…or Richard Dawkins for that matter?

I think the answer would be “a lot of people”. Four years ago, when Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was about to hit the cinemas, I launched an experimental Bible School (more details to follow on the Biblefresh website). This was to be an in depth course on everything from New Testament Greek to Biblical genres. As the invitation went out I was very sceptical that anyone would want to come. In fact, so great was my scepticism that I said I would not run the course unless at least half a dozen people came. In the event twenty five people came for two hours on six Saturday mornings. They then came back for another series on the four gospels, and an all day session on Christmas, and some have now returned for a refresher course.  Last week’s opening session included a variety of people from former leaders of the church through to a new Christian fresh out of the Alpha course. People don’t want to run scared from the critics of the Bible – but nor do they want to feel naked when they face them.

Maybe preachers who strive to “correctly handle the word of truth” need to think about doing so outside the pulpit as well as inside it. Too often we fight shy of taking a seriously critical look at the Bible within the church, whilst all the while there are plenty of people prepared to do it outside. There may be many reasons for this:

  1. We are afraid of damaging people’s faith
  2. We don’t feel we have the expertise or the time to do it
  3. We wouldn’t know where to start
  4. We rather enjoy being the keeper of the  mysteries of biblical interpretation and don’t want to divulge them.

Of course it may be that the best way to tackle some of this is to encourage people to attend a course such as LST’s Saturday workshops. However, my own experience has been that people feel safer expressing their ignorance and their fears in a safe and familiar environment.

Many years ago a young man who was born to missionary parents came to see me. Having ‘gone along with’ his parents’ faith for many years, he was not sure he believed it any longer himself.  He had a classics degree and was quite comfortable reading Greek text, so we made a pact. We would go through Luke’s Gospel in the original, leaving no critical stone un-turned and no awkward question un-asked. We did exactly that…and at the end he sat in my office and made a deeply personal and genuine Christian commitment.

As we gear up for Biblefresh in 2011, let’s not be afraid of asking questions about the Bible . Our scrutiny is far more likely to strengthen our faith than to damage it.