Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

Read, Reflect, Respond


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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!

Recommended:

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