When I was in Sunday School & youth group @ Church, I was incredulous & questioning. Yet, no one turned round to me and said, “Well, perhaps we need to contextualise these books in the Bible for you.” Once I actually started studying theology from an academic perspective, I was amazed at how much dissent there is amongst the ranks, and how interpretive much of Christianity (fundamentalism aside) can be. Genesis as creation myth; Exodus as a retrospective rewriting of the beginnings of Judaism; and so on. (Wait until you get to the part where a bunch of men met together and ‘decided’ what was legimately God’s word, what was apocrypha, and what was left behind.)
To me, most of the Old Testament is about people trying to understand themselves, their world, and their God. The fact that things don’t ‘add up’, that there is stuff in there that transcends the rational and ask us to suspend our disbelief, next to whole chapters that can perhaps be ‘explained’ in terms of natural phenomenon rather than godly acts – these things don’t stop me believing in God and Jesus. Instead I see them as a whole canon of writing acknowledged as the word of the Lord, and I am thankful for being part of a religion at a time when I am actively encouraged to question and deconstruct Biblical texts.
Do I believe that Adam and Eve are real, or representative? Did a supreme being really create the world within a week? Do I really believe that Noah built an ark and populated it with only his family and two of every species? (By the way, check out Naamah’s story which highlights just one of the gaps!) In huge giants? Someone surviving after being swallowed by a sea creature and living in its stomach? How much does it matter? Not everything in there has to be believed in order to be a Christian. The Old Testament contains many positive life lessons. Kids love hearing its stories & they provide a great entry into faith. But their relationship with the Bible needs to be nurtured as they grow.
God transcends science and explanation. S/He encourages that we keep on questioning, whether we have faith or not. It is the responsibility of Christian teachers (and I don’t necessarily mean ministers here) to ensure that children and adults alike are allowed to challenge what they read, and make sense of their own understanding of what is within the Bible without being slapped down. Yes, people may suggest Christianity does this at its own convenience, defending what doesn’t make sense as ‘narrative’ while (arbitrarily, to some) defending selective aspects as (God’s) Truth. But in today’s post-structuralist, post-modern times, when belief in anything isn’t certain, subjectively getting the good that we can out of a library of ancient religious texts can’t be a bad thing if it means it changes our thoughts and actions for the better.
My 5 year old said yesterday that she believed Adam and Eve met as children and grew up together; they were there because God wanted some people to hang out with. She's familiar with the Old Testament, for better and for worse, and not just the traditional favourites (in last night's verses, Jael hammered a tent peg through Sisera's head; not a great image for a camping family.) Unlike I was, Sophie is encouraged to fit her own vision of the world alongside God's, and find her own unique place in it. And I think that's one of the things we need to do to change Christianity for the better.
I know you want to ask about where the New Testament stands in all this, particularly the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, & so on. I'll come back to you on that when I've finished researching & writing my 2000 word essay on the doctrine of the death of Christ (quite a timely one for Easter, don'tcha think?).....