Thursday, October 20, 2011

The ZigZag Café

We will be convening here at the ZigZag café, Suisse, on Thursdays for conversation and dialogue. I invite you to stop by every Thursday for the question of the day. Your thoughts and participation are most welcome. Pull up a stool, avec un café, un thé, ou un chocolat chaud, et un croissant, and join in here on Thursday at the ZZ café.

For today:

Why do you think Christians so often read the Bible as a magic book dropped from the heavens – closed eyes, open the Word, and get a verse for the day – and is this a viable reading approach?


Lukas und Céline Kuhs said...

When I was a kid I did it like this because I did not know any better.

And even today, this sometimes reveals my urge to have quick results from reading the bible. When I heavily need to "get a verse for the moment". I guess very often this ends up in reading something into the text.

Viable? Probably better than not reading the bible at all, no? Yet, this should not be the normal case.

Greg said...

Thanks for this honest comment. Helping people know better is sometimes an arduous and delicate task. We need wisdom as to how to go about it.

Reading too much into the text from solely our vantage point tends to make it our own in what's often an inappropriate way.

Good question about this type of reading being better than not reading the biblical text at all. I guess that depends on what comes of it.

carter said...

I think when I did that, I DID want magic. God giving an epiphany without any concerted effort on my part. Vending machine theology: put in a tithe or a prayer and get out of trouble. Whenever I was there, I knew that is what I was doing. I also knew that there was no relationship with God. Just an idol to get me out of my situation. At other times when desperate, and I had no background, I would read looking for a hook. Some magic answer. I had no idea where to look, so I would grab a concordance and look for a passage associated with a particular word. I now have a plan. Two years ago this January, I began a chronological reading of the bible on a one year program (for example, today was Matt 16, Mark 8, Luke 9.18-27) using the TNIV. I started Disciple Bible Study (Abingdon Press) September 2010 which covers the Bible in 34 weeks in a focused study, while still doing the TNIV separately. January 2011, I began the same chronological reading with the NRSV. This September, I started Disciple II, which is called Christian Believer. It pairs various passages with basic doctrinal concepts and goes 30 weeks.

Scripture has become like a piece of art or poetry: the more I return to the same thing, the more I get from it and bring to it.

I am getting to know God with less pressure for a performing thing at my command (the vending machine relationship) or at least, I think I am. Not that I don't still have my desperate moments.

Greg said...

Thanks. Vending machine theology. I love it. Quite an appropriate metaphor for much of what goes on in the magic circle.

Your reversing the flow sounds good- rolling up the sleeves and doing a bit of work and I'm glad to hear that there are helpful materials around.

Scripture as art and poetry with theological clout that touches our lives in community with God. Try reading The Art of Biblical History, by VP Long if you have time.

And as to those desperate moments, count me in.

carter said...

By turning god into a vending machine, I fear I made an idol. And I will always have the temptation of making God less than he really is. Am I my own golden calf?

Greg said...

Certainly not. But that is a valid danger. God has graciously given what's sufficient - revealing and concealing - leaves us with some liberty and responsibility to imagine God.

Angela said...

I do think there can be a laziness in this "magic book" approach....
however, I can think of several
instances in which God has directed
me to specific passages or verses
that have been so unmistakably
applicable to my life at a given
moment which have been random
verses I've looked up.

This is not how I normally read the
Bible, nor how I would advise someone else to read it, but I
wouldn't say God cannot work in

Greg, I think you've referred
to an "impoverished understanding"
of scripture by many Christians.
I do see this...
There is an art to reading as
has been discussed, and a discipline to reading that is
beautiful. Thank you for the
reminder of this!

carter said...

Greg: this has been an eye-opener for me. I have discovered that by making God into my private vending machine, I have made him into my idol and into my image. Sort of like making him into a stone or wooden figure as castigated by Isaiah. When I do that I don't want a relationship that requires give and take. I want a genie to respond to my beck and call. How foolish of me.

Sisyphos said...


I think there is something to it. There are some quotes in literature for example which have to be read in context but which are also so dense and intense that they stick to the reader's mind and stimulate her thoughts when she sits on a bench or talks to someone.
But, if one believes that this sentence is directly from God, then that is very dangerous, because then the reader assumes that there is a definitive meaning in this verse out of context.
Contrary to other quotes, one doesn't scrutinize it, reject it, relativize it, hold it in tension with nowadays life but it becomes a monomeaning command and instruction. God said it, and not in context in general, but to me. No time to think, no right to think, I have to obey.
Sadly the person acting in this way might doesn't realize that the meaning of the sentence out of context is associated with other thoughts and impressions of the day (TV, tradition etc) and again, doesn't take those other informers into account but blindly follows their impact on the verse.
So, in general, taking a verse and thinking about it: well, that is good, that is beneficial (not just Scripture but also other deep writings) but one has to do it critically and humbly.

Greg said...

Thanks. True, depending on the genre of the biblical text, there can be resonances that apply more directly to us and our situations and God can and does sometimes use these in our lives. But I have heard people say, "This passage was written for me", which is not what you're talking about.

Greg said...

The living God is neither wood or stone, or a genie - a hard lesson for us all to learn.

Greg said...

Thanks. These are helpful insights. Thinking about texts in general is crucial and reflecting on the biblical text in particular is essential. Doing this critically and in humility is a key! But indeed, as Ricoeur puts it, - "beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again."