Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

Read, Reflect, Respond

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Reading the Bible in Context

When I was learning to read, I was taught to open the first page of a book and read from the beginning to the end. I didn’t start in the middle, skip to the end, or just read the juicy bits. That wasn’t allowed. The emphasis was on reading to understand the entire story, and our comprehension tests reinforced the importance of coming to grips with the characters, plot and other details as they related to the whole.

In my early adult years I was given a Bible and told, “Start reading in the Gospel of John”. I opened the first page of the book, but it was called Genesis, not John. I was a little confused. Searching through the Bible I eventually found John toward the back of the book. I wondered why my friend had suggested I skip everything that came before John. Were the other parts of the Bible not important?

I started attending church services at much the same time as I started reading the Gospel of John. The way the pastor read and spoke about the Bible left me befuddled and bewildered. Most of the time he used isolated texts that he seemed to pluck at random from the book. It was like playing hopscotch – we jumped here there and everywhere.

Then someone gave me a Promise Box. It contained little cards with random Scripture verses. All my Christian friends were using them. We’d pull a new card out in the morning and carry it around with us during the day. Sometimes we’d quote it, chat about it, memorize it, or give it to someone. Now I understood. Obviously the Bible wasn’t meant to be read like other books. It was something you mined for nuggets.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of my story. Maybe because I’m inquisitive, or maybe it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I wanted to read the Bible from the beginning, one book at a time, until I got to the end. So I did. And I found out that the Bible is much more than a collection of people’s favourite verses. It truly is God’s Story, and like any story it has characters, settings, plots/themes, conflicts and resolutions.

Reading through the Bible opened my eyes to something very important. I discovered that many of the texts I’d been learning, in isolation from their context, could be manipulated to say, or be applied in ways that weren’t true to the story as a whole. In fact after reading through the Bible it became evident that some of the verses I’d heard from the pulpit or learnt from my Promise Box, sometimes meant something entirely different when read in context.

Context is vital for biblical interpretation. In a culture that values instant access, instant answers, and instant everything, it can be tempting to take short-cuts with how we read the Bible. But if we do, we do so at our peril. When we read the Bible we must correctly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). And the correct way to handle the truth is to read all of it.

Here’s my concern. If we separate texts from their context we can undermine the authority of Scripture and are more likely to misunderstand the Bible. Or worse, when we use texts isolated from their context, we can distort the truth and justify almost anything we want to say or do.

So here’s a shout-out for reading the Bible in context. Be diligent. Take time to understand each text against the background of its immediate text and the book within which it’s found.

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scripture to be given for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which thou hast given us in thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Anglican Prayer)

Recommended article: Not Everything in the Bible is Biblical, Jeff K. Clarke

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Reading the Bible

“Focus on reading the Scriptures …” 1 Timothy 4:13.

Reading the Bible should be for the Christian what eating and drinking is for the common man.

So what’s involved with reading the Bible? Is it snacking on a verse a day, digesting a book in one sitting, or something else?

While a verse a day has some value, it doesn’t help Christians grow. A verse here and there simply cannot sustain us spiritually. Bible reading is about something more than a few, brief, preferred encounters with the Scriptures.

Yet a verse here or there is the reality for many professing Christians. Somewhere along the way a slew of us came to believe that Bible reading is something that only takes a few minutes a day. How so?

For those of us subsisting on a diet of what Philip Yancey calls Scripture McNuggets, let’s stop kidding ourselves, we’re not reading the Bible! Bible reading is more than a catchphrase, more than fragmentary bits, more than a short-lived inspirational text, more than samplings of verses isolated from their historical, literary and cultural contexts.

Maybe one of the reasons why we’ve equated Bible reading with small readings, is Facebook. Social media has altered the way we read. The average university graduate in North America only reads one real book a year after graduating, yet interacts with the equivalent of two books a year reading Facebook posts.

Facebook, so it seems, has hard-wired our brains for sound-bites and little more. But, as Pavlov discovered, brains can be conditioned. For those who are willing, our brains can be spiritually reconditioned to seek His Face and read His Book!

So what’s involved in reading the Bible (as distinct from snacking on it)?

