Biblical studies and theology have this semi-annoying/semi-comforting pattern in my life: I'll observe a phenomena and it'll sit in my head somewhere between a week and a decade and then I'll stumble across a well-written resource that nonchalantly explains the phenomena has been observed for at least a millennia and hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been trying to figure it out.
For example, the key reason I decided to pursue Old Testament studies was that it seemed my community of faith was never really comfortable with it. I was not comfortable with it.
My experiential outline of the OT was that there was dogged trench warfare in Genesis 1-11, leadership lessons from Genesis 4-Esther 10, a total of eight chapters in the book of Job worth discussing, a daily devotional lectionary in Psalms and Proverbs, a chapter or two in Ecclesiastes, A Song of Songs (but only if you're Pentecostal or enjoy adolescent giggling), Isaiah 6 and some Christimas readings, then blah-blah-blah, more leadership with Daniel (or else an explanation of whichever Democrat is running for president), more blah-blah-blah Jonah, blah-blah-blah fathers should teach their sons.
That outline could easily function as a simple, "We should do better", but what actually bothered me is that when we turn the page to the New Testament, suddenly everyone in my community turns into an exegetical lice comb.
Matthew begins "The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham". There is not a pastor I know who couldn't turn that single verse into a 10 week series.
That has always bothered me. It's like my community treats the Old Testament like we treat the New Testament, but only in the first three chapters and then we run out of exegetical steam. I don't know why that is.
And then I read this from Eugene Ulrich:
Most religious groups and individuals are seldom influenced by the full range of canonical books while totally excluding noncanonical books, but are guided by a particular part of the canon (a canon within a canon). That is because there are conflicting theologies within the canon, and the discussion usually has a specific focus and therefore envisions a particular thrust or thematic within the canonical literature. (Eugene Ulrich "The Notion and Definition of Canon" in The Canon Debate ed. Lee Martin Macdonald and James Sanders [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic]. 29)
In other words, we have these themetic streams from which we like to fish and that leads us, naturally, to neglect the larger eco system.
My experience with the Bible is that it's a vast and intimidating forest. If you're a Lost Boy of the Woods, then it's a vast and wonderful playground, but if you're hoping to approach it like a biologist or ecologist, it doesn't give up its secrets easily. And I think that's by design.
But my concern is with my community. We love to claim that we love all of it, but in practice, at a community level, do we act that way?
We love to love The Forest. We've fenced it it in with an entire amusement park, hotel, and conference center. We offer guided tours to the same 100 spots that are beloved by both tourists and season pass holders alike. And after the tour, we can go to the concerts and conferences and clubs. We can even go to the gift shop and buy guides and maps and key chains and mugs and t-shirts and posters and candy. Because we think we love all of it.
That's a sincere belief. But I think we have to ask ourselves: Do we love The Forest or do we love the vacation?
Bibleland™ and The Forest are not the same thing. Bibleland™ is clean, orderly, narrativly crafted for the moment. It's expertly marketed and micro targeted to taste and, like the Vegas strip, seems to reinvent itself regularly.
The Forest, on the other hand, is old, thick, hikable (in parts), beautiful, ugly, comforting, terrifying, simple, complex, inviting, shunning, drenched, ablaze. To crib from Lewis, it's not a tame forest.
Personally, I'm not as angsty about Bibleland™ as probably my Northwest, Hipster, Millennial self is supposed to be. I understand the economics of conservation. The Zoo pays for the Zoology. It also serves as an cultural bridge to welcome newcomers into its great corner of reality.
This actually came up with OakTree a little while ago. Accordance (the Bible software produced by OakTree) released a resource from Hendrickson titled "50 Proofs for the Bible". So, of course, out came the nerd bullies:
Do biblical scholars need to have a heart-to-heart with Accordance? pic.twitter.com/1N6T2OKLyy— Rev. Dr. Matthew J.M. Coomber (@6ftRadiusPriest) September 16, 2020
Why this was a slap at Accordance instead of Hendrickson is an interesting choice. (Why is it that nerd bullies are smart enough to know what a bad resource is but not smart enough to know the difference between a publisher and a distributor?)
Anyway, Accordance replied,
We're always happy to take your suggestions. Keep in mind we have a very diverse customer base, though, and offer content for everyone. Sometimes popular titles help fund more academically-oriented content, which may be important but is only purchased by a small number of people.— Accordance Bible Software (@AccordanceBible) September 17, 2020
And that's exactly right. Bibleland™ pays for the exploration and conservation of The Forest.
This snobbery is why everyone got all cranky at the Green family. But tell me: who else took a collection of rare (and yes, some forged) Biblical artifacts to a market as small as Colorado Springs and offered free, weekly lecture from some of the top academics in the field?
We love it when somebody finds something really cool that we can all blog and tweet about, but scholars have to eat. So the funding for deep work needs to come from somewhere. Why not from a place dedicated to the introduction and populaization of The Forest? Why not from Bibleland™?
My problem with my own perspective on this (it's crowded in here, guys) is that I'm not quite sure what, exactly, it was that Jesus was overturning in the temple.
I'm still thinking about that.