National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Big questions: bigger God

April 2014

by Andrew Jaensch

Throughout the Book of Job we hear him questioning God’s way of acting, and we observe God respecting his challenge. God was big enough for Job’s questions. He is big enough for our questions as well—in particular the kind of questions aroused by our reading of Scripture that puzzle us, trouble us and perplex us.

‘God is big enough for our questions’ was the title I gave to my research project. I explored how Australian Lutheran College (ALC) Lutheran Strand students respond to a critical approach to study of the Bible.

Initially I was concerned that the term ‘critical approach’ could sound alarm bells for some Christians, and I was tempted to use a softer-sounding expression, one that was less likely to be misunderstood. But I stuck with the term because it is used widely in education and scholarship. The original Greek notion of criticism is about arriving at a judgement, coming to a decision; it’s about discernment. My own experience of a critical approach began at the then Luther Seminary, and it was very unsettling. But, looking back, I can’t help but roll out the old adage ‘No pain, no gain’; Christians should not be surprised if engagement with critical study of the Bible produces intellectual and spiritual pain for them.

A few years ago I became much more intentional about introducing my ALC students to a critical approach to study of the Bible. I considered the kinds of questions about the Bible that invite a critical approach to it. Here are some of them:

  • what to make of the apparently conflicting accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2
  • questions about the authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible); did Moses really write them all?
  • the idea that Jesus’ words recorded in the gospels may not have actually come from Jesus’ lips at all, at least not in the way the gospel writers have expressed them.

While recognising that a critical approach to the Bible can raise disturbing questions for some Christians, I am also deeply conscious of the importance of distinguishing between a book (the Bible) and the One to whom that book points (Christ).