The Bible and Crocheted Sea Urchins

I recently showed a friend of mine a photo taken at a new art installation in Boston. The work is a series of super-sized sea urchins crocheted from white double-braided polyester chord. Each urchin weighs about 200 pounds and spans over 50 feet across. My friend is a bit of an “extreme” crochet-er herself, so I jokingly asked if she would make me one.

In the light-hearted discussion that followed, she asked, “But what does it do?” She explained that she crochets blankets, coffee-cup holders, and washcloths. All those items serve a purpose. She wanted to know the purpose of a 200-pound crocheted sea urchin.

My reply was immediate: “They are beautiful.”

Two Views

Our encounter reminded me of the discussion I find myself engaged in with those who seek to study the Scriptures. As a pastor to young people, I am aware there is a unique weight placed on the foundational teachings I provide about how we read the Bible, and of course, I want to get it right.

It appears there is a camp of Christians who hold the Scriptures out as completely prescriptive in nature.

For these, the Bible is to be viewed through a highly practical lens. The Bible is a book with a purpose. It is a guide. It is a rule book. It is a model for how to live. It holds truth which, when applied properly, will lead to a well-lived life of holiness, worthy of our Savior’s call.

Theirs is a prescriptive view because the primary question the reader asks is, “In light of this teaching, what do I have to do? What is the prescription?”

There is another camp of Christians who hold a slightly different view of the Scriptures. They see the Bible as primarily descriptive in nature.

The Bible holds a light to the world and reveals the very nature of God, His people, and the relationship between us. It holds truth, which gives us all a picture of the Kingdom life for which we were made. It invites us to see its beauty. It builds our desire for this Kingdom life, and it unwraps the nature, ways, and will of the King Himself.

It is a descriptive view because the primary question it asks is, “What does God see? What does God want me to see? What is the vision? Describe it for me.”

Tension in Between

Over the years it has been tempting to join one of these camps or the other. However, my sense is that truth falls somewhere in the tension between these views. Human nature likes to pick sides: this or that. God’s mysterious nature has no trouble with holding that which is both/and.

For the one who works closely with kids, difficulty arises because most programming available for children is highly prescriptive in its approach. Each verse is searched for the teachable point. Much time is spent drawing conclusions of what we are to do in view of God’s truth. Instruction is chosen over inspiration.

While nothing is wrong with employing the prescriptive approach, I wonder if we are doing a disservice when we so rarely make time to embrace a descriptive view. Could we be complicit in raising a generation of Christ followers who know what they are supposed to do but have never really gazed at the beauty of God’s Kingdom life? If one never sees the vision, is he or she less likely to care about the call to follow? Does this contribute to the exodus of young people from our faith families?

I offer no answers, only questions. I do know it is always wise to keep evaluating and reflecting on our practices with children. While it may not be standard to create curriculum around the descriptive approach, perhaps we could occasionally invite our children to view Scripture a bit like the 200-pound crocheted sea urchin.

Open the Bible and gaze on the beauty it reveals. I wonder what kind of Christ followers such beauty might inspire.