At the most basic level, Bible reading should involve what Glenn Pauuw refers to as big readings, i.e. “natural segments of text, or whole books, taking full account of the Bible’s various contexts”.

Why big readings? Because the Bible is not like other books – it’s a corpus – a living whole (cf. Hebrews 4:12). And as such we need to enter into it and become a part of it through lectio continua, i.e. continuous reading in sequence over a period of time.

So how do we read consecutively over a period of time? In bite size meaty chunks! While the size of our spiritual mouths and appetites will vary, our personal Bible reading, as a bare minimum, should include whole forms of longer readings from the Old or New Testament every day.

Billy Graham, for example, found it helpful to read something from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs every day. To this end we recommend Scripture Union’s online Bible reading guide, theStory™. It takes the reader through the whole Bible in 4-5 years with either New or Old Testament readings from Monday to Friday, a Psalm on Saturday, and Proverbs on Sunday.

Now some may protest that big readings have too much in them – more than one can digest – more than one can understand. On one level this is true; every word, sentence and paragraph possesses multiple relationships to the whole and surpasses our understanding. So none of us will ever fully understand or plumb the depths of the Word. But let’s not limit Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:3. And let’s not limit the capacity of the Holy Spirit, to teach and guide us in the way of truth (cf. John 14:26).

Reading the Bible adequately not only involves lectio continua, it also requires us to read large enough chunks to understand and locate what we’re reading within the context, literary structure, form, themes and genre of the book, and ultimately, the Bible as a whole. In this sense, we should aim to read the Bible in such a way that it becomes a set of books we intimately know, a story we simmer in, with words that are constantly transforming us.

Of course we cannot do lectio continua by ourselves – at least not adequately. Personal Bible reading must be tied to communal Bible reading. The Bible is first and foremost our story and then, in a secondary sense, it’s my story. That means that when we read the Bible as big readings we must also read it as members of a big family – as one of many listeners and participants (past and present) who are part of God’s plan to save us from sin and give us fullness of life in Christ (cf. John 10:10).

Much more could be said. All told, Bible reading needs to be slower, smarter, sizeable and shared.

Have your say. What would you add to help us think through what it truly means to read the Bible?

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Praying the Bible

Prayer, in most cases, has fallen on hard times. When a local church advertises a concert with a well known singer, the auditorium is full. When that same church advertises a prayer meeting, only a few show up!

Why do we struggle to pray? Maybe because when we do pray, we pray out of the natural desires of our hearts.

Prayer birthed in a me-centered heart does not touch the heart of God. For prayer to be effectual, we must pray what’s on God’s heart. And how do we know what’s on God’s heart? By reading/reflecting on His Word.

Prayer and Bible reading/reflection go hand in glove. “The Word is not only the centre of our listening; it is also the centre of our response” Mariano Magrassi. To pray right, we must pray the Word. There are no shortcuts to true prayer. Prayer that moves the heart of God is prayer that’s birthed, fueled and sustained by the Word of God.

Are you praying the Bible? If not, the scope of your prayers are limited by your feelings and perspectives. And prayer rooted exclusively in an individual’s experience may not be prayer at all.

Why do we struggle to pray? Maybe because we’re weak. Maybe because we don’t really know what to pray or how to pray (cf. Romans 8:26).

It’s a cyclical problem. We want to pray, but don’t know how to pray because we aren’t contemplating/meditating on the Word.

For prayer to take-off, it must first be grounded in the revealed Word. When prayer is grounded in the Word, it gives prayer wings to fly.

Tragically, for so many of us, prayer remains earth-bound because it’s tied to the vagaries of our carnal hearts. For prayer to take flight, the Holy Spirit needs to pray in us and through us. This happens when we’re praying the Bible.

Why do we struggle to pray? Maybe because our theme is so limited. We struggle to pray because it’s all about us.

When Christ died on the cross for our sins and we embraced His forgiveness by faith, we died to the old self. The old man/woman is now dead! “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” Galatians 5:24 (NIV). Why then, do we continue to pray self-seeking requests?

Here’s the good news for those wanting to grow in prayer: We cannot enlarge upon the prayer themes found in the Bible. Everything we need to be prayer warriors, is found in the Word! The scope and depth of God’s Word is beyond measure. Study the Word and you’ll have more than enough content to pray without ceasing!

