The Bible #1: A Movement, Not a Book
A series of emails and podcasts about reading the Bible well.
|Kurt Willems||Oct 16, 2019|| 5|
This is a long series on the Bible. Here are all the previous parts, that you really need to check out in order if possible to get the full picture of what I’ve suggested about the Bible thus far.
Please Note: There is a podcast version of this series available as well.
It is great to be writing fresh newsletter content again. For those of you who have waited for a season, thanks for hanging with me. I’m excited for this new phase of our journey together, especially around the topic of Scripture.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with the Bible. Since I was a kid, I’ve trusted it to be true in some unique way. The “true” part and the “trust” bit have both been in process as I grow, but my love for the Bible has only increased.
That being said, the place of the Bible in my own Christian identity has changed. I used to believe that the Bible was the center of the Christian faith. I was a Bible-believing Christian (as opposed to who?).
Now, I’ve shifted my understanding of the center: The center of the Christian faith is not a book, it is a Person. Jesus is the center. He is the point. This idea will come up multiple times in this series, but I think it is important to be upfront about it at the beginning.
Jesus is the Point. The Bible points to the Point but is never the point in and of itself. It functions like John the Baptizer (shout out to Brian Zahnd who I first heard use this analogy) saying: Look over there, I’m not the guy. The one you are looking for is so much greater than me. I’m not the point, I’m merely a signpost to the Point that we are all looking for!
That leaves us with an important question then,
Why read the Bible?
The short answer: something happened.
Our faith was never a book-based thing at all. If we look back at the first century CE and forward into the early church, the last thing that the Jesus movements could be called were book-based. The early church was event based: something happened.
The Jesus Event, as I will call it throughout this series, is in short:
The God of Israel has heard the cry of humanity
This God, forsook privileges, and incarnated as the Son of God
Jesus showed us how to live fully human lives and called for the renewal of the Jewish people
Through his radical teachings, death for his enemies, defeat of the powers of evil (including Sin and Death) through the cross and by his resurrection, appearances, ascension, and enthronement as the world’s true Lord, a movement was born
This movement believed that Jesus had risen in an incorruptible physical body and appeared to hundreds of his followers before returning to the heavenly sphere of reality.
The movement propelled forward, beyond eyewitness testimony, as the Holy Spirit came and empowered them in all wisdom, boldness, grace, and truth. This Spirit is Jesus’ ongoing presence with all who follow him.
The expectation of this movement is that a time will come when Jesus will return to judge, purge, heal, and resurrect humanity and the cosmos by bringing the realities of heaven to bear on creation itself.
This is a brief summary of what I mean when I say the Jesus Event. The core of that event, of course, is the resurrection itself.
No resurrection; no movement.
No movement; no Bible.
A Movement First, A Bible Second
The movement spread over the next 300 years throughout the known world. They proclaimed the good news of this Jesus event.
They did not have a Bible as their center, they had connections back to eyewitness testimony and an experience of the Holy Spirit that propelled them.
The Jesus Event was the reason they were Christians.
The Bible had yet to be compiled.
Some communities might have access to a couple of copies of the documents that are in our New Testaments. For instance, I can imagine the churches in Ephesus having copies of Paul’s letter to the city and perhaps John’s Gospel and Revelation. Maybe the communities of faith in Rome had a copy or two of Romans and Luke’s gospel. These are all guesses.
But what isn’t a guess is this: the availability of a full compiled New Testament was not readily available until at least the fourth century CE.
The early church was movement-based. It was not Bible-based.
I want in on the movement first, with book as a witness to the movement I’ve joined.
So often, however, Christians place the Bible in the center (and specifically interpretations of that Bible), when it was never meant to be there.
Don’t hear me wrongly. I trust that the Bible, all of it, is inspired by God and is our final authority when it comes to discerning things that are true and ethical (although, this takes a lot of work, especially when we get into the Hebrew Scriptures). I LOVE the Bible. I just want to put it in its proper place.
The Bible is worth reading because something happened.
The Jesus Event is the center. And specifically, Jesus himself is the center in communion with the Father and the Spirit.
Why the Bible? Something happened.
The Bible is the product of the Movement. It is not the center of the Movement.
This needs to be unpacked in the next installments of our series.
Recommended Resources about the Bible (I may not agree with everything in these but I definitely see them as valuable contributions)
What is the Bible and How Do We Understand It?, Dennis Edwards
Scripture and the Authority of God, NT Wright
The Bible Unwrapped, Meghan Larissa Good
Inspired, Rachel Held Evans
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Fee and Stewart
How the Bible Actually Works, Peter Enns
Meeting God in Scripture, Jan Johnson
The Bible for Grown-Ups (sermon series), Andy Stanley