AC16 Bible study leader: Understanding the Bible is crucial
April 21, 2016
“The fear of having their biblical ignorance exposed is actually one of the things that keeps a lot of people out of Bible studies,” said the Rev. Anne Robertson, who will lead Bible study at Annual Conference.
“They’re sitting there thinking: ‘I’m the only one here who doesn’t really have a clue what that passage that they just read meant,’” she said. “’Everybody else has it sorted out, and they know exactly what’s going on … I’m the only one who doesn’t.’So the last place they dare go is a Bible study, especially if pastor is leading it because that’s the last person they want to expose their ignorance to.”
“I served churches for 13 years both in the Bible Belt and then in New England, and it was my experience– and those were all Methodist churches – most of the people sitting in the pews, even if they had been in church all their lives, did not really know their Bibles,” she said.
But understanding the content, origin, history and context of the Bibleis crucial, Rev. Robertson says,and not just for Christians but for anyone who wants to be literate about Western culture.
“While, certainly, Christians need to know the Bible as the sacred text for our faith, society in general needs to know the Bible for cultural reasons. It is woven throughout every aspect of Western culture,” she said.
And for Christians, Rev. Robertson said, that understandingwill allow us to have “realdiscussions” about the Bible, rather than just disputes over interpretation or whether the Bible is factual.
“We tend to get stuck in thinking that something is only true if it’s factual, which makes people flip out if anybody says Adam and Eve might be a myth … but myth is how truth was conveyed for millennia,through myth and story,” she said. “Are Aesop’s Fables true? They’re absolutely true; they just never happened.Just like Jesus’ parables are deeply true, but they’re made up stories. For example, the Good Samaritan – that’s a made up story to teach truth.”
In order to approach the Bible well and fruitfully, Rev. Robertson said, it’s important for people “to realize that truth is a much huger circle than just fact – and when we get hung up on whether it’s factual or not, we can actually miss the truth that a particular story in the Bible is trying to teach.”
She points to the Book of Job as an example. It begins, she said, with the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Once upon a time …’
“If it were translated that way into English, then tons of problems people have with the Book of Job would go away,” Rev. Robertson said. “You don’t have to worry about ‘Why is Satan in God’s staff meeting?’ and ‘Why is God so awful as to do all these terrible things to Job?’Well, it’s a fable; it’s a set- up to teach other kinds of truth.”
“The point is not to minimize fact, but to say that it is just a small subset of the thing called truth. Truth is way, way bigger and the Bible has way, way more in big-picture truth then it does in facts, because it wasn’t really trying to convey facts for the most part. It was trying to convey truth and in any way that could be accessed,” she said. “And for the entire range of time that the biblical texts were being written – those thousands of years – the primary way of conveying truth was through myth and through story …”
During the two Bible study sessions at Annual Conference – which take place beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, June 17 and 18 – Rev. Robertson will focus on the Old Testament, especially Genesis, and then the New Testament, especially Letters of Paul. She will also lead study during the Laity Session on Thursday morning.
Rev. Robertson reiterated that her key messagesare:truth is not the same and fact and context matters. She also wants to help people to see “that the Bible is deeply relevant to everything we do today – not just to our faith lives but to culture, to every place …”