The Bible’s not boring, but I might be
Photo by Amy Velazquez
In a world full of smartphones, video games, and YouTube, ancient texts like the Bible can feel… ancient. And while we know that God still speaks to us through the Bible today, convincing teenagers to spend more time with their Bibles can feel like a near-impossible task. Further, as leaders, we too can struggle with engaging the Bible outside of preparation for sermons and small group studies.
Perhaps you are like me: your personal relationship with the Bible ebbs and flows between seasons of deep enjoyment and seasons of lethargy. Why is this? I’ve become convinced that the Bible is not boring, but I might be.
Seven years ago, I was in New Zealand at a missionary training base, and I heard God speak to my spirit, “I’m not boring; you’re boring.”
This word did not come out of nowhere. A month and a half earlier, my wife and I packed everything we owned into storage. While my wife looked forward expectantly to the adventure of traveling around the world, I could not shake the image of not only our stuff, but also everything I had known being literally and metaphorically shut up in a storage unit. I was afraid to step out into the unknown, leaving my home country for the next nine months to travel around the world as a missionary intern. I was afraid that my image of God was being transformed from a somewhat boring but safe God for a God who might ask me to give up everything to follow him.
Fast-forward a month and a half; I had tasted the adventure of traveling by faith. I learned that the God who was with me at home was the same God who would be with me as I traveled to places I had never been to learn from people I had never met.
And then God spoke this word to me. “I’m not boring; you’re boring.” I instantly understood. God is the one who spurred me to step out of my comfort zone, to step out in faith on a journey I could never have afforded by my own means, to meet God in the faces of Kiwis, Maoris, Thais, Indians, Mozambicans, and Kenyans. A large part of me wanted to keep my faith tame and stay at home. God wanted to break me out of the box that restricted what I expected from a life of faith. As I surrendered more control of my life, I understood the truth that following God is anything but boring.
While this lesson is personal to my own faith journey, I believe it also has implications for how we view the Bible.
The Bible isn’t boring
The Bible isn’t boring. The Bible recounts the stories of those who left everything to follow God into the unknown (e.g., Abram), stories of intense battles (e.g., David and Goliath; Gideon and the Midianites), of romantic love (e.g., Song of Songs), of redeemed murderers (e.g., Paul) and miraculous plot twists that will forever change the world (e.g., the Resurrection). The Bible is anything but boring.
Most of us know these stories, so how is it that we often become guilty of implicitly embracing the lie that the Bible is boring?
Perhaps it is because there are parts of the Bible which are so challenging that if we really took them seriously, we’d have to change the way we live.
Or perhaps it is because there are passages of Scripture that seem to conflict with what we believe to be true, so we avoid them.
Or perhaps it is because we have lost a sense of the overarching divine drama which defines human history—that the Bible is an unfinished story that we play a part in fulfilling.
Additionally, while there are many good reasons to contextualize biblical passages that confuse contemporary sensibilities or that do not reflect New Testament realities, in doing so, we may unintentionally sterilize the Bible’s ability to surprise, challenge, and convict. So how can we avoid making the Bible out to be boring when it most definitely is not?
There is an otherness to the Bible that we cannot get past without doing damage to what the Bible is. As Christians, we have not received one holy book written by one human author. We’ve received a canon of books which have been written across millennia, each witnessing to the same God who has intervened in varying times, cultures, and peoples. From the Bible, hundreds of different expressions of the Christian faith have emerged. The Bible simply cannot be tamed and remain what it truly is. To paraphrase the Chronicles of Narnia, “The Bible isn’t safe. But it is good.”
In light of the inherent dangerousness and goodness of the Bible, how might we respond as ministry leaders in our personal and congregational reading and teaching of Scripture?
Here are four practical tips that can help you get out of a boring-Bible rut.
- In your personal reading of Scripture, try reading a book of the Bible you have not read in a long time. As you read, various portions may challenge your beliefs or cause you to question what you believe to be true of God. View these passages as opportunities for God to speak to you through the Bible afresh. Ask yourself the question, “How might God have used this passage to subvert the status quo of the cultural milieu in which it was written, and how might God use this passage to subvert the status quo of my own context?”
- Practice your public reading of Scripture. Consider offering dramatic readings of a passage in your church or small group. Express the emotional range of the passage, incorporate dramatic pauses, and use different voices for different characters. Such a reading requires preparation and practice, just like preparing for a sermon.ii
- Read a theological text that differs from your own tradition. If you come from a theologically conservative church, perhaps read a theological book rooted in liberation theology. If you come from a theologically progressive church, perhaps read a book by a more conservative scholar. Regardless of whether you agree with the perspective of the author, seeing how others view the Bible differently from you can help you come to the Word with fresh eyes.
- Check out How We Read the Bible: 8 ways to engage the Bible with students, by Matt Laidlaw. Matt offers a variety of practical ideas to help us read the Bible in new and fresh ways, and ends each chapter with suggestions to cultivate your personal and corporate relationship with the Bible.
By engaging in these tips, my hope is that we all reject the lie that the Bible is boring, and that we will help our students do the same. Perhaps we can confess together, “The Bible’s not boring, but we might be.”
ii For more on the communal reading of Scripture, see the Fuller Studio series here: https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/series/communal-reading-scripture/