Many people engage with the Bible in order to know more. They study the Bible to learn about faith, God, morality and how to live their lives. Gaining information and growing in knowledge about the Bible is the desired end.
An informational approach to the Bible is largely borne out of the fact that we’ve been wired by educational institutions to gather facts, interpret events, and understand our world. But the Bible is not a text book and God never intended for us to treat it as one. That’s because the goal of Bible engagement is something far greater than elevating our knowledge or trying to understand the Word.
So what is the goal of Bible engagement?
Our primary motive for engaging the Bible should always be relationship. Specifically, the main reason for connecting with the Bible should be to elevate our worship, communion and love for God. Why? Because Bible engagement, while it involves us, is not ultimately about us. I’m guessing Rick Warren would agree. His mantra in The Purpose Driven Life is, “It’s not about you!”
Maybe one of the reasons why we approach the Bible informationally rather than relationally is because we’re inclined to look out for our own wellbeing. We study the Bible because we want help, healing, hope and so much more. And yes, God gives us these things, but only within the context of a reciprocating relationship. The trouble is, we sometimes get the cart before the horse, we major on the benefits of the relationship when we should be majoring on the fact that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …” James 1:17.
That’s not to say that engaging the Bible relationally is easy. It’s not. Bible engagement requires personal discipline and intentionality as well as wisdom and strength from God. In fact when we try to engage the Bible relationally, without the help of the Holy Spirit, we usually fail.
Here’s the rub: Knowledge about the Bible is important, but knowledge without an intimate and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, is hazardous. This is the point that Jesus was trying to make to the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-13). It’s a matter of first principles. We can’t find truth or know truth if we’re disconnected from the truth-giver.
Years ago, when I was a full-time pastor, I remember hearing a story about a dinner gathering that was attended by a well known orator. During the course of the meal he was asked to recite the 23rd Psalm. He eloquently recited the psalm and everyone was impressed. Then someone turned to the old pastor who was also there that night and asked him if he would recite the 23rd Psalm. As he recited the psalm it was obvious that his words came more from his heart than his lips. Instead of the people being impressed, they were moved. Of course we know what made the difference, the orator knew the words but the pastor knew the One who is the Word.
Do we know the One who is the Word? Effective healthy transformational Bible engagement fails or succeeds based on how we answer this question.
© Scripture Union Canada 2017