As you know, we are reading through the Bible together this year, Genesis to Revelation. You may also have seen a recent article from GQ magazine, “21 Books You Don’t Have To Read.” God’s Word, the Bible, was #10 on the list. Of course, you would expect me to disagree with GQ – and, of course, I do. Trust me, I’m not a subscriber but did check out the article.
I wanted to share with you an article by Tim Swarens, editor of the editorial page of The Indianapolis Star. Tim does a beautiful job of stating why he disagrees with GQ. This article was share with me by Richard Martin. One of the things that is impressive about this article is that Tim provides four areas of reasoning that you could potentially present to someone who has little to no use for the Bible. I hope you gain some insight from his thoughts below:
In the news business, it’s known as click-bait — a deliberately provocative, often sensational and always shallow article that’s written solely to attract page views and in turn drive advertising revenue. As with a drunk at the end of the bar who’s desperate for attention, it’s generally better to ignore the click-baiters’ provocations than to give the loud mouths what they want. But when a once-relevant magazine promotes cultural illiteracy for the sake of cheap clicks, it deserves a response.
Which brings me to GQ magazine’s recent hey-click-this list of “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” The lineup of supposedly not-worth-your-time literature includes the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, The Old Man and the Sea, Lonesome Dove and The Lord of the Rings. And to the horror of Kurt Vonnegut-loving Indy, Slaughterhouse Five.
But the book on the list that’s generated the most media attention and the strongest push-back is the Bible, which author Jesse Ball dismisses, in all of three sentences, as “repetitive and foolish.”
Confession time: Ball condescendingly describes folks like me as people “who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it.” Except I have read it — from Genesis to Maps — several times. This year and last, I’ve started most days by reading a New Testament chapter. So, yes, I am biased, but it’s a bias grounded in the fact that the Bible shapes who I am, and shapes who I aspire to be.
Still, let’s meet Ball and others like him where they are. If you reject the idea that God, even if you do believe in a deity, would communicate to humanity through a book, why would reading the Bible be worthwhile?
In the best tradition of click-bait, here are four reasons, none of which address the spiritual value of the Scriptures:
1. To understand western culture: From Michelangelo’s Pieta to Handel’s Messiah to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, it’s impossible without at least a cursory knowledge of the Bible to appreciate the inspiration behind art that continues to capture the imagination and admiration of millions.
The Bible, far more than any other source, has for centuries shaped western culture. Just one example: Amazing Grace, a 246-year-old song written by a repentant slave trader, still brings tears to the eyes of millions of people around the world each year. You can’t begin to understand why that is true without a basic grasp of New Testament theology.
2. To understand history: Our nation’s founding document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Where did those self-evident truths originate? They’re rooted in the biblical concept that all humans are created in God’s image.
I’d argue that the same idea was the inspirational and philosophical bedrock of the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher; to truly understand his work and writing, you have to read the book that most inspired him.
3. To understand current events: Why is abortion still a hot-button issue in the United States? Why are the Israelis and the Palestinians still fighting? What motivates Mike Pence and the voters who keep electing him to high office? Why is Chick-fil-A closed on Sundays?
You can’t really understand much of what is reported in the news, in the United States and around the world, without a basic knowledge of the Bible. You don’t have to accept the Gospels as gospel, but if you don’t read the Bible at least once out of intellectual curiosity, you’ll be lost when many big stories break.
4. To understand your neighbors: My pastor on Sunday morning, in a message about parenting, described how he spent a year reading the Bible and making notes in the margins as a gift for each of his daughters. It was a sustained act of love, and one I suspect those soon-to-be women will treasure for the rest of their lives.
What motivates such devotion to an ancient book? The answer is as complex as the Scriptures themselves.
I’ve been amazed by people I’ve met around the world who make incredible sacrifices to help others in distress because they’ve been inspired by the Bible. I’ve also been appalled by people who wrap their anger and biases in that same book. Human behavior is complex and inconsistent, but it sure helps to know something about the ideas that drive so many people to acts of love and of hate.
You don’t have to love your neighbors as yourself to see value in understanding them a bit better. For hundreds of millions of your neighbors around the world that means taking time to learn what the book that shapes their lives really says.
Because, like it or not, the Bible will continue to influence culture, history, current events and billions of lives around the world. And will do so long after GQ is less than a footnote in history.