The new Star Wars movie is out this week in the UK. The final piece of the jigsaw will be in place and many of the loose ends will be tied up. I loved the original movies when they first came out. I had never seen anything like them before and they were enthralling. I remember the local cinema putting on a Star Wars evening and going with student friends to see Episodes IV to VI in succession – a six hour extravaganza. It all clicked – it made sense.
Except for the question: what happened to Episodes I to III? Well, now we have them. Maybe a local cinema will put on an all-nighter so that we can see all six, or just get some friends together, pool the DVDs (when the last becomes available) and enjoy 12 hours straight. Will it all fit together? Will it still make sense?
Imagine we didn’t have an all-nighter. Instead,
- suppose we agreed that we would only watch 10 minutes a week together.
- Suppose some of us hadn’t seen all the films, some had only seen, say, one of them, and maybe we had some friends who had never seen any of them, but wanted to find out what they were all about.
- Suppose also we asked those who had seen all the movies to choose the most important 10-minute slots for the rest of us to watch so that as soon as possible the less experienced watchers would “get-it”.
So we would all sit down to watch on the first evening. One person would shout out two numbers. The first would be between 1 and 6 – the episode number. The second would be between 1 and roughly 120 – the number of minutes into the film from where we were to watch. Another person would select the right DVD and get it to the right place and press “play”. The assembled group would watch the 10-minute slot and then have pizza afterwards.
And so on it would go, week after week, watching 10-minute slots. I wonder how long it would take for everyone to “get it”? For quite a number of weeks they would just be random snatches of the movie and wouldn’t make much sense. Occasionally, there might be an overlap with a part that was watched before and so it would begin to fit. Those who had seen the movies before would have an advantage. With their background knowledge they would be able to place each 10-minute slot in the grand scheme of things. They might be able to talk about it over pizza. But those who had no background wouldn’t have much idea for a long time and would much rather talk about chilli pepper topping.
You would hope that eventually someone might stand up and say, “Look, wouldn’t it be better if we just set aside some 2-hour slots, and decide to watch them one after the other? Even better, let’s have an all-nighter!”
It seems to me that the church is full of people who do not read the Bible very often. They will read it on Sunday in the services, but forget about it in-between. Such people have a couple of toe-holds on the truth, but not much more. They live in a sea of mystery and confusion about the rest of it. In modern times such mystery and confusion has become a virtue – a badge of ‘honesty’. They explore their feelings and ‘struggles’ with the faith. They will share their struggles in blogs, pontificate at house-groups. But they never seem to get anywhere. The issues always seem to be the same.
Here’s a suggestion. Set aside chunks of time and read the Bible. Good chunks. Plenty of them. Read systematically. Follow a plan (M’Cheyne’s is good). Aim to read the Bible in a year. As you do so think about how it fits with what you have already read. When you have finished, do it again. On the second lap you are more familiar with the terrain. You find it gets easier to fit it all together. Go for a third lap. A fourth. A fifth… All the time more and more pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. You will begin to “get it”.
Whatever you do, keep going! You can stop when you die. That’s allowed.
7 thoughts on “Star Wars in Bits”
Yes! That’s what I always say! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Bam Stephen. If we claim to be reformed and the formal principle of reformedness is Sola Scriptura then why do we read about 2 minutes worth of Bible!?
The Bible in a year is quite an effort, though, especially for people who aren’t used to doing much reading. Perhaps 3 years is a more achievable goal (it’s something like a chapter a day, IIRC). But I totally agree – reading the whole thing really does give you a much better picture of how the many pieces fit together, and a much better feel for the different sorts of writing that there are within the Bible.
As for “plans”, I found that just starting at the beginning and reading through was good, largely because it roughly chronological that way. The drawback is that you do hit a lot of repetition this way (Kings and Chronicles, for example). Although my “favourite” tedious bit was the section in Exodus where God is telling the Israelites how to build the tabernacle. Three chapters of “do it like this and like this and like this”, followed by three identical chapters “we did it like this and like this and like this” 🙂
pax et bonum
Do I take it you agree with me?! I agree, though. The evangelicals and reformeds are often tempted to read uninspired books to “get deeper”. This is a mistake if it loosens our moorings from Scripture.
Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the problems of regular, consistent reading. I have battled with this all my life, and still do. I am currently using Carson’s modified M’Cheyne which takes you through in a year. (You can get regular emails from his website here.) It’s tough going, but it need only take 20mins in the day. As ever it is a matter of priorities.
There are difficult bits in the Bible, especially the bits where one thinks “why am I being told all this?” However, I do believe that even they become clearer as you read the rest. I have found for example that the tabernacle description has made a lot of sense to me as I have seen it fit into the unfolding plan of redemption. It fits into a pattern of Eden-Tabernacle-Temple-Incarnation-Church-Heavenly Temple (Gen 1, Exodus, 2 Sam 7, John 1:14, 1 Cor 3:16, Rev 21). It seems to me the theme is “God with us” which drives the redemptive process to consummation.
