Why are consultants so valuable to companies? Because they are a fresh set of eyes. They come into a company unpersuaded by that company’s culture and history, and they take a look at things. From the financials to the workflow to the interior décor, an outside consultant can make suggestions that someone from within would never have noticed.
That’s what I love so much about studying the Bible with new and non-believers who grew up outside the church and Christian culture. Their perspective is totally unlike mine. They are not into the same reading routines that I am. They don’t hear a story from the Bible and react to it like I do.
Today, I joined a small Bible study/discussion of new (and not-yet) believers. I loved what I heard from those who were just beginning to learn the words and stories of the Bible. They were very excited and passionate about it. The stories seemed so interesting. And they challenged me.
Have you ever sat in a Sunday School class and listened as the lesson was taught, just sort of glossing over the details and happily (or sleepily) nodding as a tidy point was made? When the passage starts to meander from the primary lesson and the teacher/leader says something comfortable and Christian like “Jesus,” or “God is good,” or “and so we should love our neighbor,” do you grunt or “amen” or wake up because it’s time to move to the next room? That didn’t happen in this group today.
We read the stories of Jesus calling some of His disciples. After a portion of it, the person leading the study made the point that “Jesus always called the disciples, they didn’t find him.” One of the ladies in the study quickly responded, “no he didn’t.” And indeed, when she re-read John 1:35-37, it clearly states that two disciples of John followed Jesus, and then he turned and asked what they were doing. I loved that she used her brain and stated what was obviously before her. I fear I turn mine off way too often in similar settings.
Then one of the study participants asked, “what’s the deal with all this name-changing?” I know I’ve studied passages before and thought nothing more than, “oh another new name, a new beginning, a religious thing to do.” But this time the question came with the perfect name for the language. I quickly thought through the particular example we were reading and was excited to share it. Jesus gave Simon the name ‘Peter’. In French, the name Peter is Pierre. And pierre is also the same word for ‘stone’. Indeed, the foreshadowing of the name Pierre/Peter is brilliant, as Pierre/Peter later became the first stone on which the Church was built. And the Church is made up of people, Pierres, not stones, pierres. Cool, huh? Interested in why Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob - Israel, or Saul - Paul? Look ‘em up!
Then my favorite moment of today’s study came when we read the story from John 1:35-51 in Matthew 4:18-22. Both are the story of Jesus calling Andrew and Simon Peter (and a few others) to be his disciples. Only one problem: the two stories are nothing alike. Seriously. Read them. And the group I was with today was quick to point that out. If you’re like me and grew up in church hearing these stories and the truth that the Bible is infallible and never contradicts itself, then you can probably skim right through the two passages and not even notice the glaringly obvious. This group went home today without getting a good answer to the question of how that could be. And what excites me about that is that some of them will likely read it again and again. And think. And pray. And I can’t wait to see what they have to say next week.
Couldn’t we all learn a bit if we stepped back, took a simple honest look at our Bibles, and were willing to question what we read instead of accept clichés that are repeated over and over in bookstores and go-through-the-motions Bible studies?