How we approach something depends, to a large extent, on what it is.
We wouldn’t study a dining table with a stethoscope or Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ with an egg timer.
What, then, about the Bible?
We’re sometimes tempted to treat the Bible as an inspired encyclopedia, a kind of reference tool which would give us the answers to all our questions if only we knew where to look.
Or we turn it into a series of insights – ‘Scripture McNuggets’, as Philip Yancey calls them.
Or we think the Bible is applicable only to certain parts of our lives – the ‘spiritual’ or ‘sacred’ bits rather than the ‘material’ or ‘secular’ bits.
But the Bible tells the story of the good news of what God has done in Jesus for us and for the world, and that good news has implications for the whole of our lives.
At the heart of Scripture is not a list of rules to be obeyed or a set of promises to be claimed or a collection of principles to be mined, but a grand, sweeping story to be told. From the garden of Eden in Genesis to the city of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, the Bible begins with the creation of all things and ends with the renewal of all things, and at the centre of that story is Jesus, the one in whom God’s purposes for all things will be completed.
The Bible tells us the way God’s world really is. And it does so for the whole of life – on Monday to Saturday as well as Sunday, in public and in private, in culture as well as in church, in work as much as in worship. Moreover, this ‘whole-life’ perspective isn’t limited to a few passages here and there, but is woven through the story as a whole – from beginning to end. And we’re a part of this ongoing drama which embraces every bit of our lives – individually and together – for the sake of the world in which we’re called to live.
This whole-life aspect of the Bible is seen not just in the big story it tells, but in the different kinds of writings it contains – stories and songs, laws and letters, proverbs and parables, poetry and prophecy.
Much of the Bible is made up of narrative, longer and shorter stories which show us who God is, what he’s like, how he works in the world and through his people in every part of life – sometimes in dramatic ways as with Moses and David, sometimes behind the scenes as with Ruth and Boaz.
The laws in the Bible remind us that the life of God’s people is to reflect God’s own character – ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’ And the sheer range of regulations reminds us that the holiness in view touches all areas of life – in working and resting, buying and selling goods, looking after our parents, providing for the poor, in how we work, in what we eat, in who we sleep with – living in the world but not living like the world.
The poetry in the psalms ignites our imagination and emotions, and draws a response from us through different seasons of life in praise and lament, thanksgiving and confession, protest and celebration, bringing everything to him in prayer. The wisdom books help shape the everyday lives of those who know that the fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. And, once again, the wisdom God gives operates in every sphere of life – at home, at the city gate, in the market square – and it embraces the daily rhythms of eating, drinking, working, sleeping. The prophets call Israel to task not just for failure in the moral realm but the social and political realms too.
The gospels announce the good news that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God’s kingdom purpose has come to pass. They shape and empower us as God’s missional people as we follow the path of discipleship in every part of life. The letters show us the working out of the implications of what Christ has done to equip churches to live faithfully and fruitfully in their different contexts scattered around the Roman world. Then, the visionary apocalyptic parts of Scripture shape the way we hope for what God will do in the future, and how we live meanwhile.
In all these different ways, the Bible is the means by which God speaks to his people today and equips us to live out the salvation brought by Jesus, shaping us for living in God’s world.