I was a junior in college when I heard those words spoken by my favorite professor in a class on some of my favorite books of the Bible, and I was instantly offended. I didn’t take Scripture seriously? How anyone could say such a thing was beyond me. This man clearly knew nothing about me. Come to think of it, neither do you.
I was raised in a Christian home, where the Bible was a part of daily life. My family was very committed (probably overcommitted) to our local church, my father read the Bible aloud every night, and in a given year I probably went to half a dozen Bible-centered events. The only test I ever failed was in 7th grade.Every question on the test was about evolution, and every answer I gave was from the Bible. I wasn’t a scientist but knew what Scripture said was sufficient for me.
By the time I graduated high school, I had memorized more Scripture than most people do in a lifetime, and along the way I had read dozens, probably hundreds, of books about spiritual warfare, the end times, and the mountains of evidence which proved the Genesis creation account was absolute fact. And in my sophomore year of college, I had made the ultimate sacrifice: I had given up on my intended lucrative career in psychiatry to pursue the thankless, penniless life of a minister, because I was certain that’s what God was calling me to do.
So there I sat in a class on the prophets, giving a brilliant (in my estimation) explanation of how Daniel’s 70th week and Revelation fit together, when my professor leveled that unforgivable charge, “You don’t take Scripture seriously.” Perhaps you can understand now why the very thought offended me. He asked me to turn to 2 Timothy 3 and read verses 16 and 17. I did him one better and quoted them without hesitation.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
He was not impressed by my instant recall, and pressed on making his point.
“Can you tell me where in the Bible it says Scripture is useful for telling the future?”
I could not.
“Where does it say Scripture is a primer on the end times?”
“How about Math, or history, or geography, or science?”
No, I didn’t know those passages either. He continued.
“The problem, Shea, is that you are asking Scripture questions it’s not meant to answer, and not bothering with the questions it does. How does your analysis of these prophecies equip people to do good works? How does it teach, rebuke, correct, or train them in such a way that they can be righteous? If your interpretations can’t do any of these things, then what’s the point in having them?”
I couldn’t bring myself to say it at the time, but my professor was completely right. I had spent so much time using the Bible as evidence to prove my point that I hadn’t bothered to consider its intended purpose. It was as if I had been given a nice new pair of shoes, but instead of wearing them and letting them take me where I needed to go, I had been using them to kill bugs, prop open doors, and fix wobbly table legs. Shoes can be made to do all of those things, but that’s not their purpose. There are other items out there that do those jobs a whole lot better. I hated to admit it, but I knew that I had to reconsider everything I thought I knew about Scripture.
So I began studying in earnest once more, but this time instead of trying to gather facts and evidence, I would ask myself “what is there about this passage that helps me to be prepared for good works?” Sometimes it changed my understanding a little, sometimes a lot, and sometimes not at all. But when I finally decided to tackle Genesis, everything changed. I half-read, half-remembered the seven day creation account. As I read, asking how this passage fulfilled the purpose of Scripture, I was amazed. This was the story about a God who cared about everything in the universe. It was a story about a God who looks at the world, at living things, and even at humans, and calls them “good.” But they weren’t just good. Those humans were a reflection of who God was. They bore in themselves an image of the Divine. It was a beautiful, intimate story about God’s special love for and relationship with humans, which included me. It was then that I realized I could no longer read this, one of the greatest love poems ever written, as though it were a list of facts whose only use was to prove others wrong.
I am still not a scientist. I have read a lot on the subject, but I can’t really tell you with absolute certainty the age of the earth or the timeline of how humans came into being. What I can tell you is what I learned the hard way: to really take Scripture seriously, we have to let Scripture do what it was meant to do. Scientists may find indisputable evidence tomorrow that this or that story in the Bible didn’t happen exactly as written, but that won’t matter one bit for those who take Scripture seriously. We need not plug our ears or drown out the voice of the scientists because we know the right question to ask of Scripture, and it is not, “Is that exactly the way it happened?” Scientists will do what they do best, proving and disproving this or that theory. We will be able to accept that with ease because we take Scripture, and its purpose, seriously.