Why do we struggle to pray? Maybe because we try to go it alone with our own thoughts and aspirations.

There’s a place for individual prayer, but not for individualistic prayer. Those who are in Christ are part of the Body of Christ. Our prayers are only tiny fragments of the prayer of the Church. And the fragments of prayer that make up the prayer of the Church is only true prayer when it lines up with the Word.

To pray selflessly, to pray the prayer of the Church, we must pray in the context of community. Prayer is effectual when we pray in one accord, i.e. in unity (cf. Matthew 18:19). That’s why there should always be another praying with us. And that other is Christ – the One who is the Word of God (cf. John 1:1-2).

Prayer is stimulated by the Word and inspired by Christ. Remarkably, God’s Word is something we receive and also return to God. How can this be? How can words that are not our own become our prayers? By someone else praying on our behalf. By the One who is the Word interceding for us!

All told, when we’re praying the Bible, we’re praying in the name of Christ. The Word belongs to us through Him. So when we’re praying the Bible, we’re praying prayers from His heart. And when we’re praying prayers from Christ’s heart, we delight God!

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

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Scripture and the Authority of God

In Scripture and the Authority of God, N. T. Wright argues for the authority of Scripture which “is really a shorthand for ‘the authority of God exercised through scripture’; and God’s authority is not merely his right to control and order the church, but his sovereign power, exercised in and through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to his judging and healing rule.”

Scripture and the Authority of God is a timely read for anyone seeking to understand the authority of Scripture as it relates to culture, history, tradition, reason and experience. To spike your curiosity, here are some quotable gems:

Reading and studying scripture has been seen as central to how we are to grow in the love of God; how we come to understand God and his truth more fully; and how we can develop the moral muscle to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus even when everything seems to be pulling the other way.

The authority of scripture … can only have any Christian meaning if we are referring to scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses, and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and Son of God, the Emmanuel.

It is enormously important that we see the role of scripture not simply as being to provide true information about, or even an accurate running commentary upon, the work of God in salvation and new creation, but as taking an active part within that ongoing purpose.

Scripture is there to be a means of God’s action in and through us – which will include, but go far beyond, the mere conveying of information.

I cannot conceive of daily communion with God without scripture at its centre.

Authority, particularly when we locate it within the notion of God’s kingdom … is the sovereign rule of God sweeping through creation to judge and to heal. It is the powerful love of God in Jesus Christ, putting sin to death and launching new creation. It is the fresh, bracing and energizing wind of the Spirit.

Because all human beings including devout Christians are prey to serious and multi-layered self-deception, including in their traditions and their reasoning, that ‘authority’ is needed in the first place.

We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from, where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.

Scripture’s authority is thus seen to best advantage in its formation of the mind of the church, and its stiffening of our resolve, as we work to implement the resurrection of Jesus, and so to anticipate the day when God will make all things new, and justice, joy and peace will triumph.

‘The authority of scripture’ refers not least to God’s work through scripture to reveal Jesus, to speak in life-changing power to the hearts and minds of individuals, and to transform them by the Spirit’s healing love.

The Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the overall drama and what is appropriate within each act.

It is vital that we understand scripture, and our relation to it, in terms of some kind of overarching narrative which makes sense of the texts. We cannot reduce scripture to a set of ‘timeless truths’ on the one hand, or to being merely the fuel for devotions on the other, without being deeply disloyal, at a structural level, to scripture itself.

We must be committed to a totally contextual reading of scripture. Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its own chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural and indeed canonical setting.

It is not simply the Bible’s context that we must understand … it is equally important that we understand and appreciate our own, and the way it predisposes us to highlight some things in the Bible and quietly ignore others.

A contextual reading is in fact an incarnational reading of scripture, paying attention to the full humanity both of the text and of its reader.

