Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

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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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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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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


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Saving the Bible From Ourselves

In the recently published, Saving the Bible from Ourselves, the author, Glenn R. Paauw, observes how the Bible has “fallen” and needs to be “saved”. To this end he constructs a model for discovering (or rediscovering) Bible engagement in the context of the Christian community. In so doing, he argues for a new form of Bible reading – one that majors on “big readings” as opposed to “small” or “fragmented readings”.

At its core, the book asks two key questions: “What is the Bible?” and, “What are we supposed to do with it?” In the course of answering these questions Paauw proposes an intervention. The intervention is the recovery/reconstruction of seven new understandings to renewed engagement with the Bible.

It’s a book well worth reading. Here are some introductory primers that will hopefully entice your interest …

We might be swimming in millions of Bibles, but we are not a Scripture-soaked society.

You may have heard that the Bible is the bestselling book of all time. And that’s true … But the researchers have been telling us for some time that the knowledge base isn’t there. Regardless of the number of times we’ve rolled the Bible presses, the words on the page are not common currency.

We are also assured that … the Bible will brighten our day, encourage us and strengthen us, if only we will faithfully open it … And yet. We know there is more to this story than the official line … This is the story of frustration, boredom and lack of connection. This is the story of failed expectations … that it doesn’t work.

We commit to a daily “quiet time,” but after a while we give up. We read our little spiritual morsel and discover it doesn’t nourish us all that much, and certainly not enough to carry us through the day. Actually, we kind of forget it pretty quickly.

For far too many folks there is a hoped-for-but-as-yet-undiscovered spiritual meal in the Bible. After too long a wait they begin to doubt there is any real food there at all.

One of the core reasons for our Bible engagement breakdown is that so many would-be Bible readers have been sold the mistaken notion that the Bible is a look-it-up-and-find-the-answer handy guide to life.

Superficial use of the Scriptures is actually destructive because those who practice it operate under the illusion that they are engaging the Bible when they are not.

I believe the journey to the Bible’s redemption – just like our own – lies in incarnational recovery. Just as we require a holistic salvation that includes our bodies, so the Bible needs a restoration that includes its physical form.

The Bible needs to be saved because of what it has not become. It has not become a collection of books we know, the narrative we stew in, the words that form us.

The Bible needs saving, not because of any defect in itself, but because we’ve buried it, boxed it in, wallpapered over it, neutered it, distorted it, isolated it, individualized it, minimized it, misread it, lied about it, debased it and oversold it.

The Bible needs a slower, smarter, deeper engagement … eating good meals rather than speed snacking on what Philip Yancey calls Scripture McNuggets.

The Bible is achieving its purpose – when we realize that this ancient tribal tale has somehow become our center.

The beginning of good Bible engagement is a bit of reflection on what it means to be a virtuous reader in general …

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Engagement Blog Milestone

This is a Bible Engagement Blog milestone – it’s the 100th post. The Blog was birthed out of a sense of calling to advocate for Bible engagement. I don’t think it’s a cause I would naturally have chosen. It sort of chose me. Yes, I have a deep love and appreciation for the Word and the One of whom it speaks, Jesus Christ; but what prompted me to start writing was a growing concern about the decline in Bible engagement in the Western world.

When I started writing the Bible Engagement Blog in October 2011 I didn’t know what Bible engagement themes I’d be writing on or how the journey would unfold. In fact there have been several times when I thought I’d come to the end of the line – with no creative thoughts about what to write next. But I’ve learnt that those whom God calls, He equips. Time and time again, He’s brought a topic into focus and directed my critique or reflection.

That’s not to say that it’s always been easy to write a post. Sometimes it’s felt like I’m straining gnats and swallowing camels (cf. Matthew 23:24)! But through thick and thin, I still seem to be writing. And I’ll keep doing so until it’s time to stop.

The content of the posts have ranged across the gamut of Bible engagement related subject matter. Some posts have been more scholarly, some of general interest, and others more technical and research oriented. There have been posts reporting on the work of Bible agencies, the Canadian Bible Forum, and the Forum of Bible Agencies. Articles on the latest statistics from Barna, LifeWay Research, Reveal, Canadian Bible Engagement Study, and a number of researchers have been featured. Biblical passages have been unpacked, definitions considered, Bible reading methods and ways to improve our connections with the Word have been suggested, and a theology of Bible engagement interwoven through the articles. The interplay between the Bible and culture, the church and the individual, has also been discussed.

Whenever I write I try to envision who I’m writing to. While I know there are many colleagues, pastors and Christian leaders who read the posts, I’m very much aware of the thousands of Christians around the world who appreciate the articles. All told, I know that I don’t write in a vacuum, and try to say things that resonate with the spirit of sola-scriptura and reflect the views and opinions of other Christians who hold a high view of Scripture.

While I’m a serious minded person, I have to say the writing’s been fun! There’s something about writing that’s very pleasurable and satisfying. And it’s enjoyable knowing that when we exercise our gifts and talents, God uses them to advance His kingdom and bring honour and glory to His name.

So here’s to the next post, and however more may follow!

And here’s hoping that God’s people will be encouraged to live their lives inspired, informed and in-line with God’s Word.

