Do you know the difference between music and noise? Arrangement. Noise is random sound. Music is created when sound is arranged into a coherent structure, when sound is arranged in a meaningful way. There is design in music because there is a designer, a composer. And the design is achieved by purposely arranging specific notes into a specific order.
I remember a music class where we watched a video about a man who recorded the sound of a grand piano hitting the concrete after he dropped it from a 5-story building. Because he was apparently brilliant and well known, he called this “music” and a few, undiscriminating people agreed. I don’t believe that was music.
What does all this have to do with story? What concerns me about the undiscriminating way people are experiencing movies and books today are the implications for how they will ‘experience’ the greatest Story ever told, the one found in the Bible. Will they just read the Bible the way they read the morning paper, scanning for headlines and excitement? Will they read the Bible for the sake of mindless ritual and, after turning away, immediately forget what they read? Or will they read with a critical and engaged mind, working through the way the stories are arranged in order to uncover the design and intent of the Author?
Now, granted, I agree with my pastor who rightly says that ‘the best version of the Bible is the one you read (!)’ – reading God’s word is ALWAYS better than not reading God’s word. But just like there’s a way to get the most out of any story, there are also ways to get the MOST out of God’s story. What happens if we treat the Bible like a disjointed pile of random anecdotes? If we think it’s just a bunch of unarranged sounds stitched together over a couple thousand years? What happens if we take the low view that assumes it has been tampered with? ‘Some original ideas are still there,’ goes the popular idea, ‘but a lot has been changed or added.’ What happens when we read with these assumptions? When the trustworthiness of the Bible is doubted, everything it says about God and everything it says about you suddenly becomes uncertain. I appreciate what John MacArthur says on this point—
“God didn’t just give them (the prophets) thoughts that they then expressed in their own words. God gave them the words. This is why pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions, those parts of speech that seem insignificant, are important in the Bible” (MacArthur, 9 Unleashing God’s Word in Your Life)
If even one part of the Bible is somehow false, accidental or inconsequential, how can any of it be trusted? Reading the Bible in this way for the sake of spiritual benefit becomes as pointless as destroying a perfectly good grand piano in the name of musical advancement.
So, approaching the Bible as trustworthy is the first way to get the MOST out of its Story. But you can’t stop there. Sometimes you can just pick diamonds off the ground. But most of the time, you have to dig. Just like you have to engage the mind to get the most out of a movie or a book, you have to engage your brain to get the MOST out of God’s word.
A friend and fellow blogger, Bobby Grow, recounted this exchange with a student a few years back.
“I was in the process of teaching "Bible Study Methods," and one of my students raised her hand (this was at the very beginning of the semester ---- we were just getting started); she asked (my paraphrase): "If the bible is God's love-letter to us, then why do we need to learn all of these 'rules' and 'principles' of interpretation? Doesn't this just make bible study an academic exercise, and not the relational thing that it should be?" That was and is an excellent question. But I think it starts off with some 'mythical' assumptions. It assumes a kind of competition between the 'mind' and the 'heart'; the former correlating to the 'academic' (intellectual) side of things, and the latter with the 'heart-felt' (spiritual) side of things. This though is to create a 'false-competition', I think. What if the Holy Spirit provided us with these 'principles' of interpretation in order to better love and understand Him and His values? What if learning 'academic things' is just as much a part of "relating to God" as is engaging God 'spiritually' (whatever that might entail)? You see, I think if we are going to have a vibrant 'spiritual life' and 'walk' with Jesus, we are going to need to engage all that we do from an holistic approach (cf. I Cor. 10:31). This includes, and especially so, bible study.”
The Bible is a trustworthy account of God’s story, and its design is achieved by purposely arranging specific people, places, and words into a specific order to create a unified message that does not change and is not an 'equal opportunity employer' when it comes to interpretation. It is not just random noise, it's a masterful composition- and the Master Composer is God. It is not just a shattered piano, it's a song of salvation- and its maestro is the Hope of the world. Enjoy the story; but whenever possible, read deeply. Every word is noteworthy.