In this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday feature, I invite a group of young people to experience the Bible in the epic way it was meant to be experienced. It’s a live experience, and therefore as messy as you think it would be. But you’ll sense in the midst of this the kind of wonder and hunger that J.K. Rowling was aiming for when she imagined The Monster Book of Monsters for her “Harry Potter” series. Just like the Monster Book, the Bible is living and active, and it might just eat you alive…
If you remember your “Harry Potter” lore, The Monster Book of Monsters isn’t just a book about terrifying magical creatures—the book itself is a terrifying magical creature. Make a mistake opening the ornate latch on this oversized textbook and you get razor-teeth, not pages. Rowling describes this infamous Hogwarts tome as a “vicious guide to monstrous creatures.” She meant to imagine a book that can (literally) eat you alive. And therefore The Monster Book, because it is “living and active,” makes it impossible to be bored when you’re reading it.
“Living and active” is, of course, our best description of the Bible—it’s our own “Monster Book,” sitting right there on our coffee table or hiding in our bookshelf. The writer of Hebrews proclaims: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Wow… “Sharper” and “piercing” and “judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart”—that’s some kind of untamed book, right?
So how come so many, so often, are bored by it?
Young Life founder Jim Rayburn famously said, “It’s a sin to bore a kid.” Here’s an important corollary: It’s also a “sin to bore a kid with the Bible.” Yet that’s exactly what’s happening right now in youth ministry. In a Barna study of teenagers and Bible-reading, kids say they often feel confused (33%), bored (22%), overwhelmed (13%), doubtful (7%), and discouraged (4%) when they crack open God’s Monster Book.
But how can the Bible be boring when our best descriptions of it remind us of what Rowling called “a vicious guide”? Well, maybe the way we study the Bible and teach the Bible and model Bible-reading simply communicates that it’s boring. Some of that, of course, is simply the expected consequence of our efforts to make a big, complex collection of books easier to reference—from the 13th through the 16th centuries, scholars added chapters and verses to it. The unintended consequence of these additions is obvious—they give the Bible the feel of a reference book. And reference books carry with them the baggage of boredom.
But some of the problem rests with us and what we’ve benignly accepted as “normal practice” when it comes to Bible-reading and Bible study. What if we took the “Harry Potter” comparisons a little further, to flesh out a way forward…
- The Bible is really a complex narrative, but that doesn’t mean the average person can’t understand the flow and focus of that narrative. The “Harry Potter” series is also a complex narrative, but readers experience it as “living and active” because they understand the focus (a classic fight between the forces of good and the forces of evil) and the flow (the narrative journey is really the coming-of-age story of Harry—he’s ultimately the point of the 4,224-page story-arc represented by all nine books in the series, and that progression is lived out in every book). In the Bible, the focus is always Jesus (the Old Testament is a prophetic onramp to him, the Gospels are a firsthand account of what he said and did during his physical life on earth, and the Epistles tell the story of how Jesus’ followers lived out his heart and mission under the intimate guidance of his Spirit). And the flow is really an adventure story with the rescue of mankind (God’s beloved) driving the narrative all the way through. Do we see the Bible this way? And do we treat every page with these filters of focus and flow front-and-center?
- Lots of crazy things happen in the Bible, because it’s filled with epic adventures, flawed heroes, despicable enemies, and hard-to-fathom mysteries. Rowling introduced us to “the wizarding world,” which included epic adventures (the search for horcruxes), flawed heroes (Snape anyone?), despicable enemies (“he who must not be named”), and hard-to-fathom mysteries (the “vanishing cabinet,” to name one of many). These departures from our normal experiences in life invite us into the narrative, not repel us from it. So, are the extraordinary people and beings and experiences we read about in the Bible simply exaggerated myths or fairy tales? Most Christians reply, with some tinge of desperation, “No, everything in the Bible is fact.” But C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor and author of Mere Christianity and the “Narnia” series, replied to that question this way: “Christianity is both a myth and a fact. It’s unique. It’s the true myth.” And that’s one of the keys to unlocking the Monster Book qualities of the Bible: Mythic things happen in its narrative, but they’re also true things. In fact, Jesus tells us, he’s not merely pointing us to the truth; he is the truth. He is the fulcrum of “true myth.” And so, when we’re helping teenagers dig into and enjoy the Bible, we plunge into the crazy stuff with a healthy understanding of just how crazy it all is, and the fundamental assumption that it all points to Truth in the end.
- Barna: State of the Bible 2016 (American Bible Society)
- LIVE Books of the Bible
- Jesus-Centered Bible
- Pierced New Testament for Teenagers