5 Ways Reading the Bible Like an English Teacher Will Free You From Religion
For years, I’ve been whining about what I miss most about teaching English, teaching people to connect with great literature and teaching people to develop and value their own “voice” or story. That heart of an English teacher is what defines everything I do through Rum and Cola for the Soul.
Maybe in your mind I just combined the two most boring things in the world, English class and Religion! Ugh!
Well, I promise when you read the Bible like an English teacher, you aren’t going to come up with same old boring, neat and tidy, always positive, always encouraging, often fake and romanticized chicken soup and KLove stories. You will see a much messier, often harder version of Christianity that packs more punch and is way more comforting when life gets real, like some Rum and Cola for your Soul
Here are my top 5 reasons why this is a better approach to understanding the Bible:
It Encourages You to Think For Yourself
I hear lots of young people say that the thing that drives them crazy about Christianity is that there are so many denominations. How can anyone know what’s true it none of you can agree with each other?
Well, reading the Bible like an English teacher frees you from having to prove or disprove the text. It just allows you to step back and say, “Hmm what is this story teaching? Is that a good thing? Does that line up with what I know about the world? Is it worth following?
Very few people read the Bible without an agenda. Christian leaders go to schools where they study for years to learn how read the Bible to fit their theology. At the same time, scholars who are appalled by the obvious intellectual dishonesty of that approach set out to disprove the theology.
That leaves the rest us in the position of not knowing which leaders are reliable. It’s kind of like trying to watch the same story as reported by CNN and Fox news!
Luckily, I had a different kind of training. As an English teacher, I learned about how audience, purpose, context, cultural context, and literary devices shape the meaning of a story. I can look at the story free from the debate of “how does this help me be a better Southern Baptist?” or “did Matthew the disciple actually write this book and was it before or after the fall of Jerusalem?”
I don’t have to base my religion on proving either side. I can examine the stories and decide if they are worth following (obviously I’m a fan!)
All of that information is readily available online. (For example, I’m a fan of the Jewish Virtual Library.)
You Can Just Appreciate the Overall Story
The Bible is full of a lot of really cool stories. Sometimes religious people get so caught up in proving their religious views that they miss the overall point of the story. For example, I can’t even count how many sermons I have heard about Jesus turning water into wine. Most of the teaching I heard about this somehow ended up with promoting total abstinence from alcohol. Which I seriously doubt was the original intention of this story.
And I’m not dissing abstaining from alcohol if that’s your thing. Go for it. Just don’t make that what that story in the Bible is all about (cause it’s NOT). The story of Jesus turning water into wine is AMAZING because Jesus was God in the flesh walking among people with a God-sized mission to complete. He took time to go to the wedding of a relative and then broke from his plans so he could make wine for the host of the party to keep them from being embarrassed. That is unbelievably awesome to sit and think about. That’s the character of GOD!!! He is huge beyond our understanding, yet he somehow cares about our day to day lives.
And I’ve never heard a single sermon talk about that aspect of this story. I’ve heard people talk about the importance of the type of container and the number of containers but I’ve never heard any preacher just say, let’s reflect on how amazing it is that Jesus had this divine mission and he took time to go to a party and care about the host. How freaking cool is that?
3. Freedom from the Tyranny of Correct Doctrine
I once had a friend come to me quite hurt because her whole family was upset with her for believing that the story of Adam and Eve is an allegory. She said, “I’m trying to follow Jesus, but I’m also a scientist and I just don’t see how that story fits with science."
She went on to explain that she believed that the point of the story was about our sin nature, how we all disobey God and have broken our relationship with him.
So my friend was being traumatized so much so that she would only speak to me about it in hushed tones lest some other zealot find out and add to her misery. Which is crazy! I mean can anyone really claim to have down every single piece of scripture and have correct understanding about it? My friend understood the point of the story and was trying to live according to that. I have to believe God is OK with that or else he would have given us a lot more details.
Also, the Bible clearly says that people are saved by faith not works. Unfortunately, many modern Christians have made faith into the work of getting all your beliefs right.
Now, I’m not saying we can all just go around praying to a head of lettuce and we’ll be fine. I am saying that I think we can relax and just read the stories for the main point.
4. We Learn to Relate to the Stories
It’s really annoying how often I see articles on the internet about “What Should the Christian Response to ____ be?” As if there is only one way a Christian should respond to every social issue there is. (Shamefully, I’ve written some of those articles, because people read them!) When we read the Bible like an English teacher, we read every story for universal themes and truths and we also look for our place in the story.
When you add God’s Spirit into the equation, this is the most beautiful thing about being a Christian! I get to learn from all of these stories and become a better version of me.
These lessons can’t be quantified into religious rules. No one but me knows when my sarcasm drifts away from humor and I start getting vicious. I know my heart and I know when I’m bitter but I only know those things because I learned to relate to the stories that Jesus taught.
5. We Can Value Different Views
If you put ten Shakespeare enthusiasts in the same room, they will all probably become friends. They might like different things about Romeo and Juliet and some of the liberal ones might think that Shakespeare didn’t really write all of those plays while the moderates will think perhaps he had help. But they will all be united by their respect for the things they value in the collective works of Shakespeare.
In a similar way, when we read the Bible like an English teacher, we suddenly have something in common with everyone who values the stories the same way we do. We will all probably disagree on something but we can be united in valuing what the stories tell us about God.
We can quit going “I condemn you because of your views on communion” and start going “Jesus seems really awesome I’m trying to be more like him.”
“That’s awesome where are you in the process?”