The various crises in the Western church of our day – decline in numbers and resources, moral dilemmas, internal division, failure to present the gospel coherently to a new generation – all these and more should drive us to pray for scripture to be given its head once more, for teachers and preachers who can open the Bible in the power of the Spirit, to give the church the energy and direction it needs for its mission and renew it in its love for God; and above all, for God’s word to do its work in the world.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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How to help children understand and apply the Bible themselves

Lewis Foster, a professor at Cincinnati Christian University and one of the translators of the NIV and NKJV, once said that the Bible is simple enough for a child to wade in the shallow end, yet profound enough for scholars to spend a lifetime exploring its depths. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that children should only wade in the shallow end. They should also learn to swim in the deep end; to study, understand and apply the Bible themselves.

So how do we help children learn how to understand and apply the Bible themselves? Here are five suggestions:

Be a swimmer. We (parents and Bible teachers) must first be seen to be swimming in the deep end if we want to teach our children how to swim. Sharing a Bible story or teaching a child a biblical principle, but not living out the truth of the story or applying the principle to our own lives is hypocrisy. This is foundational – the precepts of the Bible must be seen to be informing every facet of our adult lives.

Start with the basics. Swimming lessons should begin with the basic strokes. Teach the major themes of the Bible and how they fit together. Help 4-8 year olds learn how God made them (creation), loves and wants to know them (birth and death of Christ, Gospel) and has a special place prepared for them (Heaven). Teach 6-12 year olds the essential stories of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together. [The beautifully illustrated 5Series is an excellent resource for 4-8 year olds and the award winning, Big Bible Challenge, is ideal for teaching the major themes to 6-12 year olds]

Use swimming aids. Floatation vests, kick boards, goggles and other devices are helpful when someone is learning to swim. Similarly, use biblical games, dramas, films, music, and online resources to help facilitate a core understanding of the content of the Bible. [Highly recommended: Guardians of Ancora, Max7 and the Bible App for Kids]

Float. Swimming can be tiring. Children must also learn how to rest/relax in water. In other words, we must teach our children how to contemplate/meditate/reflect on the Scriptures. Children must soak in the Word until they get wrinkled! For this to happen we must explore creative ways to help children open themselves to Scripture, to really listen (Lectio Divina for kids), to be spiritually transformed.

Dive in. When our children have learnt how to swim, it’s time for them to jump into the deep end! If the elementary schooling system can expect children to master mathematical theories and computations that many adults cannot do, then we should push the limits with our Christian children. Challenge them with basic theology (Theo Presents Big Theology for Little Kids), apologetics (Childsize Apologetics: A New Approach), ethics and other biblically related studies.

There’s much more that could be said about how to help children understand and apply the Bible themselves. When I started drafting this post I jotted down the importance of teaching children how to ask the right questions of the text, how to encourage biblical exploration, wondered about if and at what age we should teach them doctrine, wondered about how we might teach them to use basic research tools (Bible dictionary and commentary), how to equip them to do basic exegesis and hermeneutics (without mentioning these two words), and I also mulled over how we can do all these things in a way that inspires our children to act on the Word, i.e. put it into practice.

So what would you add? Please make a comment …

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

In How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the authors, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, equip the reader with an excellent guide on how to study each genre of Scripture and read it intelligently. It’s one of my top ten Bible engagement books. Here are some tidbits from the first two chapters:

The Bible is at the same time both human and divine … it is the Word of God given in human words in history.

The Bible … is not a series of propositions and imperatives; it is not simply a collection of “Sayings from Chairman God”.

The single most serious problem people have with the Bible is not with lack of understanding … but obeying it – putting it into practice.

The task of interpretation involves the student/reader at two levels. First, one has to hear the Word they heard … back then and there (exegesis). Second, you must learn to hear that same Word in the here and now (hermeneutics).

Everyone is an exegete of sorts. The only real question is whether you will be a good one.

The key to good exegesis, and therefore to a more intelligent reading of the Bible, is to learn to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text.

There are two basic kinds of questions one should ask of every biblical passage: those that relate to context and those that relate to content.

Literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.

Correct interpretation … brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.

The most important contextual question you will ever ask – and it must be asked over and over of every sentence and every paragraph – is, “What’s the point?”

You can do good exegesis with a minimum amount of outside help … a good translation, a good Bible dictionary, and good commentaries.

Devotional reading is not the only kind one should do. One must also read for learning and understanding.

The true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken.

The trouble with using only one translation … is that you are thereby committed to the exegetical choices of that translation as the Word of God.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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What is the Bible?

