As a boy, I loved maps. The walls of my bedroom were decorated with maps I had taken out of National Geographic. I would sit at my desk, staring at them and dream about faraway places. Even today, if you look under my bed, you will find roll after roll of nautical charts of remote coasts and faraway shores. I’ve spent many hours sailing, hiking and climbing in my dreams based on those beautiful paper charts but it didn’t take me long to discover, “A map is not the same as being there,” (Tim Hansel).
In 1968, at the age of 14, my Boy Scout Explorer Post set off to hike completely around one of North America’s largest mountains, Mount Rainier. The trip was over ninety miles long and skirted a dozen glaciers. We descended into deep virgin forests and crossed ice-encrusted mountain passes. It was ten days of some of the most difficult hiking I have ever encountered.
Before the trip I wore out two topographic maps by tracing out every step of the trail but nothing prepared me for the experience of lacing up my boots, hoisting my pack and putting one foot in front of the other. I came back a changed young man.
Of course an armchair explorer could ask, “Why should I suffer the cold, the blisters, and the hard work? I can read the map and imagine the wonders it represents.” A lot of Christians feel the same way. They read the Bible stories and everyone applauds the Christian lifestyle but how many actually lace up their boots and set out on the journey?
True Christians understand the map – the Bible aided by the compass of the Holy Spirit – is to show us the way through the experience of life. It sorts out the bewildering chaos of choices and keeps us on the true path. Unfortunately many people simply study the Bible for the sake of studying the Bible. Jesus told the Pharisees of his day, “You carefully study the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. They do in fact tell about me, but you refuse to come to me to have that life,” (John 5:39, 40 NCV). In other words, just knowing the Bible is like just posting a map on your wall. Knowing the Bible alone is not enough. You must know Jesus!
I am impressed with scholarship. It’s great to know the ancient languages and the nuances of Greek and Hebrew grammar. It is important to understand the historical context, archeology, literary types, textual criticism and all of the other tools of serious biblical scholarship, but unless that knowledge transforms my life into the image of Jesus Christ, I’ve mistaken the shadow for the substance.