A special Book on the academic's shelf?

At one of our postgrads’ discussions, a friend doing a PhD in literature was sharing how difficult it is to attribute special authority to the Bible in the English faculty, where a first principal is that all texts are treated equally.  Must we just make a special exception for this book, and take the ridicule on the (other) cheek?

I’m from a science background, and in my faculty non-scientific texts are supposed to have no authority at all.  Can either of us ever hope to be considered rational by our colleagues, when we trust in God’s written word?  Surely that challenge is there even if we never get into apologetics discussions at work, never mind claiming scientific or literary insights from the Bible in our research!

Well, first it occurs to me that we should see the Bible more as a library than a book. Putting aside our compact small-print editions on tissue pages, let’s remember that for many centuries, the people of God lived by scriptures that were never compiled beyond bundles of scrolls.  Indeed, until the second century or later there may not have been a common list of the scrolls that would eventually make up the canon.  So we immerse ourselves in a whole literary tradition – the backbone of a whole culture.  Christians seek to read Scripture under inspiration of the Holy Spirit who also guided its writing, and that surely includes the ways that our reading is coloured by input from the body of believers that is the Church.  It’s like the central library in a city of wisdom!

This biblical culture may also be seen as a metanarrative, a field of truth that we dwell in.  So I want my ways of thinking to reflect the Bible’s big story – and I pray that there will be effects on my creative thinking about laws of ecology or the best interpretation of data, as well as how I’ll respond to difficult co-authors, bureaucratic hurdles and opportunities to socialise in the pub.  I don’t look for scientific information in the Bible, but for better ways of conceptualising what I see of the creation, as a scientist.

Metanarratives, I know, are discredited in literature departments.  But I think there’s also growing awareness that everyone’s thinking is shaped by presuppositions and attitudes that are imbibed from somewhere – there’s no view from nowhere.  Danie Strauss says that either we “operate from a certain philosophical view of reality”, or we “are the victims of a philosophical view” [1]. There’s more to say about this, but, bluntly, being immersed in the metanarrative of Christianity doesn’t sound so bad if we can point out some of the alternatives: secular humanism, existentialism, Marxism, feminism, etc.

Sometimes the Bible is taken as a reference manual for life’s difficult moments or a source of passages for meditation.  It may provide these – but what if we so dwelt in the writings of Moses, David, Isaiah, Luke, John, Paul and the others, that the printed text became more of an index to ways of thinking that we had internalised?  Moreover, we keep studying the Scriptures because the Holy Spirit will never finish shaping our lives through them; we return to them again and again from new situations in our practical and intellectual lives.  Far from seeing the Bible as just one text on the shelf, we may find it to be a living library that opens a window to heaven, a doorway to the earth and and a mirror to our own lives.  And perhaps its authority is that of God’s Spirit rather than of the text itself?

Some Christians keep a copy of the Bible on the desk at work.  For me it’s more important to have a collection of Bibles in various translations, plus commentaries and concordance, prominently in my living room so that I can dwell and grow in the culture of God’s Word methodically, creatively and prayerfully.  That’s my aspiration!


[1] Strauss, D (2009) ‘Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines’. Reformational Publishing Project


Richard – I really enjoyed this comment you made –

“Far from seeing the Bible as just one text on the shelf, we may find it to be a living library that opens a window to heaven, a doorway to the earth and and a mirror to our own lives.”

That is very insightful and helpful. The Bible can open windows into all the nooks and crannies of both heaven and earth. We are called to improvise faithfully (Tom Wright) as we enjoy looking through these windows. Hopefully our lives will be transformed during this process!

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