I have some things to say that I’ve wanted to say for 35 or more years. I have hesitated, though, because they are things typically said by someone who has just heard a sermon or Bible study that has touched their lives and inflamed their love of the Bible. So they want to compliment the speaker/teacher, and so they say something that is, well, wrong. Or maybe they’re talking about what Bible study and preaching ought to be, and they say some of these things… and they are just wrong enough for it to hurt.
“You really make the Bible come alive!” Variant: “You bring the Bible to life!”
Wrong. The Bible is God’s word, given through human singers, preachers, historians, poets, prophets, priests shepherds soldiers and scribes… but it is still God’s word. He used these human agents, weaving his purpose through their free and dizzyingly diverse ways of expressing themselves, to produce a book chock full of excruciatingly fine detail, but also teeming with divine life. The Bible does not need to “come alive” and it doesn’t need me or any other teacher to bring it to life. The Bible is already very, very much alive. Disconcertingly alive. Destabilizingly alive. If we’ll just drill down and listen, we’ll discover it has been quite alive for quite a long time. It is WE who need to be “made alive,” brought to life, or whatever.
We are dead, dull, ignorant, stupid, guilty, evasive, unbelieving, lazy and arrogant. And that’s on good days. We need the miracle of the Holy Spirit’s enlivening in our own spirits to even be able to heed the word that came to St. Augustine: tole lege, take, read.
We need the Spirit of God to make us honest, so we don’t smother the text with our own agendas (about which, more later). We need the Spirit of God to break the pride we actually feel about being ignorant. “I don’t need no stinkin’ book learning, the Holy Ghost just speaks to me!”
It’s humbling to realize that we might actually need (gasp!) someone with training, an academic, with languages, historical training, literary finesse and spiritual sensitivity to help us discern the message of scripture.
But we are proud of our ignorance. Proud of all the things we don’t know. We are dead, and so when we look at the Bible, rather than admit our dead, dull stupor, we decide it’s the Bible that needs sprucing up. We need someone to “bring it alive” for us. Ironically, when they do, we suddenly become enamored of this amazing teacher, or scholar, or preacher who “makes the Bible come alive” for us. But still, to the Bible itself, we’re dead, insensible of its life and liveliness, its power to bring us to life. And we also have given glory rightly belonging to the God of the Bible to one who at best, is an unworthy servant and messenger of the Bible. Instead of focusing on scripture, we focus on the teacher.
I recall an experience from a conference we used to have at Asbury Seminary in the week between the January term and the Spring Semester. “Ministers Conference” it was called, and then we got a little to sophisticated for that and started calling it “Ministry” conference… whatever. Anyhow, there were two speakers who came off and on rather frequently. I was always impressed listening in on what the conferees said about each speaker. For one, the conferees loved they guy! They re-told his stories in their sermons, talked excitedly to each other about buying all his books, tried to find out how to get him in their church… his name was heard about every 15 words. He was a fine servant of God, and a very effective speaker. But I couldn’t help but notice all the talk… circling around him and his gifts. There was another speaker. Also very effective, very widely respected. But when folks came out of his sessions, you almost never heard his name. They came out talking passionately about God, about Jesus, about the Scriptures, about the Holy Spirit. About revival and prayer. Instead of “How can I get him to my church” it was “Why didn’t I see that in Scripture? It’s been there all along and I just missed it!” They didn’t order all his books because, at the time, he didn’t have any! His legacy was the hearts of his hearers that burned as he … did NOT “make the Bible come alive,” but showed them its true inner life, and touched its hot embers to their souls.
Yes, the Bible is alive. Has been. Always will be. A good teacher, a good preacher, doesn’t “make the Bible come alive.” They enliven us to see its ever-living, evergreen message as the Spirit of God blows gently over the pages, as our minds become stocked with the kind of good information that helps us see what the writers were talking about, as we step out of our ignorance, sloth and pride… and come alive. Yes, good study, good interpretation, good exegesis… is a miracle of the Holy Spirit!
Not only do we not make the Bible come alive… in the end, it brings us new life. Every time.
I got some more of these… stay tuned. What are some of your “favorite” Bible clichés that perhaps should be retired?