I remember one of my favorite singers, Bruce Cockburn, saying this, but I don’t remember where I read it. As pastor here at Grace North Church, I encounter a lot of people who struggle with scripture. Regardless of whether the quote is accurate or not, the sentiment is right on. Scripture contains a lot of wisdom, great advice, wonderful stories. It also condones sexism, slavery, genocide, and intolerance. It is hard to read it all the way through without throwing up your hands in frustration, shouting, “This is a holy book??”

Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s also a human book, and just as screwed up in many ways as any human, or any human document or institution. The Bible wasn’t delivered from God’s hand to ours, it might have parts that are inspired, but it isn’t infallible. The Bible is a valuable record of two people’s experience of God—the ancient Jews and the early Christian church. But it’s written from the perspective of humans—and contains the writers’ prejudices, wrong-headed ideas, and cultural assumptions—along with all the good stuff.

So it’s a mixed bag. You can’t just say, “Every word is true” or “Every word is good,” because it isn’t. As another of my favorite singers (T-Bone Burnett) once said, “Being a Christian doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility to think.” Amen to that. Reading the Bible is an exercise in discernment—it requires that you think deeply about what you’re reading, sorting through what are the opinions of human beings and what is the wisdom of God. Both are there, but there are no signposts saying which is which.

That’s a good thing. Being a responsible, adult person of faith means having a critical perspective toward religion—especially one’s own. At Grace North Church we try to foster this critical approach to faith. We don’t just accept whatever scripture says. We talk back to it. And we don’t shy away from the hard passages, either. Indeed, we put them out front, we wrestle with them, and argue with them.

We encourage you to read the Bible—to open yourself to its wisdom, and to think deeply about it, and to talk back to it. But we also caution you: Don’t believe everything you read.