Imagine that I took various lines from different Shakespeare plays and ordered them in a new way. We could take “Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?” from Romeo and Juliet. We can take “To be or not to be, that is the question?” from Hamlet. If we put them together, we could get something like, “Wherefore art thou Romeo? That is the question.”
The trick is that you will easily get something that sounds like Shakespeare. It has all those Shakespearean words, rhythms, and characters. It is something that would fool people who don’t know the plots into thinking that it was real Shakespeare. But, to those of us who know the stories, we realize that my new play is nonsense. (This is the same point Irenaeus makes in Adversus Haereses I, 9, 4, concerning a re-working of lines of Homer strung together but has a completely different narrative!)
The same thing is true of the Bible. The Bible contains very few lists of things to do or lists of things to believe. The Bible mostly contains narratives — stories that form us and inspire us.
I think one foundation of understanding the Bible is continuous reading of entire texts. Like reading the whole Gospel of John, from beginning to end, or reading Paul’s letters all in one sitting. After all, when I write you an email, I expect you to start at the beginning and read it until the end. I hope that you will follow the flow of my reasoning and thought, as I make one comprehensive case. I don’t want you to take a paragraph from one email, and a paragraph from another, and put them together to make an argument that I never tried to make.
Unfortunately, not all people who use the Bible do that. Some people do to the Bible what I did to poor Shakespeare earlier! They get something that sounds like Christianity, something that fools a lot of people, but is unrecognizable to people who know the story of the Bible. The Bible narrates a trajectory of inclusion: An ever expanding circle of life, love, and light. An ever widening realm of peace, justice, and hope.
People who try to use the Bible against LGBTQ people like making a list of 6 or 7 special verses, and consider this new “Bible” the end of the conversation. When parents throw their offspring out of the house for being gay, they often quote some of these verses. People who do this don’t look at the larger narratives of scripture, and so they come away with an imposter version of Christianity. It looks and sounds like Christianity, but it is fake as my forged Shakespeare play.
Let us return to a vibrant, living, restored Christianity.