For the fame of His name!

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

 


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Biblical Illiteracy

“’The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.  People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it'” Amos 8:11-12 (NIV).

Evangelical Christians hold the Bible in high esteem, but according to researchers, don’t really read and reflect on it. Ironically, Evangelicals are distressed by the many problems and issues in the world (e.g. the growth of secularism and pluralism, ISIS/ISIL, the sanctity of human life, immigration/refugees, family values) but show little concern for their low levels of biblical literacy. What’s up? Why is it that most Christians in the 21st Century don’t possess a sound and coherent understanding of the Bible?

When I ask other Christians why we know less and less about the Bible, I’m often told that it’s a product of postmodernity. While it’s true that most Western nations have managed to sterilize or mute all biblical references or content from the public square, the problem seems to be much deeper. Some of the reasons for the rise in biblical illiteracy may include:

  • Christians have bought into the ‘feel-good’ approach to life. Being happy, and having good feelings about God, have eclipsed the need for biblical learning and doctrine. Rather than building our faith on the hard work of daily wrestling with the Scriptures to develop solid thinking and sound theology, we’ve settled for a spirituality built on private emotional and experiential attachments.
  • Christians have opted for a dumbed-down faith. Very few of us read church history or apologetics. Most Christians don’t consult commentaries or conduct word-searches to better understand a text or biblical word. We say we don’t have time, but truthfully, we’re lazy. We’ve opted for lower standards, preferring to be entertained than to exercise the spiritual disciplines of study, memorization and meditation.
  • Christians have adopted the ways of the world. We’ve diluted truth by integrating secular worldviews and other religious teachings into our thinking. We’ve also practiced an unbiblical form of tolerance by avoiding contentious social and political issues that are antithetical to Scripture. In so doing we’ve emasculated faith and created a perverted spirituality.

“When the hearthfire turns to blue, what to do? what to do?” Hopefully it won’t be to “run outside, run and hide” Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind. No, what we need to do is:

  • Aspire to a challenging Christianity that equips and encourages us to “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15 (MEV). In other words, in all our reading and learning we must major on studying God’s Word. While we may read many books, we must master God’s Book!
  • Call ourselves out on the unbiblical views that we hold, reject them, and allow the truths of Scripture to renew our minds. ” Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” Romans 12:2 (NIV).
  • Deal with sin. Most of us spend more time watching TV, trolling social network sites, or playing video games than we do reading and reflecting on God’s Word. Our misplaced priorities are sin. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” James 4:17 (NIV).
  • Own it! We must deal with the problem of biblical illiteracy with gravity and seriousness. There can be no compromise. Pastors and Christian leaders must advocate for, and model, personal disciplines of Bible engagement. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” Psalm 1:1-2 (NIV). Meditating on God’s Word “day and night” – that’s something we should profess and possess!

Here’s a final thought provoking closing comment from Albert Mohler: “We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs”.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5

Recommended articles for further reading:

The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy and What We Can Do About It, Kenneth Berding – http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-spring/the-crisis-of-biblical-illiteracy/

The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches, Ed Stetzer – http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/july/epidemic-of-bible-illiteracy-in-our-churches.html

The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem, Albert Mohler – http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/


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Understanding the Bible

John Stott, the British theologian, is considered one of the most influential Evangelical leaders and teachers of the 20th Century. Here are a selection of engaging statements from his classic bestseller, Understanding 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.

The supreme purpose of the Bible is to instruct its readers for ‘salvation’ … this purpose is moral rather than practical (salvation includes the whole sweep of God’s purpose to redeem and restore mankind, and indeed all of creation).

Since Scripture concerns salvation and salvation is through Christ, Scripture is full of Christ. But their object in pointing us to Christ is not simply that we would know about him and understand him, nor even that we should admire him; but that we should put our trust in him.

Scripture bears witness to Christ not in order to satisfy our curiosity, but in order to draw from us a response of faith.

Whenever we read the Bible, we must look for Christ. And we must go on looking until we see and so believe.

Only as we continue to appropriate by faith the riches of Christ which are disclosed to us in Scripture shall we grow into spiritual maturity, and become men and women of God who are thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God’s revelation … must never be divorced from its historical context; it can only be understood within it.

The Bible is essentially a revelation of God. It is, in fact, a divine self-disclosure. In the Bible we hear God speaking about God … For what God says about himself is, above all else, that he has conceived and fulfilled a plan to save fallen man through Christ.

Behind every word that anybody utters stands the person who speaks it. It is the speaker himself (his character, knowledge and position) who determines how people regard his words. So God’s word carries God’s authority. It is because of who he is that we should believe what he has said.

Every word of the Bible is true only in its context. Isolated from its context, it may be quite untrue.

To accept the authority of the Bible is a Christian thing to do. It is neither a religious eccentricity, nor a case of discreditable obscurantism, but the good sense of Christian faith and humility … it is what Christ Himself requires of us.

We bow to the authority of Scripture because we bow to the authority of Christ.

It is essential that we wrestle honestly with biblical problems. It is not Christian to bury our heads in the sand, pretending that no problems exist. Nor is it Christian to manipulate Scripture in order to achieve a forced, artificial harmonisation. No, we work at the problems with intellectual integrity.

