John Wesley, the founder of my particular tribe of the Christian tradition, once said of the Bible, "Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book."
Now, I am a man of many books, the truth of which the shelves of my office and home testify. I love to read everything from church history to British mystery, from biography to the Berenstain Bears (I am the father of a 4 year old). However, I also long to join my ancestor in the faith in allowing the Bible to take a fundamental role in my life. Now, I'm not talking about picking and choosing the verses in the Bible that support my political views, make me feel all warm and fuzzy about myself, or allow me to bash anyone who disagrees with my personal interpretation. I'm talking about allowing "The Book" that has shaped and defined so much of particularly Western civilization, to continue to shape and define me. And I think, for two reasons, we would all do well to simply read the book more often.
First, our knowledge of the Bible is central to our understanding of Western culture. E.D. Hirsch wrote this in The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy:
"No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. ... All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describes a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the 'wisdom of Solomon' is wise or foolish, or whether saying 'My cup runneth over' means the person feels fortunate or unfortunate."
Regardless of our personal faith convictions, it is important to understand that the Bible has shaped our literature and language, as well as our political and social realities. More than 1,300 quotations or allusions to the Bible appear in the works of William Shakespeare. The translation of the Bible into the language of everyday people helped lead to the revolution of knowledge based on the printing of books. In his book The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill writes:
"Without the Bible we would never have known the abolitionist movement, the prison-reform movement, the anti-war movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the movement of indigenous and oppressed peoples for their human rights, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the free-speech and pro-democracy movements in such Far Eastern countries as South Korea, the Philippines and even China. These movements of modern times have all employed the language of the Bible."
More specifically, those who are Christian are defined and developed by what we read in the Bible. John Wesley believed that the Bible contains not only everything necessary for an individual to come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, but that the Holy Spirit will powerfully use the Scriptures to grow us into the persons and into the people together that God wants us to be. Each week, as I read the Bible in our congregation, I pray that God would use it to touch us and teach us, to challenge us and change us. But that can only happen when we read the book. How about picking one up today?
Leland is the pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Montoursville.