My friend Jack Heppner has a profound blog series going on how we read Scripture. I’ve cut and pasted a few excerpts below. You can find all the posts at http://www.mysteinbach.ca/blogs/4825.html
In many circles it is generally accepted that the Bible speaks with one voice. But the fact remains that while the Bible points to some central strands of history, theology and meaning, not all is crystal clear. There appears at times to be a tension between various writers who say different things with varying emphases in various contexts. Speaking about this dynamic in the Old Testament, Christopher Wright says in, Old Testment Ethics for the People of God, “We are listening, not to a single voice, not even to a single choir in harmony, but to several choirs singing different songs with protest groups jamming in the wings” (444).
Such an understanding is a far cry from declaring that one can open the Bible at any point and find on that particular page a message speaking directly into one’s life. So instead of seeking for a singular voice throughout Scripture, we must hold the various voices in tension even as we hold the vicissitudes of our human existence in tension. Those who wish to create perfect harmony and symmetry, either in the Bible or in personal experience, need to perform squeaky maneuvers that soon become apparent to discerning persons for what they are.
In his book, A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren suggests that we need to move from reading the Bible as “constitution” to reading it as “library.” McLaren draws on the Book of Job to make his point. He notes that Job’s friends spend a lot of time piously quoting Bible verses proving that Job must have sinned. Had God not said in Deuteronomy 11:26-28 that obedience to God would lead to blessing and disobedience to curse? Yet in Job 42, God takes Job’s friends to task, declaring that they had not spoken for him. That is to say that much of the text as spouted by Job’s friends is in fact falsehood and that even a basic deuteronomic “doctrine” is declared to be invalid.
When we approach the Bible as “library,” says McLaren, we can more easily step back from the text and see it for what it actually is: “a portable library of poems, prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sage sayings, quarrels, and so on” (79). And further, “…it’s the library of a culture and community – the culture and community of people who trace their history back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (81). Far from being a neatly, codified document of propositional statements that are entirely consistent throughout, it is the “messy” narrative of a people or culture that “…thinks certain questions are so important that it keeps struggling with them over many generations” (81). “This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed” (83).
I think the idea of being “invited into the text” is both profound and powerful. From that vantage point it is easier to see that Instead of being a closed book generating definitive doctrine applicable for all times and places, “…it was intended to stimulate conversation, to keep people thinking and talking and arguing and seeking, across continents and centuries”(92). Could it be that the Bible does not intend to give us easy answers, explanations, definitive statements and cookie cutter solutions for contemporary issues? Could it be instead, as in the case of Job, that the Bible intends to leave us with “…a sense of wonder, humility, rebuke, and smallness in the face of the unknown” (93)? Is it not in this kind of stance that we will best hear the voice of the Holy Spirit of whom Jesus said, “…he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13)?