanding of the truth,” he writes.
Perman illustrates his point by reconciling Romans 4:2-4 and James 2:21, two verses that appear contradictory at first. Suffice it to say that Paul and James are not contradicting one another as their use of the word justification in the aforementioned verses hinge on both time and context.
“When we see apparent contradictions in the Bible, the proper response is not to sit in judgment on the text. Rather, the proper response is to sit back in gratefulness and say, ‘There is something amazing to be learned here,’” writes Perman. Don’t rebel against difficult text in the Scriptures. Wrestle down God’s truths with more questions, more study, and more prayer.
The Bible is Not Pithy
Ball’s claim that the Bible is sententious (self-righteous, pompous, judgmental) is bold. Though the book of Proverbs lends itself to pithy sayings, at its core the Bible is one grand narrative comprised of smaller narratives pointing to the need for a rescuer, a Savior.
“All the Scriptures are about Jesus Christ, even when there is no explicit prediction. That is, there is a fullness of implication in all the Scriptures that points to Christ and is satisfied only when he has come and done his work,” says John Piper.
Would the Bible be read more if it was pithier? Again, look no further than Proverbs for concise remarks by the ancient king Solomon. Proverbs 3:5-6 may be the most quotable line from this book of wisdom, but the Almighty invites us, as Perman notes, to resist “level one thinking” and be swept up in the grand story of life, death, and resurrection chronicled from Genesis to Revelation.
Resist reducing the Scriptures to one-liners. Read it cohesively.
The Bible is Not Ill-Intentioned
I do agree with Ball that the Bible is repetitive– it repeatedly points to Jesus.
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” writes Paul in his letter to the Colossians. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” adds the writer of Hebrews. The Old and New Testaments bear witness to the risen Christ, who was, and is, and is to come (again).
Finally, suppose for a moment that Ball’s final two descriptors, foolish and ill-intentioned, are accurate. What emerges?
A Bible periodically employed for the foolish and ill-intentioned actions of men and women towards their fellow humans. Not God. Men and women alone. For instance, in the 18th and 19th centuries, slave owners justified this sordid practice with the Scriptures; in modern society, people argue that the Bible is incompatible with science; and still others elevate the Bible towards financial ends.
“Our temptation is to interpret the promises of God materially and temporally instead of spiritually and eternally,” says Dr. Eric J. Bargerhuff, Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at Trinity College. “We often grab things out of Scripture and try to use them for our own benefit, instead of taking the necessary steps to submit to Scripture, to be humbled by it.”
Resist using the Scriptures to advance your own agenda and gain. Resist using the Bible to harm others. Instead of treating it as a sword to maim the character and beliefs of others, rethink its power as a scalpel that “pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).Resist using the Scriptures to advance your own agenda and gain. Resist using the Bible to harm others. Instead of treating it as a sword to maim the character and beliefs of others, rethink its power as a scalpel that “pierces to… Click To Tweet
Getting Beyond Boring
The Bible isn’t boring, nor is it self-contradictory, pithy, or ill-intentioned. Followers of Christ who become stuck in these words resist the desire to stay in the Scriptures and will rebel against reading it.
So, bring study alongside the Bible; read books concerned with apologetics; ask tough questions of God, even if the answers aren’t always handed down; and turn the Bible upon yourself when you’re given to cut someone else down.
In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”
May it widen and deepen for us all to the glory of God.