I recently finished reading a wonderfully intriguing book called “The Rise and Fall of the Bible” by Timothy Beal. Much like myself, Beal grew up in the height of Evangelical Christianity, immersed in the perception that the Bible is the direct and inerrant word of God, delivered seamlessly to us through human authors, but authors who were clearly under divine influence. As soon as you begin to learn anything about textual history and translation, as well as the process by which the “canon” of the Bible was decided upon, this view quickly becomes difficult to maintain. Unlike most authors I’ve read since I began de-constructing my faith many years ago, Beal did not try to explain away apparent textual contradictions or questions that arise through the historical investigation of religious texts.
Beal’s premise is essentially that we must learn to look at scriptures through a different lens. What if, instead of being perceived as an instruction manual for life on earth (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), the Bible should be viewed and approached for what it actually is: a collection of stories, prayers, thoughts, and parables representing various ways of thinking about and approaching God throughout a brief period in human history.
Beal suggests that if we allow ourselves to approach the Bible as a conversation starter instead of the place where we go to find all the answers, we just may discover something incredible by listening to the diverse voices that exist in scriptural writing and the diverse responses that people have to those writings. Instead of thinking that there is one single “truth” that exists objectively in the text, and it is our job to find what that truth is and apply it, what would happen if we actually listened to each other and the thoughts, fears, and questions that arise in our souls when we read these confusing texts?
Maybe, just maybe, we could discover a whole new type of “truth”…the magic that can happen when a group of diverse people get together to share thoughts and ideas in a judgement-free zone, deconstruct the teachings of their youth, and discover new meaning together.
Relationship and conversation, these are holy moments where a larger truth can emerge.