Sarah Coakley describes the multilayered experience of reading the Bible.
Well, the Bible is a world of many books. And it’s simply unimaginable that you could begin to understand Western literature, art, music, to core without this inspiration. And so even if you’re profoundly secular, just to be able to understand the riches of narrative, of poetry, of wisdom, of exultation, of inspiration that the Bible offers – it simply has to be read alongside Shakespeare, for instance, if you’re going to be able to understand how we got to where we are.
But I would say more than that, because anyone who has attended to biblical readings with a genuinely open mind is going to be challenged. And of course, that would be true of the great scriptures of all the religions. It’s very hard to read the Sermon on the Mount and not feel slightly existentially challenged. It might also be amusing to read it and think whether this compared rather well with what one’s experience of the church might have been.
This is what’s so wonderful about the Bible, that it’s the authority as a Christian one continually goes back to, to re-evoke that transcendent reality, which is often so very different from what one finds happening in the religious institutions one serves. And it’s that dance, as a faithful Christian, that one is continually involved in and always inviting others into – not to judge Christianity by its contemporary miasmas, but to be drawn into a conversation that is invited by those ever-lively voices that you find within the biblical witness.