"In general, a wide gulf continues to exist between biblically generated theology and the theology of theologians - and this gulf will continue to stymie the vision of bringing together the fields of biblical studies with theology."
- J.R. Daniel Kirk, August 20, 2011
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The Bible as Sacrament
by Mason Slater
posted October 26, 2011
What is the Bible?
In The Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith lays a withering critique at the feet of popular and academic approaches which treat the Scriptures as a handbook to life, or an encyclopedia of timeless doctrines.
Though these approaches are often framed in the language of a “high view” of Scripture, they tend to ignore the Bible we actually have in favor of the Bible we think God ought to have given us.
In the process we end up making the Bible something other than what it testifies about itself – focusing on it as a sure foundationalist starting point on which to build watertight theological systems and “biblical” guidelines for relationships or politics.
But when Jesus explains the meaning of the Scriptures to his disciples he describes the text as a witness, a written word that points to the Word [of Life (Himself)].
“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” – Acts 24:26-27
And, if the function of the Bible is to point to Christ, then perhaps talking about it as a handbook or encyclopedia is missing the point. Perhaps a better way to speak of the Scriptures is with the language of sacrament.
In the same way that the Eucharist and baptism ultimately point to and reenact the story of Jesus Christ, so too Scripture is not an end to itself but a witness to that Story.
So the text does not call us primarily to systems of theology or directions for life (though both may be there), but rather calls us to tell once more the story of the cruciform victory of Israel’s Messiah over sin and death – the resurrected Messiah who is mysteriously God-in-flesh.
We then read the rest of Scripture through the lens of that Gospel story. Not in a simplistic “every verse is about Jesus” sort of way, but in a Christotellic way where every text is read with the climax of the story in the crucified-and-risen Christ shaping our understanding.
The Bible then is not made less important, it is the inspired witness to the Word of God, but its role is clarified. Like the Eucharist and baptism, the Scriptures are a vital part of the Christian faith, but like the other sacraments it points not to itself but to Jesus Christ whose Story it tells.
“It is therefore true that Holy Scripture is the Word of God for the Church, that it is Jesus Christ for us, as He Himself was for the prophets and apostles during the forty days.”– Karl Barth