“Study Bibles are ruining community.” I recently heard this statement at a conference on narrative and the gospel. I may not like a lot of the study Bibles out there, but ruining community? Really?
It used to be that people would read the Bible and seek to understand how it related to their lives through their interactions within a Christian community. Pastors and other teachers would lay the foundations of how to understand God’s Word and friends and family would share stories of God working in their lives. This was an interactive, living approach to God’s Word. However, with study Bibles available for everyone from women to firefighters to environmentalists, an individual can select one that will speak just to her, get the answers, and then be on her way. There is no need to engage with others in our faith walk. The answers are neatly laid out for us.
This seems like an efficient way to learn. It is also a lot safer for my ego. If I’m not living up to the expectations I read in God’s Word, only I need to know about it. It’s also much easier to twist the Bible to mean what I want if I’m not reading it with other people who are aware of my weaknesses. But as we rely primarily on distant experts and stop sharing our stories with one another there is a loss of real community in our churches. We become a group of individuals finding our own way to live out the faith and trying to convince others that we are doing well.
So what might be a response to this focus on individual faith – whether prompted by study Bibles or a multitude of other reasons?
- Where do we find places to dig more deeply into our lives and connect with others?
- Places where we can learn from one another as we see how God is working?
- Places where it’s okay to tell about the mess in our lives, as well as the joys?
- Places where questions and failings are welcome, and forgiveness is ready?
- Places where we can be affirmed that we are living in God’s grace and encouraged to go out and live more fully into the story where we are called?
I find that such moments occur not within programmed structures or alone in study, but in the throes of life. Sometimes it’s around meals or over coffee. It can also happen in a writing group, at a ball park, or among whispered voices in a chapel These are places where we can open God’s Word as we are with others, connecting our stories with God’s. Such building and living in community is definitely not efficient nor focused on knowing the right answer, but it is biblical. It’s also quite freeing.
Maybe it’s time to promote a new type of study Bible. The added “helps” in this Bible would change depending on the group involved because they would be developed out of Christians living in the midst of one another’s stories as they center their lives on God’s Living Word – Jesus Christ.