“The challenge, really, is how to bridge the gap between an ancient biblical text and a present-day life situation. How do we attempt to bridge that divide ?” – Michael R. Emlet
The above question is from Dr. Emlet’s new book CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet. If we think about it, it’s one of the most important questions we can ask when reading our Bibles. As Dr. Emlet notes, however, too often we drift towards a familiar pattern.
There are two categories of passages in our Bibles that Dr. Emlet refers to in his book. These are “ditch” passages and “canyon” passages. The ditch passages are those that are extremely familiar to us and seem to directly relate to a situation or problem in our lives. These can include Psalm 23 (fear), Psalm 51 (repentance) and Philippians 4:6 (anxiety). We return to these over and over as sources of comfort. Others can go into the canyon category and don’t at first glance seem to be passages we’d first turn to. These include Obadiah, Exodus 25-31 and 35-40, and 1 Chronicles 1-9. The application of these canyon passages take some work.
What Dr. Emlet explains though, is that if we don’t take the time to do the work on these types of passages, we wind up with an “abridged” Bible. He discusses the marketing of special Bibles that have the New Testament packaged with Psalms and Proverbs. The publishers of these special editions are making a “value judgment” according to Emlet. “Why not sell the New Testament with Leviticus and Esther ?” asks Emlet. As proof of this, Emlet asks us to look at our own Bibles and the areas that appear “dog-eared”. Chances are they’re not the OT sections of genealogies and lists. They’re instead the areas where we find texts that we relate to our lives most quickly and easily.
I think this is something we need to be cautious of. Many of us can recite verses from those “ditch” passages and turn to these in our time of need. There’s really nothing wrong with that. But stepping over a ditch is much easier than stepping over a canyon. We need to flex our spiritual muscles a bit more with those more difficult texts. Keeping the storyline of the entire Bible in view is critical for us. Our growth as Christians depends in good measure on this.