As part of my training in counseling at Biblical Theological Seminary they have us take a couple Bible and Theology classes. This makes sense since I am getting a degree from a Seminary. My first Bible class which was about interpretation of the Bible, and my current Bible class which is about the Old Testament have really challenged the way I read the Bible. The professor of these classes is David Lamb (http://davidtlamb.com/). I haven’t read his book yet, but I will be starting it this week.
There are a couple different ways I have viewed reading the Bible through my life (short though it has been so far). I have read it in a way that looks for proof of my theological concepts. I have read it for personal, and corporate instruction and I have read it to learn about mystery. In order I would say i have read for theology/answers, growth, and to learn about the mysteries of God. I’ll address what I mean by each of these.
When I was younger I really wanted a lot of answers out of the Bible. I wanted to know for sure how God did things. There was a time when I would dogmatically raise the Calvinist banner and be able to give a great Biblical proof for my stance. I could even come up with different understandings for any chapter and verse that seemed to contradict my viewpoint. I wanted to get the Bible right, and show my full understanding. I gave systematic theology a very high importance in what the Bible was about.
When I went to Messiah College I encountered a number of new viewpoints in how to understand the Bible. Christians that I respected held extremely different views than I did, and I thought that maybe there was another way to read the Bible. I didn’t give up my views, but I did realize that there was more to the Bible than getting theology right. It may be more accurate to say that I lived this because it is something I already knew. I strove more and more to apply what I read in the Bible to my life. I think there were times where I treated the Bible more like a self improvement type book.
Now I find myself reading the Bible for the mystery of it. I find that there are some simple truths, a lot of story and a whole lot of mystery in the Bible. The reason there is so much mystery is that the Bible is about God, and God’s interactions with humans. I don’t claim to understand God or how God does much of anything. We can sit and talk about what we see God doing but even that isn’t definite. In reading the Bible we are trying to understand and know the incomprehensible.
Hopefully, I haven’t upset anyone by now. I’m certainly not saying reading the Bible for theology or answers is wrong, or that it’s wrong to read for improvement, or that I have it all right now, I just want to discuss pros and cons of how we read. I’m also not saying that there isn’t plenty of truth to be found in the Bible, because there is.
The weakness that I found when I read the Bible pretty much for theology was that I often found myself reading verses. Having the Bible divided into chapter and verse is helpful for references but horrible for reading. You would hate it if your favorite novel had extra numbers and breaks in the middle of paragraphs. It makes for noisy reading. It also makes for incomplete reading when you read a small section here and a small section there. You lose a lot of context this way. If you’ve never tried it, I would encourage you to either listen to an audio Bible, or get a Bible that doesn’t have the chapter and verse marking (Such as The Books of the Bible) and see what you think. I would also encourage you to read in terms of a whole book of the Bible from time to time, especially if you are reading letters in the New Testament as they were written as one flowing work.
The other issue was that I had the mindset that I could understand the Bible right, that there was one mode of theology, and if I could just bring it all together I would have all the answers. The Bible was never about having all the answers. I certainly haven’t given up on theology, but I have become significantly more humble about it. I realize that I will not understand everything, and that I am not meant to.
The problem with the way that I read the Bible as a self help book is that I read it as if it was written to me and now, but it wasn’t. There are lots of ways the Bible is useful for our growth, but we need to remember that there are very few books of the Bible that are written to individuals. Most of them were written to parts of Israel/Judah, and later the early churches. Learning and application need to keep these ideas in mind.
I like where I am in interacting with the Bible right now because it is more balanced and focuses more on Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit and letting the Trinity be the Trinity. I focus more on living life in love, and seeing how God has loved through the Bible. I do still strive to apply the Bible to my life, and try to find some answers in the Bible. I am much more comfortable to let God work however God works, and not try to define how exactly that happens.
What about you? How do you read the Bible?