Indeed – the tabernacle example is actually quite interesting because (boring though it is to read), the repetition is there to emphasise how important this really was. This was making a place for God to dwell among God’s people, so it had to be done exactly right, as an exercisein honouring God.
And, as you say, it’s part of the unfolding story of God’s self-revelation in the world.
pax et bonum
I couldn’t agree more.
Perhaps you are being a trifle generous in your representation, though. It seems to me that many churches merely take a sentence or so from the script and ponder on what it might mean for our lives today, only retaining a tenuous link (if any) with the context. Studying ten minute excerpts would actually represent a significant improvement in many cases.
I am all in favour of constantly reminding people of the really big story, retelling it in preaching, song, prayer, other parts of the liturgy, the Church calendar, etc. If we do not have the big picture we will fail to understand much of what the Bible talks about. As we have lost sight of the big story, we have substituted the smaller stories of our culture and our individual stories to take its place.
For an example, take Pentecost. For many evangelicals I have encountered, Pentecost is understood primarily as a great and surprising revival.
This makes me want to tear my hair out.
Pentecost may not incorrectly be termed a ‘revival’, but it was so, so, much more. Only with an appreciation of key earlier events in the story (Genesis 1-2; 10-12; Exodus 19ff; Leviticus 23; 1 Samuel 1; 1 Kings 8; 2 Kings 2; Ezekiel 36ff; Joel 2; Zechariah 12; Mark 1; etc., etc.) will we begin to have an idea of the meaning of Pentecost and how it impacts upon our own lives.
Teaching people to inhabit the big story of Scripture and understand themselves and their experience in terms of it will never come with the sort of preaching and liturgy that exists in most evangelical churches today and this deeply saddens me.
On the subject of reading Scripture, I find the practice of listening to Scripture enormously beneficial. I spend most of my day at work listening to Christian lectures, sermons and Scripture. As I have a mind-numbing job there is no problem with my doing this. However, those who cannot do this can listen to Scripture on the way to and from work, while doing the dishes, etc. The practice of daily family readings after meal times are also helpful.
I know what you are saying. I warm to the ‘big picture’ of scripture myself. Jigsaw pieces are not very interesting on their own.
Pentecost – interesting string of verses you have put together. I will have a look.
My target for this post was not churches but the individual. My experience of evangelical preaching is perhaps a bit better than you represent. I have generally sat under systematic, consecutive, expository preaching, with very little text-preaching. The latter I have found frustrating.
You write: “many churches merely take a sentence or so from the script and ponder on what it might mean for our lives”. I suppose you are highlighting application-oriented preaching as opposed to redemptive-historical. I have to admit, the former has the tendency to be light on understanding the text. This bears fruit in the hearers who are often not interested in the ‘big picture’ but look on the Scriptures as some kind of life tool-box. Very unsatisfactory.
Fortunately, the preaching in most of the churches that I have attended over the years has been pretty good. However, visiting other churches I have encountered appalling preaching that seems to be taken as standard by those who attend.
Working at a Christian organization (UCB) at the moment, which mails out well over 1 million devotional booklets each quarter, I am struck by how muted any redemptive historical teaching is. It is generally some form of ‘promise box’ theology or other.
Most evangelicals are far from the Reformed tradition, which has retained a redemptive historical emphasis in many quarters. Those of us who sit under good expository preaching are the exception, rather than the rule in ‘big tent’ evangelicalism.
It is my belief that the gathered meeting of the Church is not the place for ‘evangelistic’ messages. Exhortations and devotional insights, certainly, but we do not gather together to convert unbelievers. Rather, we gather together to be built up as a Church and enjoy intimate fellowship as the Bride with the Bridegroom. Unbelievers should not be addressed within the context of such an assembly.
I feel that the tendency towards dumbed down preaching is largely a result of the mistaken notion that all preaching should be evangelistic and accessible to the uninformed unbeliever.
Unfortunately such approaches produce Christians who have little connection with the story of Scripture itself and merely have some bare bones idea of what conversion is, based on some texts abstracted from any context in the larger narrative (John 3 being a perfect example).
I believe that we ought to stress expository and redemptive historical preaching, grounding people as deeply as possible in the narrative itself, and not merely presenting them with three (or however many) points that are loosely connected with the passage.
The quest for immediate relevance is deeply unhelpful. The Bible is always deeply relevant to us today (every single part of it, even the unpreached parts like Leviticus). However, we must take it on its own terms and we often must immerse ourselves in it for many years before its relevance will become apparent and begin to shape us.
In a society that is too immature to accept delayed gratification, the discipline required in adopting such an approach is unwelcome. Consequently, many preachers prefer to short circuit the long and painful process of immersing themselves and their congregants in Scripture and simply present some (generally moralistic) simplistic applications instead, rather than grappling with the text itself.
I also think that such preaching insults the intelligence of most congregants.
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