Do You Read the Bible like Math or Poetry?

I’ve gotten to know Morgan through the world of blogging and social media for the last few years, and what he writes almost always makes me look at the topic in a different way, which I have appreciated. He’s worked on this book for a long time now and I’m happy for him that it’s finally being published. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the entire book yet; life’s just been a little too busy for me to concentrate well on any non-fiction book. So this reflection is not on the book as a whole but on chapter 6 only: “Poetry Not Math.”

As someone with an English degree who had a love for poetry at one time (where did it go, anyway?) and who is married to someone with a Math degree, I was, of course, drawn to this chapter.

Morgan points out that we’ve turned the Bible into a set of facts to memorize and create a brick wall of truth with them but we don’t actually live by them. “Instead of evaluating the vitality of our Christian faith according to how well our actions emulate Jesus’ character,” he writes, “we measure it according to the sturdiness and thickness of our wall of truth.”

I think he’s on to something here.

Many sermons and articles tell us exactly how we are supposed to apply the Bible to our lives, but it’s often done in such a way that as long as we do those 3 steps or 5 ways, our life and our faith will automatically be better, we will grow spiritually, and we’ll become even closer to Jesus.

The problem is that while those are good intentions–I mean, who doesn’t want to do those things?–they are lacking because they don’t let us wrestle or talk about the Bible and it’s application without a conclusion. In math, there’s a conclusion to a problem. In poetry, there isn’t. It will mean something different to each person reading it, and it may mean something different to that same person at different points in their life. In our desire to make disciples of people and show them how relevant the Bible is, we’ve rushed over the idea of savoring it like a gourmet meal and instead have reduced it to be like fast food.

We have inadvertently taken the mystery out of faith and replaced it with factual certainty.

I’ll leave you with some discussion questions that Morgan asks at the end of this chapter:

  • Does it make you feel uncomfortable to hear the Bible described as poetry? Is poetry less true than math?
  • Which aspects of biblical teaching are timeless, and which are specific to their cultural context?
  • What’s a recent example of a way that the Bible has impacted your daily decision-making?

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