“Hi, my name is Dave, and I am a Biblicist.”
“Hi Dave,” reply my Bible Anonymous sympathisers. We’ve all been on quite the journey. Conservatism runs deep, and we’ve each had to face our demons. I sense the empathy emanating from my new found friends, so—tentatively—I launch out on my story. …
Well, I was brought up in a good Christian family, where we took the Bible seriously. (Sighs leak from their lips—my tale is all too familiar.) Actually, we took the Bible “literally”. When it said “jump”, I said “how high”. After all, God said it, I believed it, so that settled it. Or so I thought. We liked to think we were ‘Bible-Centred’ through and through.
I guess I first identified my problem while reading Homer’s Odyssey. It’s another old book, from around the time of King David, and it’s definitely an epic tale of divine intrigue. It’s centred on this hero Odysseus taking ten years to return from the Trojan wars, getting waylaid by the Gods. Zeus sends thunderbolts, Poseidon stirs the seas, this Nympho traps the hero on an island, Odysseus blinds gigantic Cyclops by poking him in the eye … a cool tale right! But no one speaks of being “Odyssey Centred.” It’s an ancient book, right? No one wears WWOD bands, asking “What Would Odysseus Do?” So why was I so proud about being “Bible Centred”? Even if the Bible is “inspired”, why live looking in the rear-view mirror at what once was?
My next jolt came from a secular Jew, A. J. Jacobs; his caricature helped me look myself squarely in the mirror—and I didn’t like what I saw. Backtrack. A good Christian friend noticed how ‘Biblical’ and ‘literal’ were joined like engine and caboose in my theological travel-train. So he lent me Jacobs’ book for some light relief: The Year of Living Biblically. I remember it like yesterday: this archaic looking dude with full facial hair and robe juxtaposed with a modern city skyline. Jacobs is a catchy journalist, and he records in hilarious detail his “humble quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible.” First he compiles 72 solid pages of commands. The big ones of course, like “The Ten Commandments”, “Love thy neighbour” and “be fruitful and multiply”. But also hundreds of oft-ignored ones: “do not wear clothes of mixed fibres”, “do not shave your beard”, and “stone adulterers”. In his words, he tried to live the “ultimate Biblical life”.
It was LOL funny … I snickered as he retold his attempted stoning of a Sabbath-breaking workaholic with pebbles, in New York’s Central Park. But then it hit me. I was laughing at myself. The point was clear: it’s impossible to ‘literally’ live the Bible in today’s world—times have changed, and no-one appreciates a backward looking bearded guy in a robe, stuck in the first century. God may be timeless, but the Bible’s not a timeless tale … it’s a story embedded in real history. For all my talk of being ‘literal’, I was really just picking and choosing commands that froze my world in a time-warp when Christians were in charge and Christianity was the status quo. All this talk of being Bible Centred was a cover for backward looking conservatism. I had to grow up. I had to learn how to read.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve studied enough over the years to be convinced that the Bible is no mere ancient tale like Homer’s Odyssey. The history checks out, and the prophecy stacks up. I still believe this book is inspired by God. I still believe it holds authority for my life. But what exactly did that mean? I was floundering.
How come all the heroes in the Bible—like Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Jesus, and Paul—were forward looking radicals, too progressive for their time? And why was it that the longer folks like William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Junior dwelt in this old book, the greater their challenge to the status quo in changing the present?
That’s when it hit me. God is always on the move. The Bible was never meant to be a backward looking book, calling us to codify the past. I’d found it easier to “deal in simple, clunky affirmations and denials rather than appreciating that the Word of God itself tells a story which is moving forward and getting to new points as it does so.” My Biblicism was broken. The Bible doesn’t just position itself as an ancient tale. It’s more like the authorized story of the world from God the Creator’s perspective. He’s the Alpha and Omega, so He has the bird’s eye view on how it all hangs together. Your story, and my story, only make sense in light of the Big Story.
Sometimes I fall off the wagon: I start throwing around rules and regulations and boasting that I’m more Biblical than the next guy. But on a good day you’ll find me “living Biblically” in a way both simpler and more complex than anything conservative Dave ever dreamed of … I’m trying to faithfully improvise. My life is lived in the story, part of the grand trajectory from the garden where we fell, over the Mount of Crucifixion where we were restored, and reaching toward the garden-city where God’s presence will dwell with us, setting everything right. I’m one actor in an epic script, connected to what went before, and reaching toward what lies ahead, keeping my ears open to the prompting of the Divine Director.
Who am I, now? I am Dave, a recovering Biblicist, learning to read an old book and, in its pages, discover new life.
 Wright, N. T. Acts for Everyone. London: SPCK, 2008. See also http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm.
 For more, watch http://www.kbc.org.au/media/message-the-journey-1-pilgrim/.