How much of the Bible do you use?

Today I reread a great book by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, called The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education. His central idea is that churches should think in terms of the canon—the entire collection of books accepted as scripture—as they plan their sermons, Bible studies, and education programs.

Brueggemann uses the Old Testament as an example, because he's an Old Testament scholar. He adopts the traditional Jewish view which says that the Old Testament is composed of three parts: the law (which are the first five books), the prophets, and the writings (everything that doesn't fit in the first two categories—books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes). He thinks that each of these sections of the canon functioned differently in ancient Israel, and that each fulfilled a different educational role.

In Brueggemann’s view, the law is about disclosure: it sets standards for what is normative, it tells us who we are, and it tells us who God is. It is also received without question as trustworthy and authoritative. The prophets, on the other hand, are disruptive. They seek to challenge the status quo by reminding people that God cannot be limited to the ancient words of the law, because God is always active and always has a message for people in the modern day. Finally, the writings help with discernment. They offer wisdom for life, and give guidance on how we can make moral choices to faithfully follow God. 

What I find most helpful in this book is Brueggemann's suggestion that everyone will naturally gravitate toward one of the three parts of the canon. Some of us are very attracted toward the books of the Old and New Testament that are most like the law; we like the certainty and safety that these books give us, and we don’t like to read the challenges of the prophetic books. On the other hand, some of us like the change and shake-up offered by the prophetic books; we don’t like to be reminded of the books of the Bible that offer us standards and boundaries. But each part of the Bible is important; each part communicates something about God and our relationship to God. If we’re neglecting any aspect of the biblical witness, we’re missing out on a full picture of God.

In your own faith, do you emphasize one part of the Bible at the expense of others? Do you neglect parts of the Bible that you don’t enjoy as much, and focus only on passages that you "like"? Do you only read biblical passages that are easy for you to handle? Make an effort this week to read something that you normally wouldn't; you might be surprised at what it can teach you!

—Andrew Garnett