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The Magic Book

November 20, 2014

The other night my wife and I were watching this light-hearted fantasy movie and one of the characters, a mystical figure sent to contemporary America, had a magic book to help her cope.  When she ran across something she didn’t understand or a situation where she didn’t know what to do all she had to do was open the book and ask it a question and, magically, she got an answer.  It seemed to be a handy thing to have and I wondered where I could get one.

I think that sometimes we evangelicals feel we already have one – the Bible.  All we have to do is open it and read and, ta-da, we have the answers to everything.  Whole ministries exist to assure us this is so.  We have The Bible Answer Man and websites like Got Questions that assure us “the Bible has the answers!  We’ll help you find them!”  It’s clear that, no matter what your problem or question, the answers are there to be found.

Now, I love my Bible, love reading it, and truly consider it an inspired guide to life as a follower of Christ.  Yet, more and more, I am convinced that we are trying to make the Bible say things it was never intended to say; we are turning it from the inspired and truthful story of God’s redemptive love into a magic book.  The effort is sometimes dubious, like the Bible diet.  Sometimes it is well-meaning but flawed advice that stretches Bible verses to fit 21st century situations.

Recently The Gospel Coalition, a strong advocate of complementarianism, the belief that God created and intended men to be the leaders, tried to slow down some of their fellow complementarians from getting too wrapped up in the concept of “gender roles.”  That is the belief that there are detailed and specific tasks in the home and the church that are reserved exclusively for men and others that are only for women.

Some of the people they were warning had developed incredibly detailed lists of manly or womanly tasks.  They took biblical phrases like “keepers at home” and spun them into exact lists for 21st century American home.  Never mind that these lists are not in the Bible; never mind that they are not even possible in much of the world; the magic book has spoken so (for example) women, put down that checkbook and allow your husband to attend to the manly task of paying the bills.

The list could go on and on.  Sometimes good advice comes from the folks who are sure that they are discerning the Bible’s teaching.  But sometimes tragic advice is given too.  Abused wives are sent back to their husbands and told both that separation is unbiblical and that if they submitted more fully he’d stop abusing them.

And sometimes we have to live with the reality that perhaps the Bible doesn’t have the answers you are looking for.  Perhaps whether you take that new job in another state is not a subject the Bible speaks to.  Perhaps which college your kid goes to won’t be discerned there.

Even when there are principles you can see in Scripture how they play out may vary from place to place, person to person.  And, when we think we discern those principles, we have strayed away from “thus says the Lord” over into “I think the Bible indicates this.”

As I said before, it would be great to have a magic book.  Life would be so easy.  But what we have instead is the Bible, the story of a God who loves and cherishes us and assures us that his grace is sufficient.  Maybe that is even better.


From → Christianity

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