rob bell, biblical literalism and piano tunes

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Thursday, March 13th, 2014

piano keys

rob bell, biblical literalism and piano tunes

one of the more fascinating things happening on the theology web over the last few months has been rob bell’s tumblr series, what is the bible?—if for no other reason than the fact that he writes so thoughtfully every. single. day. (for those who don’t blog, that’s a very, very difficult discipline.) even more than its regularity, it’s incredible to me how insightful and engaging it’s been. i assume it’s safe to say this was a book concept or possibly a social experiment in a book-to-be.

ok, enough fawning…

there was a recent post, allow me to introduce you, that introduced his readers to the work of frederick buechner and one particular sentence caught my attention and sparked a memory. quoting buechner’s beyond words,

If you look at a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Junior’s Frisbie hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a Holy Bore and those who see it as the Word of God which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past into the depths of ourselves.

this is a brilliant analogy and instantly brought me back to a similarly helpful analogy from years ago.

at a church in which i served 10+ years ago, there was a guy who held to a very literal view of the bible. and not just a, “the bible says the earth was created in 6 days, so that sounds good to me.”, but a “you’re going to hell if you don’t believe the earth was created in 6 literal days.”. yeah.

so one day i was having a conversation with this guy and another church leader. this guy was upset at some things said in a recent sermon that swayed away from a literal reading of scripture. at one point, my leader friend walked over to a nearby piano, sat down and played a single note on the piano.

“what does that mean to you? and how does that make you feel?,” he asked.

a bit confused, the guy responded, “that doesn’t mean anything to me. i don’t know how to play the piano, so i can’t really say anything about it.”

“that’s a C note. what about this one?” he played another note.

“yeah, same thing. nothing.”, he replied.

this pattern continued with another few notes.

“ok, now listen to this.” he began to play amazing grace. “what does this mean to you?”

the guy’s eyes began to water a little and said, “this was my grandmother’s favorite song and it was played at her funeral last month.”

my leader friend closed, “you see, everyone has to make a decision of whether or not they’re going to listen to the notes or if they’re going to actually enjoy the song.”

much like buechner’s fly-speck, dust-covered, cracked window, this analogy lays forward a choice. the predominant choice and charge of modern christianity has been to listen to the notes, to look at and talk about the cracks in the window. not to see the world beyond and to listen to the beautiful song.

biblical literalism is a thief who robs us of songs that are beautiful and moving and emotive and connective and universal. it’s a dead end in a world of paths that never end. it’s the shallow end of the pool.

there’s so much more to explore when it comes to a better way to read and interpret scripture…but’s that for another post. i encourage you to begin to explore the possibility that there’s a bigger and better story being told than what a literal view of scripture allows.

there’s no better place to begin than with rob bell’s extraordinary tumblr series. i suggest beginning at the beginning. 🙂 enjoy!