It was during a research project on local area churches when I came upon one of the signs stated that they are “The Friendly Bible Church.” It first struck me as a marketing ploy to get people to the church that is friendly— shouldn’t all Christians be friendly— but as I thought about it more, it became a church I probably wouldn’t want to go to, why? Well, I don’t find the Bible all that friendly. Unless you were to take out all the confrontation, all the commands, the entire sacrificial system, the crucifixion, the evil, the passages that challenge us would you have a “friendly” Bible?
We could pick any one of the modern-day topics and find people on opposing sides of the biblical interpretation of that topic. Now, I ask you, is that friendly? In a recent blog post by Ray Ortlund, he points out that the hard words of Christ are not harmful. They become vivid storylines that cause us to reflect on our journey toward holiness. Just listen and see if you find these words of the Messiah friendly, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands to two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for your to enter with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matt 5:29-30). So, with a show of hands, how many of you think this is friendly? Holiness is not easy, holiness is meant to be separate, to be peculiar, to be like Christ.
The Bible is not friendly— it’s challenging, it’s thought-provoking, it’s wrestling, it’s contemplative, it’s evangelistic, it’s fiery, it’s inclusive, it’s exclusive, it’s the truth. And, we can see it at its most unfriendliness when it comes to the crucifixion of Jesus. The battering, the mocking, the nails, the crown of thorns— all unfriendly treatments imposed upon the sinless. However, as N.T Wright states in his book, The Day the Revolution Began, “But over against downplaying or mocking we also see, from the earliest documents of the New Testament right on through the first five or six centuries of church history, the resolute affirmation of the cross not as an embarrassing episode best left on the margins, but as the mysterious key to the meaning of life, God, the world, and human destiny” (p.21).
The unfriendly parts of the Bible (as well as the friendly passages) are intended to bring us closer to God and His intended plan for his kingdom to come upon the new earth. So if you want to pick and choose what you believe then sure you can make the Bible-friendly but if you believe it’s entirety, then we’ve got work to do. There ought not to be a friendly Bible church because the Bible, well at times it can be the least friendly letter you receive. Why is this? Well, because if you read deep enough, the Spirit of God will call you and me out. And as a people group, we don’t like to be called out on something because deep down we think we are in some sense fairly good. The seemingly unfriendly parts of the Bible, the challenging parts of the text will require a change in us.