In responding to some questions of a friend this week, I had to think carefully about the Bible. I set out most of my response here for your consideration. Let me know if you agree...
1. Is the Bible unique among literature, and if so, how?
2. If the Bible is a revelation of God, how do we use it?
3. Why are there so many conflicting views about what the Bible says?
4. How does this impact those who haven't seen, heard, or read the Bible?
Let’s begin with a reminder. We worship God, our Creator, our Father, our Redeemer who is perfectly revealed to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit continues the present work among us that Jesus instituted, continuing to reveal the Father to us. And it is the Bible - which we do not worship, but revere as a message from God (2 Timothy 3:16) - which gives us the most complete understanding of God in written form.
This is why the Bible is unique. It is the story of God's interaction with mankind from beginning to end, inspired ("God breathed") through holy men; and it explains all that man needs to understand to have a vibrant relationship with God. That is not to say that an understanding of the Bible is a vibrant relationship with God; nor is it to say that one can't have a vibrant relationship with God without understanding the Bible. But the Bible is the simplest, clearest, and most authoritative record of the work and ways of God with men.
The purpose of the Bible is to draw us into a relationship with God. It is not primarily a rule book, though it contains many rules, which are God's statements of how to live life to the fullest. It is not primarily a guide book for daily life, but it is certainly a guide to principles, character qualities, and patterns that will make life more fruitful, productive, and joyful. It does not plan my day, this particular day of May, 2012; but it provides a firm foundation and timeless principles that apply to any and every situation that might confront me during this day. But those principles and character qualities are not self-help mantras; they are guides to developing the character of Jesus Christ in my life so that, as Dallas Willard says, Jesus can trust me to do what it is that I want to do - because I am the kind of person He wants me to be.
Because every Christian is unique in experience, knowledge, maturity, background, and countless other details, we each have different understandings of many things in the Bible; different interpretations. And this is good. But we agree on the basics. The various creeds of the early church set these out; I like the Apostles' Creed. But beyond these basics, our understandings vary widely. And that's OK. The problem comes when I attempt to make you accept my interpretation. And that's not OK.
I once had a friend who said, "James says, Pure and undefiled religion is to visit the fatherless and widows, and to keep yourself unspotted from the world. If Christians stopped trying to keep everyone else unspotted, and focused on keeping themselves unspotted, we would certainly do much better." (See James chapter 1.) I think that was good preaching.
And what about those who can't read, or have never heard? First, you and I have a responsibility to "be salt and light" to the world. (Matthew 5) Much of the Old Testament history and prophetic writings concern God's desire that Israel draw other nations to Him. Today, this is why there are missionaries around the world, and groups of translators who risk life and limb to live in dangerous and remote areas to translate Scripture and teach men and women to read the Scripture. Various audio Bibles and videos are distributed world wide. Secondly, I’ve come to appreciate the writing of George MacDonald and his emphasis that we can trust our Heavenly Father - who loves all those people much more than you and I are yet capable of loving them - to continue to draw them to Himself until they, too, come to know His love for them. Finally, no one is left without witness; Paul teaches that conscience and even creation itself bears witness of God’s love and goodness to everyone. And let’s not forget the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the whole world of its sin, of God’s righteousness, and of coming judgment. (John 16:8)
I just completed reading a biography of Socrates by Paul Johnson. After being sentenced to death, Socrates died peacefully because of his strong belief in a personal God - some four centuries before Jesus came. It is certainly possible for people to come into a relationship with God apart from the Bible. But it is much, much easier, and much better understood through a good knowledge of the Bible. Many writings give valid principles and perhaps provide correct statements about the character of God. But, as far as I know, the Bible alone points us to Jesus Christ as the perfect revelation of God and explains simply how we can know God by knowing Jesus. And we can only begin to fully understand the life and work of Jesus Christ by knowing the Bible story - that revelation of God through history and through a unique nation that provided the expectation, the prophecies of, and the context for the life of Jesus.
That we do know God is His grace in our lives. That others might know God is the call and challenge to us to be instruments of His grace in their lives.