Why Progressives can love Bible Studies
July 27, 2012 3 Comments
Obviously, when people think of “the most awesome thing I could do on Wednesday night,” the first thing that comes to mind is “go to my church’s bible study.” Where else do you get a chance to hear old Mavel, who claims to have the gift of discernment, (but not, apparently, the gift of brevity) pontificate about the bible for two hours?
Ah, bible studies. These things have been a staple of American church-goers’ Wednesday nights at least since the Great Awakening, and a component of the community life of many traditions before that. So obviously, because the crew at SafeHouse are bible-nerds and experimental with our church-doing, we decided we needed to try one out. See how it fit.
So we just finished an eight-week run of dinner and bible-studying, reading through the whole book of Colossians. Some of the things we did were pretty standard: we got together at my house, shared a meal (sometimes breakfast-for-dinner, sometimes pizza, etc.), caught up on each other’s lives, cracked jokes, and relaxed. Then we all grabbed some bibles from my bible-shelf, took turns reading the text from that week, and then had a free-flowing, idea-generating, story-full, multi-pronged conversation about what we’d read that lasted usually about an hour and a half. Some things were a little different from bible studies I’ve gotten to go to — the beer and cocktails with bible-reading was a fun twist. I learned from studying Martin Luther that theology is always better with a beer in hand. (Okay, I actually learned that in college before I knew anything about Martin Luther, but it makes me feel better to cite a famous theologian rather than take responsibility for things myself. Also, side note: if Martin Luther had been writing “Freedom of a Christian” with cosmos rather than lagers, I think it would have been a lot more fabulous to read.)
And I loved it. I want to do it again. Here’s some reasons why I think progressive Christians should love bible studies:
1. There are so few real forums in our world to do this kind of conversation with people! Nearly everybody in the universe values deep, thoughtful conversation — just consult the online dating profile of everyone ever. But besides some late-night dorm convos in college, most people struggle to find places where they can talk about real things with interesting people; where they can ram their ideas as articulately as they can into somebody else’s and see what pops out. Digging into something meaningful, pulling it out and looking at it from different angles, bouncing thoughts and ideas off of other folks in a safe environment… this kind of talk is… diamonds, in terms of real human conversation. Progressive Christians everywhere search furiously for forums to toss around really good concepts about God, faith, life, and the universe, and often those forums are hard to find.
This isn’t telling facebook about your religion and politics and getting a reel of 70 comments. It reaches back to the old days of the wisdom traditions, where people sat with one another, tossing out an idea, thought, or bit of wisdom, while other curious, interested, wise people would reflect on it, finding ways that it worked and circumstances where it might not, honing your thought by their careful handling of it. This is the style of thinking out loud from which the book of Proverbs comes. And sometimes…
2. …it turns up some ridiculous and brilliant things! Example: the night we were talking about the household codes in Colossians, it happened to be that all the people who came for dinner and bible study were gay men. Having four gay men play with the passage on wives submitting to their husbands was legendary. Not only was it fun and full of good humor and storytelling, but it also brought out a surprising diversity in perspectives, and a unique time of speculating about how we as men could relate to the leading women in our lives. It was great, although… the slaves and masters conversation got a little out of hand. But hey. 🙂
3. It gives you a sense of the character and conversation of the scriptures. The bible is a giant, thousand-year stretch of conversation about God. What we do in a bible study is a microcosm of what is actually happening in the scriptures. Reading it together then talking about it together helps us figure out how to relate to this sometimes-impenetrable text in a way that listening to a speaker from a stage or even reading it on our own simply doesn’t do. It teaches us to treat the scriptures as a conversation partner, rather than either a silent shelf-bound bit of arcana that doesn’t actually talk to us, or the conversation dominator who cannot be interrupted or talked back to.
4. It lets us become literate in the bible. I know not everybody values this, but I do. Knowing the scriptures, whether I agree or disagree with any particular part in it, is a huge deal to me, and I think it’s important to a lot of other folks as well. Some people it’s important to because they need to be able to be more knowledgeable than the people who are using the bible to attack them. Some people see in the scriptures a well of deep wisdom that they can tap into in daily life to make them more compassionate, resilient, and hopeful. Some people do it for reasons of pure curiosity — the minds who simply love to play with ideas and learn new things. And for some , knowing the scriptures is a way to learn about the story of God interacting with the world.
5. And most importantly to me, reading the texts together and exploring them with others is a powerful way to pursue a connection and relationship with God. Doing theology, whether in a group or on one’s own, is not like studying an object, as though God were something that could be analyzed. As one of my gay theology crushes, James Alison, writes, “The presupposition of theology is that it is itself, as a discipline, a small but important subsection of God’s continuing self-communication to all people.” Reading scripture together, talking about God and faith is not an attempt to figure everything out, to nail down some specifics about what we think, but rather is an adventurous attempt to be with the One who is speaking to us, and inviting us to speak back.
My point is that progressive Christians, more than most, have a great reason to have these sorts of conversations over the scriptures! Our values of serious community conversation, of biblical literacy and pushing the limits of our minds, of finding new ways to make the scriptures meaningful to our lives, and of genuine connection to a relational God — it’s all there.
So, the Bible Study. Yea or Nay? Do Progressive Christians have reasons to keep this style of community space around in the future?