The Bible Is Not a Book

Five reasons to claim the experiential, creative, communal nature of Christian scripture.

Today, brothers Chris and Andrew Breitenberg release Parallel Bible, the world’s first social, visual Bible — a resource that combines the arts of photography, storytelling, and conversation with scripture (think Instagram meets the Bible). The app is available for download today on iTunes. Find out more at

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The Bible is not a book. It began long before pages and ink and leather binding. It began as epic tales told around the campfire and in the public square. It was legendary ballads and laments and proclamations of jubilee.

The Bible was spoken, handwritten, printed, then coded and has remained in black-and-white text for 500 years (on parchment or screen), lagging behind world-changing advances in communications praxis and philosophy.

But it is possible to connect with biblical text beyond reading or listening. We live in a digital-visual age of response and sharing and we are all, to one degree or another, experiential learners. An experiential reading of the Bible delivers a much more lasting imprint on our memory and enriches our personal (and collective) faith journeys.

In the spirit of Lectio Divina, gospel contemplation and Saint Clare of Assisi (gaze on the cross, consider, contemplate, imitate) here are five reasons we should retool our approach to the Bible.

1. The Bible should connect us to our world.

The Bible calls itself “living and active.” While we celebrate the mystical possibilities of this idea, perhaps the clearest meaning is that the text comes to life as we ourselves live it out, in the world around us. Our experience of the text is enriched by strengthening the direct connection between it and the world we live in.

On your commute, you may pass a crumbling wall everyday. But attach a verse to it, for example, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19), and the wall is then imbued with deep meaning — in this case, Jesus’ message of resurrection and restoration. Now we pass the wall and see its restoration, not just its crumbling. In this way, scripture starts inhabiting the world — not just the Bible.

2. The Bible should be deep and free.

Franciscan friar Richard Rohr has been known to say, “literalism is the lowest form of meaning.” How true! The beauty of God’s word is its depth of meaning. The more we exchange, share, imagine, and experience the stories of scripture, the more it starts to penetrate our soul and become part of who we are. Rather than acting on us externally, it takes shape internally, to be lived out in the world.

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis writes, “Freedom is the gift whereby you most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality.” The Bible acts as a launchpad toward freedom and yet, it must be experienced freely. By removing many of the constraints currently strapping the Bible to a host of long-standing stigmas, we repave the road to the chance for an experience of this freedom.

3. The Bible should lead us to growth, not safety.

Too often, the Bible becomes a place of safety for Christians. But experiencing the Bible as a challenge to our current paradigm and moving beyond our comfort zone is to cry out for God to meet us there. Psychologist Abraham Maslow writes, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” Nothing about Jesus’ life or his call to his disciples — to you and me — suggests anything safe. Jesus is leading us toward growth.

When the Bible pushes past the text into a personal experience, when it moves us into the beautiful mess of community, when it inspires the oft-painful sublimity of creativity, when the Gospel is no longer the message we read, but it’s the life we live, growth (where the ego is, in fact, less) will be the natural state of being.

4. The Bible should be creative, not conforming.

Education expert Sir Ken Robinson recently said, “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” As this relates to the Bible, Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic Church, adds, ” . . . somehow the Bible has been taken and turned into a manuscript of conformity. It needs to be reclaimed as a manifesto for creativity.”

The conformity of the Bible to a specific physical state — black-and-white (and sometimes red) text — must be challenged and reclaimed for the creative twenty-first century human. The text will always remain, but it will no longer conform to the page and screen in columns of letters. We now will find the sights and sounds of our lives right alongside the words. And at this edge, this fringe intersect between scripture and experience, inspired ideas have the right conditions to blossom.

5. The Bible should lead to communion in relationships.

With God. With our neighbor.

The Bible is all about relationships. Even hearing or reading the Bible itself requires connection. The Bible is a collection of stories of people expressing their relationship with God — a pursuit of communion with God and with each other.

It’s these relationships we then imagine and see in our lives. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The Israelites in the Desert. Mary weeping at the foot of the cross. Jesus praying in the garden. These aren’t just stories to be read, they are moments we encounter and relationships we know in our lives.

It’s communion in relationships that this retooled approach to the Bible offers. A community table where everyone has a place. The choice to occupy that place is up to you, but your chair will never be taken away. That chair is your chance to be heard; and therein your chance to be known. Our voice crying out in the city, through the wilderness, ‘You too shall be seen, you too shall be heard.’”

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Sergei Zolkin.

Chris Breitenberg
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  • Joe DeCaro

    “The Bible should be creative, not conforming,” but in fact, the Bible is “transforming,” e.g., “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

  • bakabomb

    Life’s reality is a bit more complex than Maslow’s dichotomous view of “safety” vs. “growth”. We start out as spiritual infants and (hopefully) grow and mature into the spiritual “adults” the Creator intends us to become. This most certainly requires us to stretch our wings and learn to fly — and, yes, inherent in that is always the possibility of crashing. The Bible continually challenges us to take this risk. Yet, like a bird’s nest or an airplane’s hangar, it also offers a place of refuge and safety.

    There are excellent online tools that help keep the Bible ever fresh and new to us. They allow us to create our own parallel Bibles using the translations of our choice. They provide interlinear formats by which we can compare translations in our native tongues against the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. They offer commentaries, from the simple to the complex, that lead us beyond the words to the history, culture and theologies that underlie them — stretching our minds and expanding our horizons. Each of these tools helps us make the Word more relevant to, and useful in, our modern lives. We owe it to ourselves to explore them.