What is the Bible Recovery Project?
The Bible Recovery Project at Brentwood Christian Church is an ongoing, sustained effort that’s designed to help people of all ages encounter the value of scripture without the trappings of rigid fundamentalism.
This takes place in a variety of ways in the life of our congregation. For example, our Sunday morning Sunday Schools for children and youth use Seasons of the Spirit curriculum, which is focused on faithful, responsible, and progressive interpretations of each week’s scripture passages from the lectionary. [What is the lectionary?] The same passages are part of our Sunday morning worship service, so participants of all ages can share in conversation about the meaning and significance of the texts.
Our Wednesday evening programs focus on different characters and themes that emerge from the biblical texts, and participants are able to reflect on how these themes are relevant for following in the way of Jesus today. Children and youth use curriculum from Sparkhouse, a progressive publisher, and Rev. Snider leads various studies for adults that focus on understanding the Bible and Christianity from a progressive perspective.
Why have a Bible Recovery Project?
The Bible may be the best-selling book of all time, but it’s also the most controversial. Many people — for good reason — often feel a disconnect from it. Some have grown up in churches where the Bible is used as a weapon, often against LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and others who are frequently the targets of discrimination. Others have been taught that science and the Bible are incompatible, and that taking the Bible seriously means having to believe untenable scientific claims — like the earth being a few thousand years old, for example. Mark Twain spoke for many when he said it’s hard to take the Bible seriously if it means having to believe twelve unbelievable things before breakfast!
What’s unfortunately missing in these kinds of scenarios are deeply grounded, progressive approaches to the Bible. Approaches that don’t think science and religion are in conflict… Approaches that affirm that many of the stories in the Bible (like the creation stories) were originally intended to be understood in poetic, symbolic, and figurative ways, not scientific ones… Approaches that recognize that the Bible presents lots of different perspectives on lots of different subjects, and doesn’t always get it right (people are often surprised to learn that popular Bible Belt ideas like the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture are actually modern developments that emerged in the wake of the Enlightenment, when church leaders anxiously feared their authority was being replaced by scientific inquiry)… Approaches that help readers reflect on the most responsible ways to interpret scripture, from both an academic and faith-based perspective (which also do not have to be in conflict, contrary to what we’re often taught here in the Bible Belt).
Here at Brentwood, we take the Bible very seriously, but not always literally. In fact, part of taking the Bible seriously means not taking all of it literally, because the Bible includes lots of different genres, and not all of them were intended to be taken literally in the first place (understanding various genres helps the Bible come alive in ways that are otherwise obscured by literalism). Here at Brentwood, we listen for how the sacred spirit of love is at work when we read the Bible — sometimes even including how it challenges us to critique certain passages in the Bible.
St. Augustine — arguably the most influential Christian theologian in history — once said that, “If love is the only measure, then the only measure of love is love without measure.” Accordingly, we strive to interpret the Bible through the sacred spirit of love, holding fast to another dictum from St. Augustine: “If when reading scripture you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, you have not yet understood scripture.”
The incomparable Rachel Held Evans, a beloved saint of the church who passed away much too soon, provides lots of examples of how this approach to interpretation works.
Here at Brentwood, we wish to recover the revolutionary scope and arc of the Bible, which is often lost on modern hearers (especially those who interpret from dominant positions in society). We want children to grow up in a church in which the Bible isn’t used as a weapon, but instead as a resource for helping them cultivate deep spiritual lives by listening to the sacred spirit of love as they read these stories. For they are stories about God’s call to liberate all of those who are oppressed; stories about brave people of faith who save the world from violence and warfare; stories about holding the powerful accountable when they fail to do justice for the poor; stories that remind us that every human being has value and worth in the eyes of God and nothing can change that; stories about radical figures like Jesus, who embodied transformative love by standing up for what was right no matter the cost and inspiring others to do the same; stories about communities that chose to live counter-culturally, in the name of Jesus, shedding off the hierarchies of greed and excess and empire and living into a beloved community rooted in simplicity, dignity, and equality (with women as leaders too!); stories about love and loss and sorrow and regret, and the desire for wholeness and healing (which is shared by all of us, whether we identify as religious or not); stories about grace and forgiveness being extended even (especially!) to those who seem to deserve it the least; stories about redemption and transformation and change open to everyone; stories that provide an entry point for reflecting on who God is and what God is like (the Bible invites us to consider lots of different options in this regard!), what human beings are like (for good and for ill), and how we should live (sometimes by learning what *not* to do).
Simply put, we don’t wish to throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, we engage the texts deeply and listen to the sacred spirit of love as we read them. This doesn’t mean we always agree with the texts (or one another’s interpretations of the texts :)), nor does it mean that the only source for wisdom is the Bible. But it does mean we listen for the conversations the texts provoke, and the sacred encounters that can emerge while reading, studying, and listening to the spirit of love. If you’re interested in understanding scripture from a progressive perspective (we know not everybody wants to and that’s okay!), or returning to the Bible in a way that provides value and meaning to your life, we hope to help you engage the Bible with fresh eyes and a full heart, so that you might experience the beauty and wonder that it harbors.
Frederick Buechner once likened scripture to a window: “If you look at a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where Junior’s Frisbee hit it. But if you look through a window, you can see the world beyond.”
For those interested in going deeper, here are some wonderful introductions to progressive approaches to the Bible:
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, by Rachel Held Evans
“If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her–and it will change you too. Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.”
“One of the vital challenges facing thoughtful people today is how to read the Bible faithfully without abandoning our sense of truth and history. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time provides a much-needed solution to the problem of how to have a fully authentic yet contemporary understanding of the scriptures. Many mistakenly believe there are no choices other than fundamentalism or simply rejecting the Bible as something that can bring meaning to our lives. Answering this modern dilemma, acclaimed author Marcus Borg reveals how it is possible to reconcile the Bible with both a scientific and critical way of thinking and our deepest spiritual needs, leading to a contemporary yet grounded experience of the sacred texts.
This seminal book shows you how to read the Bible as it should be examined—in an approach the author calls ‘historical-metaphorical.’ Borg explores what the Scriptures meant to the ancient communities that produced and lived by them. He then helps us to discover the meaning of these stories, providing the knowledge and perspective to make the wisdom of the Bible an essential part of our modern lives. The author argues that the conventional way of seeing the Bible’s origin, authority, and interpretation has become unpersuasive to millions of people in our time, and that we need a fresh way of encountering the Bible that takes the texts seriously but not literally, even as it takes seriously who we have become.
Borg traces his personal spiritual journey, describing for readers how he moved from an unquestioning childhood belief in the biblical stories to a more powerful and dynamic relationship with the Bible as a sacred text brimming with meaning and guidance. Using his own experience as an example, he reveals how the modern crisis of faith is itself rooted in the misinterpretation of sacred texts as historical record and divine dictation, and opens readers to a truer, more abundant perspective.
This unique book invites everyone—whatever one’s religious background—to engage the Bible, wrestle with its meaning, explore its mysteries, and understand its relevance. Borg shows us how to encounter the Bible in a fresh way that rejects the limits of simple literalism and opens up rich possibilities for our lives.”