Every now and then I take my van to WalMart for an oil change. I generally try to make these appointments for as early in the morning as possible, for early in the morning, I very nearly have the place to myself. A little while ago I brought the car in and then spent the next hour wandering from one end of the store to the other, just marvelling at the incredible variety of products on the shelves. There is part of me that despises WalMart, but another part that admires a store that can offer so much at consistently good prices. WalMart is one of the most clear statements you can find about North American consumerism and the insatiable desire to have more for less.
As I wandered I came across the electronics section where they sell (obviously) electronics but also video games, DVDs and so on. One DVD in particular caught my eye. I do not remember the title, but right below the title were the words “bringing the Bible to life.” I picked it up, took a quick look, and tossed it back on the shelf. I still don’t really know what it was. I suspect it was a DVD-based multimedia experience that was intended to help bring the Bible to life. It made me think of a ministry I saw not too long ago, and their description was almost exactly the same: “bringing the word of God to life.” And just this weekend I watched a DVD, and quite a good one at that, that claims it will “make the Bible come alive” as it leads the viewer through the ancient lands where the biblical drama unfolded.
I understand what is being suggested in these statements, but the fact is that the Bible doesn’t need us to bring it to life. If the Bible depended on us to bring it to life I would want no part of it for it would indicate that the Bible was all too human a book.
Do you remember that rather awful movie Titanic? What was it that made the movie so exceedingly popular? When the movie released I was working next door to a brand new, state-of-the-art theatre that showed Titanic all day and all night. I saw all sorts of people come into the store after seeing the movie. Many had red eyes and some even continued to sob as they walked around and tried to compose themselves. I was amazed at how that movie caused so many people to openly weep. But I digress. What made the movie so popular? What gave it the ability to make grown men cry? I think a large part was that it brought history to life. Everyone who remembers what happened on the Titanic is dead. In fact, just a few days ago the final survivor, who was only a small child at the time, died. The events of that day had long-since been relegated to the history books when James Cameron decided to make the film and bring that small piece of history to life. We all got to see what the Titanic looked like, got to meet some of the people who were on it and got a glimpse of life in that day. In that regard it was fascinating. In that regard the filmmaker made something that was dead to us come to life, even if the life was only three hours long. Once he brought history to life, it allowed us to become emotionally engaged with the characters so that their joy became our joy and their pain became our pain. We were drawn in by the realism of the history the film displayed–a history that had been dead to us.
History is like that, isn’t it? History is dead. History books are dead. They may be interesting and can provide all sorts of great information, but they’re dead. But not so the Bible.
The Bible says of itself “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) From that passage, do we see God telling us to bring life to His word? Is it our task to take the dead words of the Bible and make them alive, to make them more interesting or to make them more appealing? Clearly not! Jesus tells us that “the words I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) How can we bring life to something that is already alive? And why would we want to replace Scripture’s immortal life with the mortal life we experience on earth. Imagine perverting God’s perfect word with our imperfection!
I understand the intent of the people who seek to make the Bible come alive. On the whole I believe that their intentions are pure but their wording is imprecise. In most cases I would suggest that these people are attempting to “bring the history of the Bible to life” or to “bring the setting of the Bible to life.” This is a far different task than bringing the actual Scripture to life. It is a far more noble task. The Bible is, after all, a historical document that was written within particular places and within particular cultural contexts. It may be helpful, at times, to bring to life some glimpses of the culture, customs and history of the Bible. This is what the Paul: Apostle of Grace DVD sought to do, even under the poor wording on the video’s cover. This is what many godly pastors do when they study the ancient people and describe them to their congregations.
I would urge people to guard their words when they speak about bringing the Bible to life. Imprecise wording can bring confusion and can cause people to believe that the Bible, like any other historical book, is mere dead wording that requires human effort to bring it to life. But this is not the case.
We can bring history to life. We can bring culture and ceremony and customs to life by illustrating them, filming them or re-enacting them. But not so the Bible. Will you try to bring life to God’s word? You will fail. You must fail, for the word is alive before you even begin to breathe your life into it. Do not try to bring life to the word. Bring the word. That is enough.