We hear someone say fairly often that the Bible is not a book of rules. The Bible is about relationships. The reverse is also stated-- the Bible is a rule book. Those who emphasize the rules approach to reading the Bible are the ones who have bumper stickers that read, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it," and they tell everyone else that they need to obey their particular interpretation of the biblical rules.Those who reject the rule book approach to the Bible usually just write off the commandments of Scripture they don't care for, while also taking the "rules" they do like and telling everyone else they need to follow their particular interpretation of them. The reality is that those who insist that the Bible is or is not a book of rules are simply using the Bible to support their own theological and social agendas.
The truth of the matter is that Scripture is a complex thing. It is first and foremost the story of God who has created and has offered redemption to the world in Jesus Christ. It is specifically the story of Israel's God who finally gives to the world God's very presence in Jesus Christ. Yes, indeed the Bible is first and foremost about relationship--God's relationship with his creation in the process of redemption. What that means is that there are indeed rules along the way, but not all of Scripture is designed to be prescriptive. Two very obvious examples will suffice.
Exodus 20:14 says, "You shall not commit adultery." Folks, that's a rule, plain and simple. Those who insist that the Bible has no rules, but is only about relationship can justify adultery on the grounds that two people are certainly in relationship with each other when committing adultery. And it may indeed be a loving relationship. One must never forget that in any relationship there are always rules. What would a wonderful, loving relationship look like without them?
On the other hand, it is also obvious that there are things in the Bible that are not meant to be obeyed. Psalm 137:9 reads, "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" The Psalmist is expressing anger against those who have defeated his people and dragged them off into the exile of Babylon. This verse tells me that it is quite acceptable and indeed necessary to express our feelings to God in prayer, no matter what those feelings may be. The problem with the rule book approach to the Bible is that one can use this verse as justification for the killing of children of the enemy. Unlike Exodus 20:14, this verse is not prescriptive.
The problem is that unfortunately not everything in the Bible is as clear as these two verses, and that's where the church needs to wrestle and argue and prayerfully discern how to interpret Scripture in our time. Those who wish to understand Scripture must be prepared to do the hard work necessary because the Bible is a collection of documents whose interpretation is not always clear.
But one thing is clear: the Bible is or is not a rule book approaches will not assist us in that most important endeavor.