This is the next-to-last of the essays in this series. I cannot continue it without beginning a treatise on Christian theology, and there are already plenty of those. My intent has been to get you to bother about the search for meaning. If you have taken my cues, you will follow in the direction I am pointing you.
In case you are joining the series today, I encourage you to consult the attached list and read the essays from first to last, beginning with "The Possible Possibility." All of the essays are short, so if you lose patience with any of them you can always hope that the next one will do better. I urge them on you so you will see where we have come from to reach this point.
The tone of the series was determined by my target readership. In reference to today's topic, I am not writing for those who routinely accept the Bible nor for those who routinely reject it, but for those who wonder why otherwise apparently bright and sane people (me?) treat some of the writings of the ancient Hebrews, along with some of the writings of the first disciples of Jesus, as the Word of God. For them the question is, "Why the Bible?" with its inevitable corollaries: Why not the Koran? Or the Book of Mormon? Why do you need a book?
As I think I showed earlier, there is no reason to accept the Bible and equally no reason not to. It is "equally" that absolute secularists can't stand. They have taught themselves to believe they have an a priori claim. In everday life, a priori translates as "Well, everybody knows that!" But in this case, everybody does not know there is no God and therefore no Word from God. Western civilization as such has always treated theism as a given; atheism is a protest against theism, not the other way around. If any group has the right by sheer majority count to an a priori claim, it's the theists.
But ontology, the study of existence as such, is concerned with what is, not with how many people think what. The claim that everybody knows anything is always debatable. That's why I am content with "equally." If Tennyson could believe that the flower in the crannied wall contained the secret of God and man (though the flower makes no claim to do that), then I may believe that the Bible, which does make this claim, is the revelation of the living God to this world. The distinction between Tennyson and me is on a matter of opinion. If either of us asserts that the other has no right to his opinion, he is simply narrow-minded.
The difference is big, however. I assert that I have become part of the story I believe in. while Tennyson, with his belief in the flower, cannot become part of the flower.
So the first answer to "Why the Bible" is personal. I have become part of the story the Bible tells. By faith, by prayer, in sacrament, by fellowship, by obedience to the will of God as revealed in Christ, and for some of us by mystical experience, I along with millions of others have entered an eternal reality as near as the air we breathe. The "Way" of the Christian is a life described by the Bible. The truth and dependability of it unfold to us as we walk this way.
Devotees of other ways may be convinced about the ways they have taken. They have reasons and/or experiences that have convinced them. All committed people believe that their conclusions are true, but their belief does not make it so. Truth does not conform to false conclusions; the conclusions must be corrected until they conform to the truth. To quote Robert Louis Stephenson's essay "Pulvis et Umbra": "Truth is of a tougher strain." He was not writing as a Christian, but stating the common sense on which true communication rests. Truth stands apart from commitment. If I have committed myself to what is untrue, though I believe it true, I am mistaken. The commitments of others, no matter how sincerely held, are judged by the same standard.
I will simply state the second answer and discuss it next time. It is much bigger than the first one. Why the Bible? It gives us Jesus, not an edited Jesus made to conform to an outside teaching, but the Jesus of the Gospels, of the Epistles, of Revelation, and later of the Creeds. If you want to know Jesus, read the Gospels. Get his own version of himself, and see if anyone even begins to match his claims. The Jesus of the Bible is the Son of the Living God, the King who dies to take away the sins of the whole world and rises again so that "the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever." Believe it or not, but if he is who he claims, he is definitely worth believing.
The end of this series, next week, is Jesus. He is also the beginning of life for those who believe.
8. Dialogue with a Postmodern Nephew
9. Why the Bible?, 5/21/2005
10. Why Jesus?