By Randy Calvo ’81, Director of Alumni/ae & Church Relations
With great affection I call it my pastor’s Bible. Gifted to me, it became the Bible that I worked out of for most of my twenty six years in parish ministry. This Bible still sits in my briefcase, red-cloth, hardback, Revised Standard Version with tattered edges. There are underlined verses, study notes scribbled in the margins and on pocket-size scratch pad papers placed between certain of its pages. This book of Holy Scripture is now loosely held together by a large rubber band. After all these many years, my Bible has come unglued, is in peril of falling apart, and is difficult to handle.
With some of the church’s present day crises over the interpretation of scripture, at times our handling of God’s Word seems at best to be loosely held together and at worst unglued and about to fall apart! Over issues like human sexuality, the polemic of some is that if your Biblical interpretation does not agree with mine, then you obviously must not submit yourself to the authority of scripture. When conducting the seminary’s bi-annual fundraising phonathons, our student callers will occasionally meet with donor resistance expressing itself in the question…do you folks [the seminary] no longer believe in the Bible?
The truth is that at Columbia Seminary we do believe in and teach the Bible as sacred text containing God’s Word. Along with many of you, as teaching elders we also promise that we shall accept the scriptures of Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal and God’s Word to each of us. And as teachers we take seriously the charge of 2 Timothy 2:15…do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly dividing/handling the word of truth.
That is why on November 17-18, 2015, Columbia Seminary will host a conference entitled, Bible, Empire, and Reception History. An on-campus two day event, the conference will consist of a four-session conversation among more than two dozen distinguished biblical scholars from around the world. They will be exploring the production and use of the Bible in various historical and/or geographic contexts of empire. Papers will be presented and responses given comparing the role of the Bible from the perspectives of both those in positions of power and those under colonial rule. Our question is: can charting these histories help us learn about our own uses and interpretations of the Bible in an increasingly interconnected world? For like you, at Columbia Seminary we affirm the declaration of 2 Timothy 3:16 that…all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
As much as this discussion of truth handling encourages me to think about the Bible, it also reminds me of a military courtroom trial scene in the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men. The prosecuting attorney, Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) demands an honest answer from the defendant, Marine Corp Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson). Jessup responds emphatically…You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!
Nonetheless, with you we continue our efforts toward rightly dividing the sacred text of Holy Scripture, of handling faithfully the truth of God’s Word in the Bible. As we do so, we pray that God’s Word of truth would rightly handle us and bring about the purposes for which that Word is sent. For unlike a pastor’s Bible that is always at risk of coming unglued and falling apart, we do believe that we are not held together by a rubber band!