Atheist Bible Study Notes
Here are my notes from the Atheist bible study that I did last night at the Students for Free Thought.
I began by telling them what the Bible is not. It’s not a science book. It’s not a history book (at least, not in the same way as anything by David McCullough). And, most shockingly of all, it’s not a book of morals.
On this last idea, I pointed out that for Christians to use this a moral guide book would be mistaken. It’s not. The Bible tells us that we aren’t good, not, that you need to be good. Think about the stories in the Bible. It’s full of people, who even though they love God, mess up in ways we can only imagine. David’s adultry with Bathsheba and then killing her husband. Abraham’s lying about Sarah. Peter’s denial of Jesus. On and on it goes.
The Bible is meant to show us the desperate nature of our situation.
So, with that, I backed up to show what the story of the Bible actually is by using some very familiar categories:
Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
To be it simply, God created the world good. He created us in His image to be his “idol” on the planet, that is, to do what He would do in cultivating the earth. We fell from that image bearing role by sinning against Him and there is nothing we can do to restore that image. Only He can do it and he did in the person of Jesus Christ, who is called “the Very Image of God”. He did what we couldn’t do and now, through our union with Him, we can have that image restored. And by having that image restored, we can do what we were created to do, be Image Bearers of God on this planet. We can transform the world through work, the arts, family, taking care of the planet. All of it.
Then, I ran them through a lesson in how to read the Bible by using a commonly misunderstood story, The Prodigal Son. I taught them that now you know the Big story of the Bible, you can really grasp individual verses. So, I helped them to see how to begin reading the Bible. First, you have to realize what kind of book you are dealing with in the Bible. In this case, it’s Luke, which is a Gospel. I pointed out this makes it different from the Psalms, Paul’s letters and other possible generes of the Bible. Then, I told them to look at the context of the verses. We found out that this story takes place when Jesus is addressing a crowd of Pharisees, a crowd of disciples and some possible gentiles.
Then, I showed them that The Prodigial Son is a story or a parable. It most likely “didn’t happen”, but rather, a story that Jesus made up to make a point.
With that, we were able to get into the verses themselves. I asked them to give me the four characters of the story. Jesus, who is telling the story, and the Father with his two sons. I read to verses allowed and asked them to tell me what would have been shocking to a first centuary father centered culture. They did a great job of pointing out some unusual features. The first son wanting to eat pig slop, very unclean for a Jew. The son asking for his inheritance, which is akin to telling the father wishing he was dead. The older son talking back to his father and calling him into account.
They realized how much the parable is about both of the sons hating the father in different ways. The oldest obeyed his father because of what he could get out of Him. The Youngest wishing he would die and squandering his inheritance. I pointed out that Jesus did this to show Jew and Gentile how they stood in relationship to God. They both hated Him, but in different ways. The younger brother represented the Gentiles and the older brother, the pharisees.
I then pointed out the Father’s actions, which were the whole point of the story. When he sees the younger son coming home, he hitches up his robes and runs to him. This, I told them, was such an undignified action for a father in those days. It would have shocked his listeners. Instead of giving the older son the back of his hand, he talks to gently to him and tries to restore him into the family. This, I pointed out, was Jesus’ main point. The parable is about the Father, not the two sons. It’s about the Father’s grace to two sons who hated him. And, it’s about God the Father’s love for us and trying to restore us through Jesus.
Throughout the night, it has been sort of a back and forth forum. Lots of jokes. Lots of laughs. But, when I struck home that main point, you could have heard a pin drop.
So, I enjoyed it and I hope everyone got something out of it. Hope you all do too.