Listening to: Talib Kweli
Reading: The Bible (chronologically – in a year)
Writing About: The Bible – how great and difficult and inspiring and frustrating it is.
Through the Bible in a Year
One of my new year’s resolutions this year,
is to finish the entire Bible.
I am on a chronological reading plan.
I’m six months in, two weeks ahead of schedule,
and I haven’t hit ‘catch me up’ yet.
I have been reading and interacting with the Bible for as long as I’ve been alive.
Young Tyler was the annual winner of the
‘2nd place in Bible Verse Memorization’ trophy.
Big ups to Daniel Gilland, who I never once beat. He’s a minister too.
I recently wrote Haiku Summaries of every book
I got a Religion/Philosohpy degree from a fantastic, non-religious, liberal arts school
I got a Masters in Divinity from a fantastic, conservative, evangelical seminary
Anyone who is super into Academic study of the Bible knows that neither of those degrees are actual “Bible Degrees”
But, suffice to say, I have a lot of experience with the Bible – so get off my back egg heads.
At the very least,
you could say
I’ve logged a lot of hours.
Especially this year.
Here are some things I have noticed as I work through the Bible.
The Whole Thing is Very Unruly
As a pastor, who really loves to teach,
I have spent a lot of time trying to make the message of the Bible clear and applicable.
The main tool we all use to do that is focus:
This three verse section is telling us Jesus is God-
This book is a story that tells us about God’s faithfulness-
This poem tells us that God is with us (and reminds us how much we hate our enemies)-
This story is about angels having sex with humans-
This story is about God’s people killing all of the men women and children-
These verses make it clear that Jesus wants us not to protect ourselves with violence-
The Dragon is the villain in this one!
The Bible is easy to manage when we stick to the well-worn paths.
We know what to do with the “Footprints” verse
(just kidding, that’s not in the Bible)
(But all of that other stuff I listed is, for real)
When you are working through the entire Bible in Chronological order, you don’t get the luxury of sticking to the easy stuff.
If you know a little about the Bible, you know most of the most confusing and weird stuff is in the first half.
So I’ve spent a lot of time reading things that wouldn’t preach well.
None of that is inappropriate. When we focus on a particular part to teach a lesson,
we aren’t automatically doing a disservice to the Bible as a whole.
But when we go home and take the Bible as a whole it feels much more wild and untamed than the parts we focus on.
When we are working with a collection of books that were written by different people, in wildly different contexts, to different audiences, spread out over a very long time, we should expect some variation. And boy do we get it!
That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t inspired, or Holy, or Good. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s wrong or false. But it’s important to recognize that the Bible is built from a lot of wildly different stories (inspired and guided by God’s Holy Spirit, but written by and about people that were holy and ‘less-so’).
So when you take it all, together, you get some easy to process stuff – and a whole lot of very tough to process stuff.
which brings us to –
Everyone’s Default Interpretation Strategy
The ‘Canon’ is a term people use for the list of sources that are considered ‘in’ or ‘official’
e.g. The Star Wars books are not Canon, their storyline has no effect on the official narrative: Episodes I – Infinity
The Biblical Canon is the list of Books we call the Bible.
You may or may not know: there are variations on the Biblical Canon – not all Christian churches agree on what is in.
That’s way less titillating than it sounds, we’re all pretty close to the same one!
So we all have this set of Books we call the Bible: the Canon.
Then, we have our own little set of favorites and preferences.
This is ‘The Canon within the Canon’
It’s how people, like me, who use the Bible for personal growth or teach it, resolve the confusing and ‘disjointed’ pieces.
We all have one, you’ve got to have one in order to make interpretive decisions.
And everyone who reads is making interpretive decisions.
The Tyler Fuller ‘Canon Within the Canon’
I know how I make Biblical decisions,
consider this descriptive, not prescriptive,
I am sure there are better, more wholistic ways that go deeper and acknowledge context more fully.
But this is my way.
1. Jesus is the Point
If I run across something that seems to have an answer in the four Gospels, I will always default to the Gospels and (especially) the words of Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the ‘Word Made Flesh’ so I feel like it’s a safe move to stick as closely as possible to the words and stories of Jesus. I know Jesus was a Jew, and as the Messiah he plays a pretty heavy role in the Old Testament story (and vice versa).
But when Joshua hears God say (essentially) “kill them all” and I see Jesus say clearly “don’t kill any of them” I am going to side with Jesus.
2. Books Written by Preachers
The Gospels are stories that include large sections of direct preaching. They are followed by a bunch of books that are basically all direct preaching and interpretation. Paul’s letters, James, Hebrews (kind of). I love those books, and they are great tools for us preachers, who are still trying to do the same thing those writers were doing (teach and guide the church)..but again – I value them slightly less than I value the words and stories about/from Jesus. I know ‘Every Scripture is God breathed’ and I truly believe that, this isn’t about authority or inspiration – it’s about how I make interpretive choices when I read. Jesus > Paul. Both are inspired, both are teaching the truth, but if I have to make a decision that’s my hierarchy.
3. Don’t Force It
If a Bible story is told twice and it includes a head count, and the numbers are different….that’s fine with me. The Gospel timelines of Jesus’ resurrection fit together in a really odd way when you marry them all together. That doesn’t mean that any one of them isn’t true, and I don’t need another layer of ‘extra Biblical’ story to match them all up perfectly. I can interact with the Bible in a much more meaningful way when I let go of my need to fit it all together like a perfect puzzle – it isn’t any less “God breathed” or inspired or true or helpful for me because it doesn’t behave in the way I’d like for it to. I’d rather sense the magnitude of the resurrection than have a reasonable explanation of who was at the tomb and in what order. I know who wasn’t at the tomb – Jesus! Bam – there we go, preaching!
4. Relentless Pragmatism – what should I be Doing about this?
If there is something I can obey, something in a story or poem or sermon that can make me a more Holy and Loving person, I’m going to try hard to take that in and do it. There are TONS of things that are very easy to recognize – but difficult to obey – I want to stick tight to those so that the word is shaping who I am and how I live (Give generously, but don’t make a show of it, control the way you speak to and about people, don’t get drunk, love your enemy, and on and on).
That’s my canon and I’m sticking to it
To me, none of this is revolutionary or controversial,
It’s just about the tools I use to engage with the Bible in the deepest way I can.
I get frustrated with the “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” or “God’s Instruction Book For Life” school of thought, because why would God include the weird stuff in the Basic instructions?
The Bible is True, and trustworthy, and great.
But I often need help in making sense of it and accessing the Truth that it offers.
The Longer I have dealt with the Bible, the more I have relied on these tools to help it shape me.
They aren’t right or wrong, they aren’t “Biblical”
They’re just what I do to get by.
You need tools as well – what do you do?