At the Gate: Three Bibles

[Note: beginning today, this “At the Gate” series will become a monthly post on the first day of each month. I hope that making it less frequent will result in writing that is more revealing of a “big picture” life than a reaction to the never-ending challenges that we face. I am at a season when I need to “have done with lesser things” (Charles Wesley) and soak my soul in the God of Life. This post marks this shift in emphasis and frequency.]

At the gate, I have the opportunity to read three Bibles day after day. Each one is essential in my desire to live the abundant life Jesus said he came to give us (John 10:10). I read beginning at the most-general place, moving toward the specific.

The first Bible: nature. We read this Bible which has existed for 13.8 billion years. The term is not new. It arises from the first verse in Scripture, and has been “read” throughout the history of religion, sometimes called the Book of Nature and emphasized in certain traditions (e.g. Franciscan) which recognize that the universe is sacred, and as part of, we too are sacred. [1] I have discovered it in the Wesleyan tradition in the works of both John and Charles with respect to natural theology. [2] As the first Bible, nature provides the language for what we today call creation theology. [3] Reading the first Bible connects me with the cosmos.

The second Bible: Perennial Wisdom. Genesis 4:26 identifies a time when people began to worship, but it does not state exactly when that was. Archaeological evidence as far back as 70,000 years confirms the role of religion in human life. [4] A theology of the imago dei roots this in creation itself.

About 4,000 years ago, world religions began to take the shape we think of them today. Running through them are shared threads of revelation: there is one God, humans desire to relate to God, humans have the capacity to be united with God, and this sacred union is the purpose of our existence. [5] Matthew Fox has taken this universal revelation and expressed it in eighteen themes that the world’s religions have in common. Reading the second Bible connects me with the human family.

The third Bible: the Scriptures. For me, that means the Bible containing the Hebrew scriptures, Christian scriptures, and Deuterocanonical books. I follow different reading plans over time, but the aim of this reading is to live a life pleasing to God—what Jesus called abundant living. Reading the third Bible connects me to the Judeo-Christian communities.

All three Bibles connect me to Christ, excarnate (universal) and incarnate (human). I encourage you to read three Bibles each day.

[1] Thomas Berry, ‘The Sacred Universe’ (Columbia University Press, 2009) and J. Philip Newell, ‘Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul’ (HarperOne, 2021) are two good books in this regard. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ilia Delio, and Brian Swimme are also beneficial. The Center for Spirituality in Nature provides many good resources to help us read the first Bible.

[2] Howard Snyder is well-known for his study of Wesleyan natural theology. His book, ‘Salvation Means Creation Healed’ (Cascade Books, 2011) is helpful. Along a similar line, an extensive article by Daniel J. Pratt Morris-Chapman, “Beyond the Quadrilateral: The Place of Nature In John Wesley’s Epistemology of Theology” (HTS Theological Studies, Vol. 78, No. 2, July 2022)

[3] Matthew Fox has helped me connect my faith to the creation. His books, ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (Harper & Row, 1988), ‘Original Blessing’ revised edition (Tarcher/Putnam, 2000), and ‘Creation Spirituality’ (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991) are especially helpful.

[4] Carvings in a cave hidden in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana are the oldest discovery so far.

[5] Rami Shapiro, ‘Perennial Wisdom’ (Skylight Paths, 2013), 16. This book contains readings organized in relation to the Perennial Wisdom. So too does ‘The World Wisdom Bible’ (Skylight Paths, 2017).

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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