On learning to love the Bible again
In which I make 16-ish book recommendations for your evolving relationship with scripture
Before we jump into this week’s edition of Field Notes, I wanted to mention that our hearts are with those fleeing and fighting the wildfires in northern Alberta. Last I heard, more than 90 fires are actively burning with 24 out of control. More than 17,000 have been evacuated, while whole towns are under threat. The weather is so much hotter than usual at this time of year, conditions are dry, the wind is up, and there is no rain in the forecast.
The Government of Canada and Government of Alberta are both matching all donations (so our $1 becomes $3). According to their website, “Donations to the Canadian Red Cross will be used for immediate and ongoing relief, recovery and resilience efforts in response to fires, and community preparedness and risk reduction for future all-hazard disaster events within Alberta.” Take care of yourself and each other. - S.
My pal Zack Hunt recently released a new book called Godbreathed: What It Really Means For The Bible To Be Divinely Inspired. When I shared the book on my Instagram Stories yesterday along with my endorsement, I immediately heard from a number of folks who were curious. In fact, people were asking one of the questions I field most often in podcast interviews, emails, or Q&As at events: “How do I learn to love my Bible again?” which is how we’ve landed at this week’s edition of Field Notes.
This isn’t an abstract conversational question for many of us, I know. Many of us were part of an evangelical (or -adjacent/influenced) generation raised on loving and memorizing and obeying Scripture in a deeply formative way so it can be a profoundly disorienting experience to find yourself questioning the Bible, doubting the Bible, feeling resentment and anger towards the Bible, let alone falling out of love with the Bible. It feels like your whole foundation of understanding and being has shifted. Some of us find this to be freeing, others find it scary. For some of us, we perhaps had an incomplete relationship with scripture, yes, but for others, the Bible was actively used against us to oppress, marginalize, and justify abuse which is a whole other thing.
So before I make any recommendations, I just want to say: it’s okay to take a break. If reading the Bible is upsetting or scary, if it brings up a lot of baggage and triggers, you’re welcome to take a minute, my luv. God isn’t limited to the Bible and if it is a place of pain, rather than an altar, you’ll find the love of God waiting for you with open arms elsewhere. Last time I checked, the Bible isn’t a member of the Trinity (that would just be bad math). Take a deep breath, it’s okay to let some things rest while you heal. When it’s time to re-engage, you’ll know and you’ll come into that work with everything you’ve learned and received and healed in the meantime.
I can’t quite answer the question about how to love your Bible again, as that seems to me to be the work of the Spirit - and not a random lady who overshares on the Internet for a living, but I can tell you that I do love my Bible more now than ever and part of the reason for that is that I was re-taught how to read it.1 I spend more time with my Bible now than I ever did as an overly-earnest Word of Faith kid and it is flowing through me like wine through water at this point.
Over the past twenty-odd years in particular, I have metaphorically sat at the feet of teachers, leaders, and guides who read the Bible differently than I did/do and I too-slowly realized I had missed some important things. I learned about context, interpretation, story, politics, history, poetry, and theology all present in the text. Part of why I learned to love the Bible again was by hearing from others why they loved and remained in conversation with the Bible.
Now, you know I didn’t go to seminary nor have I had literally any formal education when it comes to theology, I’m just a layperson with a library card and a lot of curiosity and stubbornness so take this with a grain of salt. But for today’s Field Notes, I thought I’d share a few of the books2 that helped me learn to read the Bible again, given me a fresh perspective on the text, and even given me permission to allow the Bible to be what it actually is instead of what I/others have tried to turn it into over the years.
Side note: I have written about my evolving relationship with the Bible in a few of my books here and there, but most directly in Out of Sorts: Making Peace With An Evolving Faith, chapter 4 if you want to hunt that up, too.
First up is the Bible itself. Yes, this might be counter-intuitive when you’re struggling with the Bible but one of my first side-doors back into reading the Bible again was simply reading a different translation. For me that was initially The Message paraphrase. Eugene Peterson was a pastor, scholar, and poet who started translating the book of Psalms for his literal congregation and it grew into this paraphrase of Scripture that prioritizes common language for common people with a poet’s edge. I still like to use this for my own devotional reading or even in my books now and then, it’s an old friend now.
Since then, I’ve re-integrated many different translations of the Bible and I use the NRSV (gender-inclusive language, appeal across a broad spectrum of Christianity, word-for-word translation focus, plus it’s usually a favourite of most biblical scholars), as well as the NIV and the NLT most often in my own study and daily reading. These ones in particular have had a profound affect on my reading of Scripture:
The People’s Bible (NRSV) - This study Bible boasts contributors such as Hee An Choi, Elza Tamez, Wilda C. Gafney, George “Tink” Tinker, and many, many more. It brings together a “historical-critical, liberationist, postmodern, and post-colonial interpretation” through introductory essays as well as art, perspectives, and insights. It’s a seminary course itself.
Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (NRSV but also comes in NIV and KJV etc.) - Another study Bible! This one is just a gift to geeks and history nerds everywhere. I love to read the text itself, of course, but the focus on the customs, culture, and literature of the ancient people for whom these were originally written is so clarifying and interesting, even sometimes disruptive and re-orienting especially for those passages that we just can’t fully understand with our modern minds. I love the essays, charts, introductions, photos, definitions of language, but don’t sleep on those verse-by-verse study notes.
First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament - Led by Terry M. Wildman who is Ojibwe/Yaqui himself and with a council of twelve from various tribal heritages, this is a brilliant translation of Scripture I’ve grown to love for my own devotional purposes. I’ve found it to be deeply compelling. (I mean, Jesus is translated as “Creator Sets Free.”)
All right, now for a few book recommendations: