Not too long ago, I finished an interesting book entitled, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs. Far from a guide to Christian living, the book follows the author, who is a secular Jew living in N.Y. City, as he attempts to live out the commandments of the Bible as literally as possible for a whole year. The book caught my attention on many levels. One, it was fascinating to get a glimpse at an unbeliever’s view of the Bible. Second, I was curious to see if such an endeavor was even possible – there are lots of commandments in the Bible and many of those commandments don’t translate well to modern life. But most of all, I longed to see what might happen to a man’s heart, even a self professed agnostic, when he decided to take the Bible seriously. Would he move from unbelief to belief?
I don’t want to give away the story, so I won’t give you all the answers to my questions. Suffice it to say, The Year of Living Biblically provided me with quite a few chuckles. The quandaries that arise as Jacobs attempts to avoid contact with unclean people in N.Y. City, including sometimes his own wife, provide some of the funniest moments in the whole book. After reading all that his wife went through in putting up with Jacobs’ project, I’m amazed she didn’t kill him before it was complete (to keep it Biblical she could have borrowed from Judges 4). The book did more than make me laugh. It also softened my heart to the journey that folks must walk from unbelief to faith. It is not an easy journey, which is a truth that I, who grew up in the faith, often overlook.
My only criticism of the book would be this, Jacobs approached the Bible primarily as a rule-book. He’s smart enough to know that the Bible isn’t just a book of rules, but like many people, (both believers and unbelievers) he nevertheless sees the essence of the Scriptures as commandment. Ask the average person about what makes up the Bible and they’ll likely say, “A bunch of rules.” It’s true that the Bible contains rules for living. A person needs to look no further than the Ten Commandments to realize there are rules in there, but the Bible is not primarily about rules. God’s primary way of revealing himself through the Scriptures is not through commandments, but through the story. From the first page to the last the Bible tells us the epic story of redemption. Rule giving makes up part of the story, but the story can’t be reduced to rules. Any attempt to do so misses the larger message of God’s love for us.
When it comes down to it, the gospel is the story of God’s love for us, of our fall, of Israel's election, of the sending of his Son, of Jesus’ death and resurrection, of his return in glory some day. The miracle is that this redemption story is one in which we can have a part, not by keeping the rules but by trusting the author of the story, who made himself a part of the drama, Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll join us for worship this week (and invite a friend) as the Southland Music Ministry presents the redemption story once more in the form of the musical The Witness. Who knows what change of heart the Spirit might bring?
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel” 2 Timothy 2:8.