Friday, April 13, 2012

The Bible as a Manual

You know you are in Germany when you can buy beer from the same vending machine as Coca-cola—and the beer is less expensive. You know you are in Germany when that same vending machine is located at a Christian retreat center.

I'm in Germany this week attending a seminar on leadership. We're learning lots of good stuff, which I may come back to in coming days. But this morning one man made a comment that caught my attention and which I want to reflect on briefly. He said something to the effect that everything we need to know about leadership we can find in the Bible. He said that all other books on leadership may help bring out some of these principles, but that the Bible contains all that we need to know about being leaders. Not that long ago I would have either agreed to this statement or passed it over without thinking about it, but today it set off questions in my head. This man essentially was making the same basic claim I have heard in other contexts, that the Bible is basically the only manual we need for living. It's our guidebook to [fill in the blank], in this case, leadership.

I agree that from the various stories in the Bible we can draw conclusions about leadership, both good and bad. And I definitely believe that Jesus offers us the best example of leadership, and I'm doing a lot of reflecting these days on what that looks like, with the help of Kathy Escobar's book Down We Go, as I wrote the other day. (Yes, we'll be coming back to that when I have more time to properly reflect on her writings.)

But is it accurate to see the Bible as THE manual on leadership? Was the Bible written as an instruction manual for any specific topic? I do not think so. This is not to say that it doesn't have anything to say on various topics, but I think we err when we try to read it as a (or THE) manual for living. I simply don't think it was written for that purpose. So I react negatively to any suggestion that all we need to know about a topic can be found in this collection of books known as the Bible.

I've been closely following and engaging with the discussion Rachel Held Evans has been having on her blog for several weeks now concerning the Bible. If you haven't read any of it, it's worth the time and you can start from this entry. I'm moving to a new approach to understanding this book called the Bible. I no longer find my older, simplistic view adequate to the realities of the text or the world in which we live. I haven't reached a point where I can clearly articulate how I approach it, though I resonate strongly with Rachel's questions and answers.

Have you heard people refer to the Bible as a manual for living, or some particular topic? How do you feel about this view of Scripture?

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