- Reading assignment for May 3: Introduction and Chapter 1 (through page 34)
- Reading assignment for May 10: read "The Well" and Deliverance Stories and "The Walls" and War Stories (through page 79).
- Reading assignment for May 17: read "The Debate" and Wisdom Stories and "The Beast" and Resistance Stories (through page 140).
Here are reflection questions to help guide your reading from the study guide:
1. How have your thoughts and feelings about the Bible changed over the years? What were some crucial turning points in your experience with the Bible?
2. Did you have any trepidation about reading a book about the Bible? Why might that be?
3. Do you have a biblical name? If so, what do you know about the biblical character who shares your name?
4. What was your favorite Bible story as a child? Do you now read that story differently as an adult?
5. Is there a Bible story that has always struck you as strange or troubling, one that perhaps stirs up questions and doubts?
6. Consider the following words:
Inspired; Inerrant; Infallible; Trustworthy;
Authoritative; Sacred; Oppressive; Outdated
Which ones strike you as appropriate ways to describe the Bible? Which ones strike you as unhelpful? Why?
7. The author describes the various roles the Bible played in her life—storybook, handbook, answer book, etc. Do you relate to some of those? Which ones?
"THE TEMPLE" and ORIGIN STORIES
1. What are some of the family stories, religious stories, and cultural stories that have shaped who you are and how you understand the world? In what ways have those stories been harmful or helpful to you?
2. What might it mean for you to wrestle with the Bible until God gives you a blessing? What sort of blessing are you seeking?
3. What struck you about the differences between the two creation stories featured in “The Temple” (the Babylonian story as recounted by little Haggai and the biblical story as recounted by his father)?
4. How have you traditionally understood the nature of the Bible’s creation stories? As scientific, historical accounts? As myths? How does considering context of the Babylonian Exile change or inform your interpretation?
5. What are some of the most important origin stories in your family, your community, and your culture? (See pages 15–17 for examples of origin stories.) How have those stories shaped the world around you in both positive and negative ways?
6. What are some ways in which you’ve observed the Bible treated as a conversation-ender? What are some ways in which you’ve observed the Bible treated as a conversation-starter?
"THE WELL" and DELIVERANCE STORIES
1. Have there been times in your life when God has “made a way where there seems to be no way”? What did you learn from those experiences?
2. Do you find yourself in some sort of wilderness now? What brought you here?
3. Thinking over the wilderness experiences in your life, have there been places or moments when God has provided, or been powerfully present, that you might mark with a naming, like Hagar and Jacob did? What name would you give your “well” in the wilderness?
4. What are some ways in which the Bible has been used to harm and oppress people throughout history and in the present? What are some ways in which the Bible has been used for liberation? Do these examples shake your faith in the Bible, strengthen it, or do a little of both?
5. Share about a time in your life, or the life of a loved one, when God has “made a way where there seems to be no way.” Give testimony!
6. What comes to mind when you hear reference to “the Law” in Scripture? Is your impression positive or negative? Has that changed?
7. On page 56 the author writes, “For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We’re all selective.” Agree? Disagree?
"THE WALLS" AND WAR STORIES
1. If you could make one story or verse from the Bible disappear, which one would it be?
2. On page 66, the author writes, “I tried reading Scripture with my conscience and curiosity suspended, and I felt, quite literally, disintegrated. I felt fractured and fake.” Can you relate? Have you ever “faked” your way through faith?
3. What are some hard questions you have about the Bible that perhaps you’ve been afraid to confront? What does it look like for you to “face these questions head-on, mind and heart fully engaged, willing to risk the loss of faith if that’s where the search leads”? And what might it mean to continue in your faith, even if your questions and doubts are not fully resolved?
4. Joshua 11:19–20 reports that “except for the Hivites living in Gideon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.” What is your initial reaction to that statement? Revulsion? Confusion? Indifference?
5. What are some other Bible stories you find especially troubling
6. What sort of justifications and explanations have you encountered over the years regarding Israel’s conquest of Canaan? Have you found explanations satisfying? Why or why not?
7. Have you ever doubted your faith? Or doubted the Bible? How have friends, family, and religious leaders responded to those doubts?
8. What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) war stories—movies, books, plays, etc.? Do you see similarities between how we tell war stories in our culture and how the ancients told war stories in theirs?
9. At the conclusion of the chapter, the author acknowledges that she has yet to find satisfying answers to all her questions about the Bible’s violent and troubling texts, but that she finds perspective in 1) paying attention to the stories and experiences of biblical women, 2) keeping humble about her own culture’s violent tendencies, 3) seeing in Jesus a God who “would rather die by violence than commit it.” Which, if any, of these perspectives do you find most helpful or challenging?
"The Debate" and Wisdom Stories
- What comes into your mind when you hear the word wisdom? Consider journaling your free-association thoughts around that concept.
- On page 99 the author writes, “In many ways, the Bible of my youth was set up to fail.” Can you relate? Has the Bible, or your expectations around the Bible, ever disappointed you?
- Have you ever been angry with God? Were you able to find songs or poems of lament that helped you express that anger? Did you feel guilty for having those feelings?
- What do you make of the claim that the Bible includes tensions and even contradictions? Have you ever noticed these tensions and contradictions before? How did you resolve them?
- How have you observed, in your own life, wisdom as circumstantial? What are some examples of advice being helpful and true in one scenario, but false in another (like “you reap what you sow” or, “don’t go to bed angry”)?
- What’s your reaction to the term biblical? Do you find it helpful? Reductive? Irritating?
- On page 101 the author writes, “The owner’s manual Bible, with its single prescriptions for all people in all circumstances, just didn’t fit the complexities of actual life.” Can you relate? How?
- Were you aware of the Bible’s “angry psalms”? How often do you sing songs of lament and frustration in your personal or corporate worship? Why might there be a need for more of that?
"The Beast" and Resistance Stories
- Pastor Rob Bell observes, “This is what we read, again and again in the pages of the Bible— fearless, pointed, courageous, subversive, poetic, sometimes sarcastic, other times angry, heart-felt, razor-sharp critique of the people, nations, systems, and empires endlessly accumulating more at the expense of everybody they’re stepping on along the way” (What Is the Bible? page 215). Is this a biblical theme you have noticed or discussed before? Is it one you’ve heard much about in church or from faith leaders? Why or why not? Why might it be considered controversial for Christians in America to highlight biblical themes about resisting the injustices of great empires?
- Do you ever feel hopeless or cynical about the injustices you observe in the world around you? Does anything from this chapter encourage you?
- What comes into your mind when you hear the word apocalyptic? Has that changed since reading this chapter? What about prophet and prophecy?
- What do you think of the author’s statement, “America’s no ancient Babylon or Rome, but it’s no kingdom of God either”? What’s your reaction to the examples the author cites of past and present injustices like indigenous genocide, slavery, the prison-industrial complex, and gun violence? Are these issues worthy of prophetic challenge? What might that challenge look like?
- Who are some people you consider to be modern-day prophets—men and women willing to challenge the powerful and speak up for the marginalized?
- What do you think of the author’s decision to include Esther as a resistance story? Have you ever thought about that story in this way?
- What’s your experience with the book of Revelation? In the past, have you found it scary? Bizarre? Inspiring?