The other night, I was sitting up late chatting with a friend over Facebook when the conversation turned to the Bible. Now, I've been playing reruns of the American Bible Challenge, and it's clear my Old Testament is stronger than my New. She admitted she has trouble with the Old Testament, and off the cuff, I said something like, "Well, yeah. A lot of people do. Because you have to read the Old Testament different. You can't read it the same way you read the New."
Then I held my breath hoping she wouldn't ask me to elaborate on that, knowing she would, understanding in that split second that what I had said was truth, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly why that was the case. Thankfully, the words came and it turned into an interesting conversation for both of us.
I want to share a bit of that with you because I think one of the troubles we have as Christians is reading our Bibles. Reading and understanding them, anyway. Reading for meaning. There are many among us who hear they ought to be reading their Bibles, who trudge through the words every day and chalk it up to nothing more than word count. Did you read your Bible today? Yes I did....but I didn't understand a word of it.
So I thought I'd share. And I want to start with the New Testament because it does seem to be the easier of the two to comprehend.
The New Testament must be read in a way that strikes at the heart of what we already believe as Christians. That is, that God has come to change and redeem our lives. The first part of the New Testament is the example; the second, the instruction. The New Testament tells us how to live.
It tells us that we should love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. (Matthew 5:44) That we should turn the other cheek, give the extra good, go the extra mile. (Matthew 5:39) It tells us what love is - both that it is found in a man who lays down his life (John 15:13) and that it is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast.... (1 Corinthians 13)
It tells us the things to stay away from. Drunkenness. Immorality. Sexual impurity. A lying tongue. Hateful words. Pride. The lists go on and on. (1 Thessalonians 5:22, for example)
The New Testament addresses the problems of our present time, which are not far from the problems of the former time. Conflicts between people. Our fallen nature. Failures in leadership. Tough choices.
It encourages us to pursue the power and the presence of God, both in the stories of the people who lined the streets to see Jesus and in the stories of guys like Paul on Damascus Road and Timothy, encouraged to continue pressing on despite the criticisms against him. (Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young....) (1 Timothy 4:12)
It gives us the example of Jesus Himself, the flesh of God who not only told us how to live but showed us. He showed us what it meant to do good. To question. To speak truth. To love. To forgive. To welcome. To heal. To hope. To hold.
The New Testament gives us everything we need to know about how to live, which is why it seems readily accessible to most Christians. It's not easy to carry out all of the words, to live true to every example. Nobody said it would be easy. But we read the New Testament hoping it will show us what to do, and it does. At least we know the Truth.
The New Testament is practical theology at its very best. It's God for the real world and the most prolonged narrative of God in the flesh that we have. It's God with skin on, so we can learn to live in our own skin. It's the new covenant, a God for the every day, a God for this day as much as that one. The God we find in the New Testament is timeless. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
None of what I've just said comes as new information to most Christians. This is what we believe about our Bibles. This is how we read them.
The problem is this is only the New Testament. We can't read the Old in the same way. Many try and grow frustrated, getting stuck somewhere between the old covenant and the new, between the Law and Love. Many write off the Old Testament in contradiction, claiming the new has replaced it. But there is no replacement for the Old Testament. It, too, has a message for us.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you how to receive that word.