Case study: using the Bible with Bible Conflicted people
The Bible is full of great stories and profound wisdom. It's also a long, complicated book that contains things that are quite difficult to understand. Sometimes it seems to present values or behaviour as normal when they're actually quite challenging.
Whatever the context in which you present the Bible – and it might be a pulpit in church, a pub among friends, or some kind of group discussion – it really helps to know the people you're speaking with and how they tick.
One of the groups Bible Society identified from its research is the 'Bible Conflicted' persona.
Bible Conflicted people might know the Bible a little and find some stories meaningful, but others are just disturbing. They find it complicated and contradictory.
They tend to believe in God, but tend to think of him as a 'universal Spirit' or 'life force' – they might be 'spiritual but not religious'. Under half say they're Christians and the ones who do don't go to church very often. Some of them are quite negative about Christianity, though they think it has a role serving the poor and vulnerable. They have a strong sense of compassion and think it's important to make a difference in the world.
So how would we handle a Bible story with Bible Conflicted people in mind? One possibility is to use the story of the Good Samaritan, from Luke 10.25–37. Here are some points you might want to make.
- The story's told to widen the scope of whom we should care for. The teacher of the was asking what the limits of his responsibilities were; Jesus effectively said, 'There aren't any'
- Martin Luther King commented on the story, saying: 'The first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"'
- Jesus was critical of the religion of his day, as an insider – an observant Jew. The priest and the Levite should both have stopped to help, but didn't: they may have been afraid, or they may have wanted to avoid ritual contamination from touching someone who might have been dead. This Bible story criticises Christians today who do the same
- Making the Samaritan the hero of the story would have been shocking for Jesus' hearers; they'd have expected it to be a Jew. Here we have an outsider teaching the people of God how to behave
- Samaritans and Jews were mutually hostile. What the Samaritan did was dangerous and costly, and crossed significant community boundaries. The story isn't just about being nice to people, it's about transforming relationships through leaps of faith
- Talking about God is one thing – and it's important. But just as important is what we actually do – as Micah 6.8 says, 'What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God'
- When Jesus says, 'You go, then, and do the same' he's issuing a radical call to discipleship
There's plenty more to say about the Good Samaritan. But in this treatment we're acknowledging that Bible Conflicted people can be ambiguous about Christianity and saying openness to criticism is built in to it from the beginning. We're acknowledging their compassion and commitment to changing the world for the better. We're also speaking to their sense of being 'outsiders' in terms of faith, and pointing out that outsiders can be prophets too. It's a familiar story that can be made to speak powerfully to people who are conflicted about the Bible's message today.