Some of the critics of the Bible, and some of its most vocal critics nowadays are professing Christians, just don’t think it all sits straight with their view of the world, or what the world should be. It is true that it reflects a different time, which even within its pages changes, the change along with further change anticipated.
The naysayers perhaps fail on at least two counts. It’s a hermeneutical problem, that is an issue of interpretation. And it’s a theological issue, one that has to do with God and judgment. As N.T. Wright points out, we have to read the Bible as a Story with (I think) four chapters, or parts (perhaps he says five). The first chapter is part of the Story, but is not completely germane to the present chapter the Story is in. I see failures to take that into account again and again. Either by people who want to defend something which is part of a bygone era and is not sanctioned as a part of God’s kingdom in Jesus, or by others who want to explain away in some sense what is part of the Story, maybe a truly ugly part such as we find in the book of Judges, or what they consider a character defect in God himself as given in the narrative, and therefore, in their view, a human construct.
We have to read the Bible in terms of the life that once was and that continues to this day. While the culture was markedly different at certain places than our own today, underlying heart issues are the same. So that the problem today is strikingly similar to the problem we see throughout, the New Testament pointing to the Old Testament to underscore that idea. And the solution is played out in a real world, anticipating a fulfillment which can’t really be fully imagined until the King, Jesus, appears. Jesus comes not to take life, but to give up his own life, not to judge the world, but to save the world. Yet in the end, we end with a book, in the Revelation, which doesn’t let graphic judgment, albeit in symbollic imagery, so that we’re not sure precisely how that plays out or what that is supposed to mean precisely in terms of final events, but the Revelation does not let the God of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) go free for a better or “true” vision of Bible. So that if one is to find the God of the Pentateuch to be in some measure a mistaken conjecture of people’s, even the faithful’s minds, then we can say that arguably that could be said for the God of the entire Bible. And then where would that leave us?
So this is an issue of how we read the Bible, and an issue of how we read life itself. What does the Bible say and what does that mean in its own context as well as in the context of life itself are good questions to ask. And we need to consider that not just in terms of our own culture, but taking into consideration the entire world. And we need to consider the complexity of life, which I think the Bible also reflects.
We, and this involves the reading of the church, not only us as individuals, have to keep going to the Bible, to let the Bible as God’s written word help us get the Story, see the point of it, and begin to live in accord with the God of that Story. And to do so we have to take in the entire Story as a whole, as it is, in the world and life as it is. In and through Jesus.