Faith unlocks the door to Bible engagement. To connect with the Bible we need a dynamic, personal relationship with God through the transforming and indwelling power of Jesus. Nothing else will suffice. Bible engagement only happens when there’s an active trust in Jesus and the belief that what He says is true.
The necessity of faith can’t be minimized. To approach God’s Word we must be persuaded that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1.
In the absence of faith, all attempts to understand the Bible properly will fail. The Bible is only alive to those who are alive to Jesus. Without faith, confusion reigns. Without faith, any critical explanation or interpretation of the Bible (exegesis) is faulty. And without faith, Bible engagement is reduced to nothing more than historical, textual, source, form, or literary criticism.
As my colleague, Annabel Robinson aptly said, “Faith is not a matter of being able to check all the right boxes. It’s a matter of relationship, of continuous love and obedience and discipleship, which might take different forms for different people.”
With the above in mind, here are twelve characteristics of faith-based Bible engagement:
- It acknowledges the primary role of the Holy Spirit, functioning through the text and the reader, to interpret the text.
- Prayer and humility are the desired posture for reading/listening, studying, and interpreting the Scriptures.
- Exegesis is not a solitary affair. It’s done in the context of the community of faith. That is, it’s the practice of the church and for the church.
- Present-day exegesis links with and continues an ancient dynamic conversation. We appreciate being part of a long line of faithful Bible engagers.
- While interpretations must be true to God’s intended meaning for a text, explanations are not identical.
- Faithful people experience fresh encounters with the Scriptures and apply them in new ways. These encounters with the Scriptures are not strictly the Scriptures themselves speaking to us, but the Holy Spirit speaking to us in and through the Scriptures.
- Sanctified imagination, i.e. imagination inspired by the Holy Spirit and informed by the text, is used to engage with the text.
- The Holy Spirit works through the text to form and reform us. The reader/listener anticipates and longs for transformation as she/he engages with the text.
- The Old Testament resonates with and prefigures the story of Jesus even though the writers of the Old Testament books and first readers dimly conceived Jesus.
- From Genesis to Revelation there’s continuity and connectivity in the meta-narrative. Connections between the testaments, when correctly traced and interpreted, tell the story of Jesus.
- Exegesis focuses on the Scriptures as testimony principally about Jesus. Every page of the Bible (albeit some very faintly), are witnesses to Christ.
- Every story fits into the larger Story. The witnesses to Christ, distinctively and with integrity, “talk to each other.” In so doing they create one big (complex yet cohesive) Story.
Because faith is about what we hope for and things we don’t see (cf. Hebrews 11:1), it’s tied to our longings and desires. This means faith-based Bible engagement flows from the heart (cf. Proverbs 4:23), not the head. To connect with the Bible and have the Bible connect with us, we must focus on who we love – the living truth, Jesus Christ.
Focusing Bible engagement on who we love interweaves exegesis with worship. Faith-based Bible engagement is keenly aware that we’re accountable to the Word. We cannot stand apart from the Word. It demands a response. What happens in our hearts and heads must move to our hands. We enter the world of the text, not to become brainiacs, but to be involved in the world we live in. For it’s only when we engage with the Bible obediently and practically (cf. James 2:26), and therein attribute worthiness and honour to Jesus, that faith is proved true.
© Scripture Union Canada 2020