29 Church Street, Hamilton, Bermuda HM CX

St. Mark’s

Why do I love the Bible?

By Rev Gav

I think it is very difficult for people to ‘read’ what others write on websites or social media. For example, I often write ‘tongue-in-cheek’ or with a smile that is sometimes missed. I think too, for some of us who have written columns over many years, we can sometimes be a little blunt or robust without meaning to offend. Wit and sarcasm often do not carry well in written text, and if you are on a laptop like I am right now, then there are no emojis on hand to help convey emotion (sad face). Therefore… I am writing this message with lots of love and warm smiles and virtual hugs (winky face).

I describe myself as a Progressive Christian, although I dislike labels because labels, like the cover of a book, immediately influence the reader to make certain assumptions about that person which are often unhelpful or untrue. One of the things levelled against us ‘progressives’, and something that upsets me, is when people write to me and accuse me of not taking the Bible seriously. I strive to honour God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I am a biblical scholar of sorts (if being a minister and writing and publishing Christian content counts), and something I have never done is change the Bible to fit my narrative. I wrestle with the Bible, let it read me, read commentaries, study, immerse myself in Hebrew and Greek culture, and more — all the while, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and help me serve others. I also do this, not alone, but in community.

To this end, and I have talked and chatted with probably thousands of people about the Bible and about Christ and, speaking openly and honestly, it pains me when a disgruntled reader emails me with the declaration, “The Bible clearly says…” as if the Bible is a person, which it is not. All Christians must be very, very careful not to make the Bible an idol and worship it. Yes, honour the writings, seek to understand them, let God speak to us through its inspired words, but never place it on a pedestal above Christ.

In all communities, whether geographical or online, we bring together Christians from all walks of life, and I understand that we bring to the table our thoughts and experiences, and that we look at the world through the lens of the particular culture in which we found and belong to Christ. We need to be tolerant that people are also at different stages in their journey and that none of us, including me, are at the end of our journey of learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

My own spiritual journey is that I am from a conservative, evangelical, and pentecostal background. I was a Bible literalist and a literal interpretation of the Bible was good for me and gave me a firm basis for my faith on which to stand, but as I look back, I was often not the most tolerant or understanding to those that held a different view. I felt that if anyone ‘attacked’ the Bible (or more accurately, the doctrines that I held dear), then they were attacking my faith, and that like bricks in a wall, if they knocked them out, then the whole wall of my faith would collapse.

After studying Christian theology for some thirty years, I am older and hopefully a little wiser, although I still consider myself evangelical and pentecostal, I am no longer a Bible literalist but a Bible contextualist. I have grown up from my younger and often naive faith with its black-and-white over-simplistic answers, and I am now more in love with the Bible than ever before. Understanding its rich, historical and social context has brought the Bible to life and given it a depth that makes it, not less important or special, but more.

Take, for example, the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The literalist will understand the parable as it is written — that God’s kingdom will grow — and yes, that is true, but a contextual understanding brings the parable to life. When you understand that mustard was a weed, that you would not take it and plant in a garden, that it did not grow as big as a tree, and that that birds would have not made their nests in it, then the parable takes on a whole deeper meaning — and a stunning one to boot!

Finally, another thing I have come to understand, and this is perhaps what sets the brand of Christianity to which I belong from others, is that the Bible is not the the same thing as the gospel, and this is a very important distinction to make and well worth thinking about and unpacking. The Bible, wonderful and inspirational as it is, ultimately points to the good news of Jesus Christ, and in him our hope is found.