Since September, I have been doing a “Life Journal Reading Plan” on my iPad - the entire bible in one year, actually the entire old testament once, and the new testament twice. Started it in September, and three months ago decided I wanted to speed it up, and do two days at a time. Finished it a few minutes ago. I can’t say it was always a spiritual exercise; there were many days I was just trying to get through it; but its DONE! DONE! DONE!
What follows are my initial reactions to completing this endeavor. Kind of a brain-dump of thoughts that swirled through my head; taken for what they are, impressions from someone who considers himself a liberal progressive christian, after an eight month long daily read of the full bible. Not a lot original below (well, I wrote it, but the arguments appear in many places, and reflect some of the other things I have been reading).
So, where do I start?
How about with literalism. How anyone can take much of the bible literally is absolutely, positively beyond me. These are ancient stories - sometimes four thousand or more years old, handed down, changed in translation after translation; and have to be understood in some sort of context - of the people who wrote and shared the stories. There are myths with great value and lessons; there are historical aspects; there are political spins — notice how Kings and Chronicles tells much of the same story, but with a different spin depending on which tribe the writer was coming from. But these are at heart stories of a people, what David Lose calls a Family Scrapbook written over thousands of years- and it makes much more sense to me to acknowledge that up front.
There is an awful lot of violence in the Old Testament. God does not have any problem wiping out entire peoples; but God is also quite willing to forgive his chosen people; and as a chosen people, wow - they certainly screw up many times, even when God seemed to directly speak to them. There is also a pretty strong theory of retribution - of an eye for an eye. Yet, in the New Testament, that pretty much goes away, and if we as Christians are going to take that label “Christian” seriously, it sure would suggest that there has to be some effort to reconcile Old from New Testament, and acknowledge that just because it says it in Leviticus, does not mean we ought to be following it today.
The New Testament reflects a lot of early Church politics, and is better understood with some historical context. I find it absolutely intriguing that the earliest of the Gospels, that of Mark, is not only the shortest, but lacks all the Virgin Birth descriptions; and tells us nothing at all about the origins of Jesus. It is only Luke and Matthew which fill in that story - and since NONE OF THE AUTHORS were actually there, or witnessed it, I think its important to take many elements of the NT in the same light that the OT stories are taken - they are stories, which hold meaning, but are not word for word transcripts of events. They represent truth, but are not necessarily true, word for word.
And then there is John. Whenever I read the Gospel of John, I feel like I am reading a political document - embellishing everything in the earlier Gospels, and attempting to graft onto those earlier stories the theology that the early Church had developed - and then put those ideas into the “words” spoken by Jesus. And then when you get to his letters and finally revelation, I must admit, I feel like he must have found some bad mushrooms, as very little fits with anything else in the entire New Testament. Considering that the reading plan ended with Revelation, I remain baffled, and more than a wee-bit skeptical. I will also admit that my prior experience with Revelation was largely limited to lines in a heavy metal song by Black Sabbath from my youth 25 years ago, just not a book I had read.
Lets turn to Paul. Oh, Paul. Sure would be nice if we had a bit more knowledge of what was going on in the first 20 years post-resurrection, when you were persecuting early christians - and knowing what they were thinking; what their beliefs were. It seems to me I have a love-hate relationship with Paul. For everything good he says, there is some absolutely obnoxious statements (at least to my 21st century liberal progressive protestant mind), which demand that we critically examine what he is saying, the context of the time he was saying it, the audience to which he was speaking, and acknowledge that just because he wrote something in a letter, does not make it the word of God. I definitely need to grapple more with Paul, the church’s first conservative — and the one thing that is intriguing is the idea that he is writing BEFORE any of the Gospels were written down; and indeed, he tells us very little of the story in those letters — but at a very minimum, he does raise a lot to think about in terms of atonement questions.
And finally, Peter. Oh Peter, you were there. I sure wish the New Testament included more than two relatively short letters from you. The academic in me sure wishes you had written down your recollections; sure wish there was a Gospel of Peter.
I have no idea why I just wrote all this out — and to some - particularly those of a fundamentalist bent, I am sure I said some inflammatory things. But that was not the purpose. I am glad I completed the reading plan — and while at times it seemed like a race to the finish, I am glad that I read the whole thing — I surely can’t recite or even remember everything I read; heck, there was plenty I barely understood; but I completed the initial goal of getting a “quick read” (i.e., over a year!) done; I have scanned the full manuscript; now I’ll go back and pick and choose things to read more closely, to read shorter passages in conjunction with things like the NIV Study Guide, other commentaries, even Calvin’s Commentaries (since they are on my iPad, integrated with the Olive Tree Bible Reader!). All in all, it was a good experience.