What is the Bible? At face value, that’s a straight forward question and many common answers immediately come to mind. Like: God’s Book, God’s Love Letter, the book of the Church, the Christian Scriptures, the world’s best-selling book of the year every year, the foundational book of Western culture, and a collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity.

The Bible, in and of itself, answers the question by indicating that it is that which is God-breathed (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16), true (cf. Psalm 119:160), alive (cf. Hebrews 4:12), and much more. What the Bible says about itself is crucial for our understanding of what the Bible is. [You can read more about this in Twenty Texts From The Bible About The Bible]

As with every question, there are answers that we don’t like to hear. Sam Harris, an American atheist, author, neuroscientist and philosopher, says, “There is nothing particularly useful, and there’s a lot of iron age barbarism in there, and superstition. And this is not a candid book, I mean I can go into any Barnes and Noble blindfolded and pull a book off the shelf which is going to have more relevance, more wisdom for the 21st century than the Bible … It’s really not an exaggeration; every one of our specific sciences has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of scripture.”

Of course I profoundly disagree with Harris’ view of the Bible, and could debunk his comments in short order. But I don’t want to go off on a tangent. So to the main point of this post – here are ten thought provoking descriptions about the Bible:

The Bible is the prism by which the light of Jesus Christ is broken into its many and beautiful colours. The Bible is the portrait of Jesus Christ. – John Stott

The Bible is basically and overall a narrative – an immense, sprawling, capacious narrative. – Eugene Peterson

In a profound sense, the Word of God is a living and productive scalpel in the loving hands of One who penetrates to the core of our being in order to cleanse and heal our garbled, distorted, debased word and transform it into the word God speaks us forth to be in the world. – Robert Mulholland

The Bible is the book of my life. It’s the book I live with, the book I live by, the book I want to die by. – N. T. Wright

The letter of Scripture is a veil just as much as it is a revelation; hiding while it reveals, and yet revealing while it hides. – Andrew Jukes

The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time. –William P. White

The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. – Martin Luther

The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts. – A. W. Tozer

We have adopted the convenient theory that the Bible is a Book to be explained, whereas first and foremost it is a Book to be believed (and after that to be obeyed). – Leonard Ravenhill

We should settle it in our minds that everything the Father and the Son say to us in and through Scripture relates, one way or another, to the person, place and purpose of Christ, to the realities of God’s kingdom and to faithful following of Christ through what Bunyan called the wilderness of this world. That is what the Christian Bible is all about, and we are not to go off at tangents away from this when we read it. – J. I. Packer

There are many other great quotes that could be cited, but I’ll close with this metaphor:

The Bible is an intricate tapestry of two stories – ours and God’s – each connected to the other. Every thread illuminates our lives – each stitch reveals the Weaver who gives life. Broadly conceived, the tapestry portrays Jesus, and how we’re woven in or out of His narrative.

So from your perspective, what is the Bible? Feel free to make a comment.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Eat This Book

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message (an idiomatic translation of the Bible in contemporary language) has, as would be expected, much to say about how we read the Bible. In Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, he challenges us to read the Scriptures on God’s terms and to live them as we read them. Here are some extracts from Eat This Book that will hopefully entice you to read the Bible like dogs gnawing on a bone:

The challenge – never negligible – regarding the Christian Scriptures is getting them read, but read on their own terms, as God’s revelation.

What is neglected is reading the Scriptures formatively, reading in order to live.

In order to read the Scriptures adequately and accurately, it is necessary at the same time to live them … not to live them in consequence of reading them, but to live them as we read them.

The Bible reveals the self-revealing God and along with that the way the world is, the way life is, the way we are.

The Bible is basically and overall a narrative – an immense, sprawling, capacious narrative.

The biblical story invites us in as participants in something larger than our sin-defined needs, into something truer than our culture-stunted ambitions.

When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s.

Scripture is the revelation of a world that is vast, far larger than the sin-stunted, self-constricted world that we construct for ourselves out of a garage-sale assemblage of texts.

Scripture draws us out of ourselves, out of our fiercely guarded individualities, into the world of responsibility and community and salvation – God’s sovereignty.

It takes the whole Bible to read any part of the Bible.

