“Applying the Bible” doesn’t quite get at it. That comes across to me as a bit quiet and clean. Gardening is full of grunting, sweat, dirt–and sometimes holding your nose. Read the Bible with a pitch fork, garden rake, and shovel in your hands–not with rubber gloves and tongs delicately turning over crackling pages of an ancient book.
I like this image and I wish I had thought of it. But this idea comes from Walter Brueggemann’s Texts Under Negotiation . I came across this many years ago, and it’s helped me see the Bible in a more realistic and spiritually constructive way.
The Bible is the compost pile that provides material for new life. I do not use this figure as an irreverent metaphor to suggest that the Bible is “garbage.” Rather, I use it to suggest that the Bible itself is not the actual place of new growth. Our present life, when we undertake new growth, is often inadequate, arid, or even barren. It needs to be enriched, and for that enrichment, we go back to the deposits of old growth that have been discarded, but that continue to ferment and may contain resources for a way to new life. (Texts Under Negotiation , pp. 61-62)
Like Brueggemann, I don’t take the compost pile as a disrespectful metaphor, but a metaphor that explains what the Bible is suited to do–and how people typically, instinctively, approach it anyway.
By contrast, an unhelpful metaphor is a cookbook.