The College of Biblical Studies, where I taught for many years, had a question and answer radio program entitled, "The Pastor's Study." The college provided this program both as a service to the community and as PR. Different instructors would take the program each week. Some gladly took their turns while others were reluctant; I loved it! So because of my enthusiasm, I got to serve often. It was my half hour of fame for the week.
I suppose the listeners could picture in their mind a serene looking professor relaxing in the comfort of his study surrounded by volumes of biblical and theological wisdom. It was not quite as imagined. The studio was sound proof, about 8' x 10' in size; furnished with a wooden table and chair. When I manned the post I would bring my English Bible, my Greek New Testament, my English concordance, a thick yellow tablet and a good supply of pencils. That's about all there was room for.
I sat alone in the room, but I faced a huge window, on the other side of which was a huge sound/switch board manned by Frank, the crazy Cajun (his label for himself), who always wore a huge smile. Frank would take the calls and relay them to me. Our only other communication was by reading each others' lips. I would listen to the question, repeat it and hastily scribble it on my pad. Then I would instruct the questioner to please hang up while I answered the question. I would then flip through my Bible and concordance searching for answers while I kept up patter to fill the air space.
Many of the questions were simply variations or re-phrasings of a dozen or so standards:
· Do I need to be baptized to be saved?
· Do I need to speak in tongues?
· How do I know if I've committed the unpardonable sin?
· Questions on divorce, homosexual behavior or other sexual problems.
· Questions on election and predestination.
· Sometimes it was simply someone looking for a verse they couldn't find.
I felt that most of the questions were sincere and for them the questions were aimed at dealing with personal needs. I don't recall ever receiving a cynical question. (Apparently I had no Atheist listeners.)
Occasionally, however, I'd receive a call from someone who wanted to argue and who wouldn't hang up to await my answer, but was more desirous of asserting his/her own views. When this happened, I'd see Frank guffawing at my helplessness. Sometimes he'd be making a slashing motion across his throat while moving his lips, clearly saying, "You want me to cut 'em off?" Sometimes he did and I'd have to say something like, "Pardon me, it seems we've lost contact!"
And then there were the few questions I really disliked getting. They usually began with the words, "Don't you think that ...?" or "Don't you believe that ...?" It didn't take me long to realize that questions like this were to be understood as meaning something like, "I have this really screwy idea and nobody believes me, so it would really help if that expert on the radio would agree with me."
Fortunately those were few and far between, although they furnished Frank with some very pleasant moments. Most of the questions like that had to do with either the first or the last book of the Bible -- Genesis or Revelation. I had to deal with everything from a "flat earth" to Armageddon.
My experiences on the radio were, as all my life experiences, opportunities for my own education. The questions I heard were, though sincere, not the types I would normally hear from my students, nor even from the members of churches I pastored. But they were the kind that sincere believers do ask when reading the Bible and attempting to relate it to life.
These experiences showed me that many approach the Bible as a book full of unrelated verses which can be pulled out to answer questions about life or to win an argument.
I'm afraid that that is how the Bible is often taught. Children (and adults) learn to memorize verses with little or no regard for their context. I've even seen Bibles with tables in them relating different verses to different life problems.
- Depressed? See (Book, chapter and verse).
- Angry? See (Book, chapter and verse).
But the Bible isn't a magic book of verses. It's a story, God's message to humankind. As such it is to be read and absorbed with an understanding of its context. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious to some -- we should read the Bible in the same way we would any work of literature or history. It's amazing how much we can learn by simply reading it in this way.