One of the most urgent tasks facing the Christian community today is to counter self-sovereignty by reasserting what it means to live these Holy Scriptures from the inside out, instead of using them for our sincere and devout but still self-sovereign purposes.

We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers … But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge.

Our imaginations have to be revamped to take in this large, immense world of God’s revelation in contrast to the small, cramped, world of human “figuring out.”

A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to the text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.

The biblical story pulls the holy community – not just you, not just me – into the story in a participating way.

If we are to get the full force of the word, God’s word, we need to recover its atmosphere of spokenness.

The primary organ for receiving God’s revelation is not the eye that sees but the ear that hears – which means that all of our reading of Scripture must develop into a hearing of the word of God.

The Scriptures are our listening post for learning the language of the soul, the ways God speaks to us; they also provide the vocabulary and grammar that are appropriate for us as we in turn speak to God.

Contemplation simply must be reclaimed as essential in all reading and living of Scripture. It is not an option; it is necessary.

The words of Scripture are not primarily words, however impressive, that label or define or prove, but words that mean, that reveal, that shape the soul, that generate saved lives, that form believing and obedient lives.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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How Not To Read The Bible

“Reading the Bible, if we do not do it rightly, can get us into a lot of trouble” Eugene Peterson.

We’ve all been taught how to read (though my daughter insists that she taught herself!) and we all read with similar preconditioned dynamics that are deeply ingrained in the way we read. Here’s how it plays out:

“We come to a text with our own agenda firmly in place, perhaps not always consciously but usually unconsciously. If what we start to read does not fairly quickly begin to adapt itself to our agenda, we usually lay it aside and look for something that does. When what we are reading does adapt itself to our agenda, we then exercise control over it by grasping it with our mind. The rational, cognitive, intellectual dynamics of our being go into full operation to analyze, critique, dissect, reorganize, synthesize, and digest the material we find appropriate to our agenda. Thus our general mode of reading is to perceive the text as an object ‘out there’ over which we have control. We control our approach to the text; we control our interaction with the text; we control the impact of the text upon our lives.” M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

To summarize, the way we read is based on three ingrained assumptions:

  • we are the masters of what we read
  • texts/content are subordinated to our intellect
  • we have the right to choose what to do or not do with what we read

When it comes to Bible reading, these assumptions create tremendous obstacles. Here’s why:

The author of the Bible, God, is all knowing, all wise, and all powerful. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9. That places God in control, not us.

Because God is in control, we must therefore come under the authority of His Word. In other words, when we read the Word we cannot be the masters of what we read. Nor can we stand to one side exercising our cognition and intellect to evaluate the text in the light of our own best interests. Rather, the Bible must read us!

So how does that happen? How do we read the Bible without controlling the text, our interaction with the text, and the impact of the text on our lives? Here are four suggestions:

1. Humble yourself. Because God is omniscient, because His Word is holy, and because He’s God (and we’re not), being humble is the only acceptable way for us to read His Word. Humility is a bankruptcy of spirit (cf. Matthew 5:3). It’s depending solely on God’s righteousness (cf. Luke 18:9-14). It’s receiving something from God like a little child (cf. Luke 18:15-17). And it’s tied-up with fearing the Lord (cf. Psalm 25:9-12; Proverbs 15:33). Now here’s the kicker. We need humility to read the Bible because without it we lack wisdom (cf. Proverbs 11:2). When we don’t have wisdom the Bible is confusing, i.e. we don’t know how to hear or understand God’s Word (cf. Matthew 13:13).

2. Learn to listen. There’s listening, the every-day kind of listening, and there’s the listening that happens (when we are patient and still – cf. Psalm 37:7) in the depths of our being. We need to learn to listen from the inner reaches of who we are – to pay attention not just with our minds, but with our hearts and spirits. For this kind of listening to take place, we must focus all our faculties on God. We must hear/see beyond the words on the page to find and know the God who “speaks” the words. And when we find Him, we must open our ears to receive instruction, comfort, renewal, grace, rebuke, correction, or whatever He wants to share with us.

