By Michael and Lauren McAfee
When I (Michael) was in the eighth grade, one of my favorite classes was art. Not necessarily because I was a young da Vinci. I was more like a young Picasso, but no one seemed to appreciate my, um, unique perspective. Art class became a relaxing hour to decompress and express myself, in part because my art teacher had a unique way to keep middle schoolers quiet and focused. While we painted, drew, or sculpted, he would read to us. In eighth grade we read Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s epic tale of Ahab, Ishmael, and the great white whale made a lasting impression on me. There was a certain sense of fairness that resonated in the story, about a man obsessed who ultimately was overcome by his obsession.
One of the greatest objections to the Bible is that it is unfair to humanity. All of us have an instinct for fairness and right and wrong; this instinct is often apparent from early in our lives. We are quick to object if we think we are being unfairly punished or wrongly accused. Much like Moby Dick, the Bible tells the story of humans obsessed with sin and evil and how they are continually being overcome by their obsession, portraying us all as guilty before God and in desperate need of rescue. Many object to this characterization, and people feel it is unfair that from the outset we are all declared guilty and in need of salvation (Rom. 3:23). But if we accept the rules of the story and see the narrative from the viewpoint of Christ, the story begins to change.
The story of the Bible is unfair; tremendously unfair. The story is about one who is guiltless who is declared guilty, one who is blameless who is assigned the blame of others, one who is innocent who dies in the place of those who are at fault. If any one of us were called on to assume such guilt and blame, we would object and fight to our dying breath to vindicate our good name. Yet the unfairness seen in the story of the Bible is not an unfairness toward us but an unfairness toward God.
A blameless God creates humanity, which unfairly rejects its Creator. In story after story, the Bible’s narrative is the same: God rescues his people and they reject his rule. And every rescue, from the flood to the exodus to the lions’ den, is foreshadowing the greater rescue to come. Arguably, God’s people do not deserve to be rescued, and if any one of us were in God’s place and were rejected by those we love, it would be very difficult for us to turn the other cheek and bear the cost to restore the relationship. Yet this is what Jesus does. He leaves heaven and comes to earth. The Creator walks among his creation. The gospel writer John records that Jesus came to his own and was rejected (John 1:11). His own creation did not recognize him (v. 10), but still he came. He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
This is perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about the Bible today. Properly read, the Bible should not make anyone feel mighty about their own life. The Bible is a raw, honest account of our failure as a people and as individuals to live well. When well-meaning people today, in the name of the Book, tout their own behavior to claim the moral high ground, they are actually undermining their argument. We naturally read ourselves into any story as the hero. But the Bible, with unexpected ruthless consistency, reminds us we are the problem.
The story of the gospel, the story of Jesus, is incredibly unfair. God takes this unfairness on himself, suffering the punishment that we deserve. You may not feel we deserve to be punished, you may not feel it was necessary for Jesus to die, but surely you find that story at least a bit compelling. This is what J. R. R. Tolkien described as a eucatastrophe. A catastrophe is a sudden calamity or downturn in a story; a eucatastrophe is a sudden reversal of fortune, a happy ending. If we were writing the story, we would want to see those who are guilty be punished, and those who are innocent be freed. But the Bible turns this on its head, saying that God’s love is so great that he, who is innocent, is willing to be punished so that we, who are guilty, may be freed (2 Cor. 5:21). This is the ultimate happy ending, and it is a message which is meant not only to inspire us but also to shape and give meaning to our lives. There is a word for this, when we get what we do not deserve, when we are treated fairly when we have not earned fairness. The word is grace.
You may have had some interaction with the Bible. You may be familiar with it, may have grown up with it, may have rejected it in skepticism or ignored it in indifference. Whatever your relationship to it is, we want to invite you to take another look. The Bible is a classic, because it is never finished saying what it has to say. Perhaps before rejecting its meaning, you could try to understand its message. We believe our generation is remarkably gifted to identify timeless beauty when they see it. When you catch a glimpse of the Bible’s message firsthand, you may wonder how you didn’t see it before. When you come to it on its level and accept the rules of the text, when you are open to seeing Jesus as the source of the Bible’s inspiration, the center of its narrative, and when you recognize how God displays his grace toward us, then and only then will the Bible begin to open up to you. The Bible does not point us to a rulebook or inspiration we might have expected. It provides the grace we most desperately need.
Taken from Not What You Think: How the Bible Might Be Nothing We Expected Yet Everything We Need by Michael & Lauren McAfee. Click here to learn more about this title.
So, you’re skeptical about the Bible . . . well guess what: you’re not alone.
The Bible is seen by many contemporary readers as intolerant, outdated, out of step with societal norms at best, and a tool of oppression at worst. In this earnest and illuminating read, millennial thought leaders and aspiring theologians Michael and Lauren McAfee are here to say: fair enough. But they’re also here to raise a few questions of their own: What if we cleared the deck on our preconceptions of this book and encountered it anew? What if we came with the understanding that our questions are welcome? And what if these pages presented less of a system to figure out, and more of a story to step into — a story with more surprising plot twists than we might think?
Michael and Lauren spent their childhoods in church and Sunday school, they spent part of their twenties finding their way in the world in New York City, and today they’re shaping their careers while pursuing doctoral studies in theology and ethics. Along the way, they’ve had to wrangle very real questions — both their own, and of their friends — about why, where, and how the most controversial book in history fits in our world today.
Not What You Think not only blows the dust off dated misperceptions of this ancient book, it engages the problems of this book head-on — the parts that make modern readers squeamish, skeptical, and uncertain. Join Michael and Lauren as they explore the nature of the Bible — an ancient mosaic of story, literature, history, and poetry — and what it means for this generation and its relationship with God. Ultimately, Not What You Think is an invitation to come and see, and be surprised. Learn more at NotWhatYouThinkBook.com.
Michael McAfee, as the Director of Bible Engagement for Museum of the Bible, forges strategic partnerships with faith leaders and nonprofits, speaks to audiences around the country, and leads a team of marketing specialists to support the museum’s mission. After completing his MDiv at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Michael is now a PhD student under Dr. Russell Moore. Michael is married to his Sunday school sweetheart, Lauren, and they live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. You can follow Michael at michaelmcafee.com.
Lauren Green McAfee is a speaker, writer, connector, and coffee enthusiast with a heart to engage others in the Bible. While pursuing her graduate degrees in pastoral counseling and theology, Lauren worked for her father, Steve Green, as he founded Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Today Lauren works for Hobby Lobby as Corporate Ambassador, and is pursuing a PhD in Ethics and Public Policy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Lauren and her husband Michael live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Connect with Lauren at laurenamcafee.com.