“the Bible, all of it, is livable; it is the text for living our lives. It reveals a God-created, God-ordered, God-blessed world in which we find ourselves at home and whole.”
“Our search to know what’s on God’s mind ends in the discovery of unconquerable gladness.” -Gregory Boyle
The Book is our home and our wholeness. One must read the Book to know how to live. But there is danger of misreading the Book. There is a particular danger for Asian-American Christians (which I can speak of as one who grew up in that tradition), and it is the identification of living the Book with studying the Book, resulting in our penchant for measuring spiritual maturity with biblical knowledge.
I have a hunch where this mis-identification comes from. It is partly our Confucian upbringing, where education is lifted as the noblest pursuit: a praiseworthy way to advance in society and one’s worth. In the American academy, it translates to SAT scores, degrees, and schools graduated. My father said he would bless me going to seminary only if it was Princeton Seminary.
This mindset affects the language of faith. Spiritual growth is measured by how much bible you know, thus the main form of spiritual growth is bible study. I know this well: as a college student, I read up on commentaries and then spoke against the youth pastor saying his sermon had no scriptural grounding. Even to this day, I think he should have spent more time in scripture for his messages. But I have enough distance to repent of my arrogance. I was reading the Book wrongly. You should have (not) heard some of my first sermons as a freshmen in Seminary!
It is easier to measure faith by bible study and knowledge, because classes and books read can be turned into checklists. Bible knowledge can be scored — how many books have you studied and how many chapters a week. And it suggests quick fixes. If there is any problem with our faith, we can correct it with another round of bible studies.
What if we don’t see reading the Bible as a study but a living? What if understanding the context is helpful but does not become our main purpose? What if we are asking, “Are we living it?” over “Do we get it?” What if the measure of our maturity is not knowledge but love? Are we loving? And what is love if not a joyous acceptance of the other?
Both Jesus and the Pharisees read the same scripture. They knew it well. But children would not touch a Pharisee with the proverbial 10-feet pole. Jesus, on the other hand, had children tackle him as if he was giving out free ice cream. Children simply felt that vibe of joy from Jesus.
No Pharisee set out to be bad readers of the Book, but because they had the wrong “hermenuetics” they ended up angry at Jesus’ story about the Prodigal Son. In that story, they came out as the older son, who for all the time he spent with his father, did not know his father’s heart.
If I can speak frankly, we Asians are more prone to such unhealthy, joy-killing, judgmental hermeneutics, with our idolatry of study. We are likely to cross our arms with the older son, and refuse to dance (like most Korean-American weddings I have been part of).
Jesus lived the Book because he had the hermeneutics of love and joy, and it helped him to live the Story and even to tell it well, like the story of the prodigal Father, who throws a party for his returning son without even giving him a chance for his well rehearsed repentance.