Friday, 06 April 2018

Taking the Bible Seriously

Written by Rev. Lindsay Cullen

I’ve been listening to a fascinating conversation between Old Testament and Biblical Studies scholar Pete Enns and well-known pastor, writer and theologian Brian McLaren (You can download the full podcast at

One question they asked sparked my imagination: “What does it mean to take the Bible seriously?”

Those who know me will know that I am a science and science fiction kind of guy, and so the scenario that came to mind was: What if you were a scientist, perhaps an astronomer, and you received a message from a colleague, Ellie — “I’ve seen Martians and they’re mobilising to attack the earth!”

What would it mean to take this message seriously?

One response might be to entirely dismiss the message, throwing it in the bin and assuming that Ellie was either joking or overreacting. The opposite response would be to announce to the rest of the lab, “Well, if Ellie says it, it’s good enough for me! I’m off to gather the family, pack the ute and head for the outback.” It seems to me that neither of these responses is really taking the message seriously.

To take the message seriously would be to look at it carefully; to study it; to analyse and interrogate it.

“Does this message really come from Ellie? Does it match other messages I’ve received from Ellie? Are there any other authorities I should check with? What does the Chief Scientist in the facility think of this message? What do my own senses say?” You get the idea.

So, why, when it comes to reading the Bible, do we think that “taking it seriously”, is any less a process of asking questions, of using our judgement?

Why wouldn’t we ask the question as to whether the idea we are reading is supported in multiple places within scripture, or alternatively whether there are voices in scripture giving a competing viewpoint?

Why wouldn’t we wonder how the passage we’re reading sits with the teachings of our greatest authority, Jesus?

Or whether our own life experience backs up, or calls into question the interpretation of a passage we’ve always heard.

To faithfully “take scripture seriously” is to do all this and more. It is to be open to different interpretations and approaches, to be willing to admit: I don’t know.

To take scripture seriously then, might not be simple or easy; it might take a deal of work. But I believe that it is what Christians are called to do.

Rev. Lindsay Cullen is a National Consultant in the Assembly Resourcing Unit.