The Bible, we rightly say, is a library not one book. But unlike any other library, and unlike other religious books like the Qur’an, it has a coherent narrative from open to close. Getting to that coherence takes a little bit of work, but not much, and any Christian could be able to grasp the plot and the promise.
But that one book is rich and deep. We never master it – it masters us, because it is the Master’s voice. We are not dealing with a body of knowledge which can be ticked off once we remember the order and content of all sixty six books in the library. It is God’s living and active word, and when he gets on our case about an aspect of our discipleship, every passage will shout it to us.
Because the bible has one divine author it has coherence. But because that author is infinitely wise and truthful, his truth is intimately interconnected, infinitely deep, and will take an eternity for us to explore.
So we explore it together – and we bring our different understandings together, not to pool our ignorance, but to compare and contrast our thoughts and come to a better understanding together.
We will not blame the bible’s complexity on its multiple human authorship. If this is God’s inspired and inerrant word, we must not play Paul off against James, or – as is our temptation – to play nasty, culture-bound, half-converted Paul off against lovely Jesus. Paul himself warns us, ‘Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner’ (2 Tim. 1:8).
We will not blame the bible’s countercultural values on its distance from us in time. I’ve already posted HERE about a potential flaw in our evangelical reading of the Bible, so here I’ll just note that God’s omniscience means that he knew our present battles when he inspired his word to be our adequate resource. He is not surprised, nor has he changed his mind.
We will not blame the bible for our disagreements. Perhaps we’re just not clever enough to construct a theology of baptism which gives proper weight to both conversion and covenant, or a theology of church which is congregational, connectional and confessional all at the same time, as well as being cosmic (you knew there was another ‘c’). Perhaps we’re just too finite to plumb an infinite God.
We will not blame God for our finitude or fallenness. He has given us the Bible in words we can understand – God has ‘lisped’ to us, as you do with a baby, was Calvin’s term. The Bible is rich and deep , and there’s more to come. But (and here’s a wonder) he has promised that everything he will yet reveal will still be consistent with what he has revealed. So to say ‘God is bigger than the Bible’ as a way of minimising the Bible is foolish. Of course God is bigger than the Bible – he says he is. So big, that he is able to guarantee for ever that the Bible still tells the truth about him.
We will not use cultural laziness to allow wrong ideas. The Bible is infinitely rich and wise, but that does not mean it endorses all ideas, any more than God does. It is our circumference, and marks out that some ideas are forbidden to Christians. Even as we work at a better understanding of trust, we protect ourselves from being swayed by error.