3. Incline your heart. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5. Biblically speaking, the heart is the center of our emotional, intellectual and moral activity. It’s the inner sanctum where the experiences of joy, sorrow, love, fear and the whole range of emotions occur. The emotional state of the heart impacts our whole being (cf. Proverbs 15:13; 17:22). It’s also the wellspring of our hopes and desires. Most importantly, when we look for God with all our heart, that’s when we find Him (cf. Deuteronomy 4:28-29).

4. Be soul-aware. When we read the Scriptures rationally and critically there’s a tendency (and danger) to manipulate the text to validate the pervasive make-up of our self-referenced being. To counteract this tendency we need to be soul-aware. The road to being soul-aware begins with dying to self and not gratifying “the desires of the sinful nature” Galatians 5:16. It’s also letting our response to God’s Word percolate into the core of our volitional nature. This is done, in part, through asking questions like, “What am I feeling?” or “What is God stirring up in me?” or “How is the Spirit moving my spirit?”

Thomas à Kempis said, “A humble knowledge of ourselves is a surer way to God than is the search for depth of learning.” So let’s not read the Bible the way we’ve been taught to read. We cannot and should not take control of the text as if it’s powerless without our intervention. That’s a sure-fire way to filter out God’s voice! Let’s read it in a new way. Let’s read it without “reading” it. And let’s read it with vulnerability – with a desire to hear and be transformed by it!


Eat this Book, Eugene H. Peterson

Shaped By The Word, M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Thinking About Our Thinking

This post is compiled with Bible ministry colleagues in mind. It’s for people working in the fields of Bible preaching, Bible translation, Bible publishing, Bible storying, Bible study, Bible teaching, Bible resource development, and Bible engagement.

Here are ten primers to get us thinking about our thinking:

  1. The entertainment industry thrives on the power to distract and hypnotize. What are the Bible engagement strategies, methodologies and technologies that are required to capture the attention of people caught in the grip of an alluring hotchpotch of images and fragments of visual stimulation?
  2. Biblical scholarship requires a major paradigm shift. The perception and interpretation of the Scriptures must shift from engaging with silent print to engaging with the Bible in the context of electronic media. What are the implications of this premise?
  3. Since the majority of people hear the message of the Bible rather than read it for themselves, greater attention needs to be given to the importance of communicating the message with dialogical language (vs. dialectic language). What adjustments in our Bible delivery systems/methodology need to be made to help people hear the Word in more relational and dynamic ways?
  4. In recognizing that there are more people outside than inside the church, it is imperative that intralingual translations (e.g. English to English) of Bible versions/paraphrases are developed to better enable people to relate to the Word. How might a multi-media rich environment help or hinder intralingual translations?
  5. There are multiple tools, forms and avenues available in the sciences and arts through which connections with the Bible may be made. How might the sciences and arts be more creatively accessed to help people see, imagine, contemplate, tell, hear, remember and share God’s Story?
  6. It was mainly Christians who pioneered the transition from orality to literacy. Now that Western cultures are more abstract, wouldn’t it be great if Christians once again pioneered the transition to secondary orality? So what are we presently doing, and what should we be doing, to communicate and invite interaction with the Bible in the context of a more deliberate self-conscious orality?
  7. Robotics and artificial intelligence are going to dramatically alter the landscape of society in the coming years. What impact might the changes in technology have on how we provide access, develop approaches/methods, and invite engagement with the Bible?
  8. Social networking sites have changed the way we communicate. The linear reasoning that’s been nurtured by print culture is being augmented or replaced by non-sequential thinking stimulated by visual effects, wired to sound bites and punctuated by the exchange of one-liners. With this in mind, what are the implications for discipleship, given that Bible reading/reflection (drawing on linear reasoning skills) has been the primary means of nurturing mature believers?
  9. What can we learn from the past that can help us in the future? The biblical texts were originally recorded to assist oral presentation and the development of a communal piety. The spoken and rhetorical features of the biblical text have been largely overlooked or ignored by commentators, pastors and teachers for hundreds of years. How can electronic media be harnessed to recapture the original oral underpinnings of the Bible?
  10. What new thinking, arrangements, reorganization of translation processes, and development of production and delivery mechanisms are required to enable people to engage with the Bible in a way that they can encounter God and live lives that bring honour and glory to Him?

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5