God gives us no possible excuse for slovenliness in biblical interpretation. On the contrary, if the Bible is indeed God’s word written, we should spare no pains and grudge no effort to discover what he has said (and says) in Scripture.

No Christian individual, group or church, has ever been or will ever be an infallible interpreter of God’s word.

The best interpreter of every book is its author, since he alone knows what he intended to say. So God’s book can be interpreted by God’s Spirit alone.

In our reading of Scripture divine illumination is no substitute for human endeavour. Nor is humility in seeking light from God inconsistent with the more disciplined industry in study.

Scripture itself lays great stress on the conscientious Christian’s use of the mind, not of course in order to stand in judgement on God’s word, but rather in order to submit to it, to grapple with it, to understand it and to relate it to the contemporary scene.

Those who would increase in the knowledge of God must both abase themselves before the Spirit of truth and commit themselves to a lifetime of study.

For it is God’s loving purpose to enlighten, save, reform and nourish his people by his word as each hears it or reads it for himself … and … we must not deny that the Church has a place in God’s plan to give his people a right understanding of his word.

You can make the Bible mean anything you like if you are unscrupulous enough. But if you are scrupulously honest in your approach to the Bible and in your use of sound principles of interpretation, far from you being able to manipulate Scripture, you will find Scripture controlling and directing you.

God chose human language as the vehicle of his self-revelation. In speaking through men he used the language of men. As a result, although Scripture is unlike all other books in being the word of God, it is also like all other books in being the words of men.

Since the Bible is unique because divine, we must study it like no other book, praying to the Holy Spirit for illumination. Since it is ordinary because human, we must study it like every other book, paying attention to the common rules of vocabulary, grammar and syntax.

Precisely how the individual Christian or the Christian family seeks to receive the message of the Bible is not the most important question. What is vital is that in some way at some time, and that regularly, we learn to listen to God’s word and to feed upon it in our hearts.

To ‘do’ the truth is to practice what it teaches, to translate its message into action. This sounds simple, but it has far-reaching implications simply because the truth we have to ‘do’ is so rich.

Both life and health are – quite literally – impossible without God’s Word.

There are in the end only two possible attitudes to God’s word, to receive it or to reject it.

Stott, John. Understanding the Bible, Cox & Wyman, 1998

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5


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A High View of Scripture

It seems like the milk of therapeutic Christianity is today’s food of choice. If some of the posts on the internet are anything to go by, the Bible is little more than a depository for “name it and claim it” texts. You don’t have to visit too many Christian Facebook groups to discover people are slicing and dicing the Bible to fit their wants and desires or parsing passages to accommodate their views. The dominant hermeneutic seems to be governed by “what this means to me” and “what makes me feel good”. And some of the popular posts, the ones that get hundreds of “Amen’s”, are the ones that bolster flagging spirits with promises of health and wealth.

At a time when the Bible seems to be relegated to something less than it is, God’s people should affirm that it isn’t a self-help book and it’s more than a collection of inspirational verses. It’s the Book of books. Unlike every other book, the Bible is God given with (metaphorically speaking) His fingerprints all over it. And as such, it is “useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way” 2 Timothy 3:16 (Msg).

So here’s to developing and holding a high view of Scripture – to giving Scripture the primary place in informing and directing all that we say and do.

But what does a high view of Scripture look like? And how do we develop it? For starters, it involves thought and action – a lifetime of training our minds to die to cultural, religious and other preconceptions that hinder our understanding of who God is and what He’s done for us.

Here’s the rub: Five minutes a day in the Word, doesn’t cut it. A high view of Scripture requires intellectual labour. To dine on meat we must wrestle with the text and battle against our own laziness. And that’s not easy. We need to be constantly adjusting and straightening out our views as we reflect on the Scriptures. Which doesn’t happen overnight. Developing a high view of Scripture takes years of obedience; of submitting to the Holy Spirit, of not imposing our initial views on the Word, of striving to live with what we don’t understand or what makes us uncomfortable.

That’s not to say that a high view of Scripture is something developed with me, myself and I. Far from it. The regular engagement with Scripture in the private realm must be in tandem with and informed by the church. That is, our views of Scripture should be judged and remade in the context of the community of faith as it draws on the collective wisdom and understanding that’s gleaned from both the past and present study of the Word.

Ultimately, a high view of Scripture is one that submits itself to God’s authority as He exercises it in and through the Scriptures. It’s surrendering our inclination to control God. It’s recognizing that we cannot and should not try to fit Him into our inflexible boxes of what we think He should be like or expect Him to do. And it’s the recognition that the Bible is not an end in itself – God is God and we must live under His authority in ways that bring honour and glory to Him.

Finally, let’s remember that when we invest ourselves in the study of the Scriptures, it’s worth every ounce of effort. The benefits are the renewing of the mind; a transformation wherein God fills us with faith and hope and the capacity to love others as Christ loved us. Stated succinctly, the payback for developing and holding a high view of Scripture is that “through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” 2 Timothy 3:17 (Msg).

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5