Hey, You There. Hiding Under the Bible. Come Out.
My boy loves to play the superhero. Some days its Spiderman, others Superman, but most often he’s FireShark (you’ll not find this gem in the Marvel books, folks). FireShark wears a mask, is crowned with a shark baby towel, and struts about with all the gritty confidence of a fireball-wielding do-gooder.
FireShark often appears when it’s time to play with other unsuspecting children, because FireShark protects this little boy from the raw pain of shyness. Most little boys must deal with the awkwardness of strangers head on. FireShark, however, is tough, steely-eyed and adventurous.
But FireShark is nothing more than a cloth force-field. The towel, threadbare mask and tough frown simply shield his shyness.
Hey, You Under There
No good superhero reveals his identity. But I’m not going to let my son know that bit. I really like the boy under the mask, and he needs to know that. He needs to be known.
And so do you.
It’s not just little boys who play the secure superhero, is it? Come now, raise your hand, church. I mean, look around on any given Sunday morning. There we are, sitting around with our pointy ears, face masks, and awkward undie-tights combo (I wish we wouldn’t do that). See the 40-year old Superman saunter through the foyer and grab a bulletin. Chat with Wonderwoman at the coffee bar in the gym. Grunt hello to Mr. Hulk in the bathroom. Here we are, the superhero collective, singing songs, dozing through sermons, mingling in the hallway, then shuffling home.
But pull off the mask (and the tights, please), and you find…us. Ho-hum us.
That’s all there ever was. But the mask made us feel strong; the cape gave us security; the big letter on our chest identity. But they were shields that hid us from everyone else.
Superheroes with Bibles
This is why, I think, we need less Bible study. Oh yeah. You heard me. Less Bible study. Now, yes, we need to feed: the Word is our food. We must study the Bible. But I have in mind the churchy, programmatic kind of study. I’m talking about the Bible-on-my-lap, coffee-in-hand, group observation sessions that we are so good at.
So let’s do less of that. Because Bible study, like so many church activities, can be a mask that substitutes impersonal activity for genuine gospel-community.
“Let’s look at the text,” the teacher says. And so we do. We analyze. We isolate the main point. We even discuss a few abstract application points. Standing at a distance, we apply our super-study powers to toss out biblical observations toward the center of the room. We even think of super ways that other people (the ones who really need this passage) can apply this magnificent text. And then we leave, untouched and most certainly unexposed.
And I am the chief of all sinners. My goodness, do you know how many times I’ve come up with handy generalizations to obfuscate my fears of sharing the gospel with my neighbor, to veil the fact that I’ve been struggling with lust, or to hide that ugliness of my unkindness to my wife just before you all came over tonight?
My dear Christian (please take off the mask for a moment – it’s a wee bit lonely out here by myself), is this really how we’re meant to treat this book? Is this how we’re supposed to treat one another?
Like a Pig Fetus
I was a weird homeschooler. In high school, I kept a preserved, dissected pig in my desk for several months (wouldn’t you?). I was enthralled by this intricate little piggy fetus. I enjoyed examining it. My siblings still haven’t stopped mocking me.
I take full responsibility for my weirdness.
But here is our grand defense mechanism against gospel-community: we treat the Bible like a dead pig. We poke it, prod it, maybe pick it up and make it dance. Then we shelve it until next week.
I think we’re in agreement here, but the Bible is not a dead pig. It is a Word that gives life; a broadsword that penetrates and impales our hearts with conviction; a window for glory. In sum, it reveals Christ.
When we (rightly) view the Scriptures as the portal through which we gaze at the unsurpassed beauty of Jesus, we react. We physically wince at its conviction; we sputter in amazement at its richness; we weep at its beauty.
Take Off the Mask
This is one of the reasons I am leery about focusing on Bible “study” in our community groups. Because, you see, learning is so much more than information transfer. Information transfer is only the beginning. True learning takes place only if we are being transformed (James 1:23ff).
Gospel-community is a needed context for this transformation to happen. But for this learning-in-community to happen, we need two things: trust and a shared delight in the beauty of Jesus. I’ll unwrap these two ingredients soon, but for the moment we need to start here: take off the mask and introduce yourself. If you need help, you can read this.
But before you do that, let me kick us off.
“Hello, my name is Bob. I’m nothing special really, despite the tights. But I am loved by Jesus. Neither my best accomplishments or worst failures form my identity. Everything that matters about me is found outside of me, in Jesus. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?”