What does the Bible mean to you?
I asked this question in a Sunday School setting this past week and we launched into a pretty neat discussion. For starters, we mentioned some of the typical answers: “Scripture is God-breathed,” “The Bible is God’s holy word for God’s people,” “For many the Bible is without errors or contradiction” — you know, the typical Sunday School answers.
It was interesting to ask this in a group setting because we all tend to have our own bias ways of reading the Bible that we pretend aren’t bias at all. We gave space to admit our biases and even laugh at them a little.
Have you ever heard or uttered phrases like, “a plain reading of Scripture” or “a biblical view on marriage, parenting, relationships, sexuality, creation, science, war, etc.? The funny thing is that we can all come up with different and even conflicting answers when we approach the Bible in this kind of way. We all have our ways of twisting and turning the words of Scripture to say or support pretty much whatever we want. And more times that not, we do this in order to strengthen an argument and prove someone else wrong. But we rob the Bible of its enormous richness whenever we use it as a means to attack others or just to prove them wrong. After all, the Bible is not an encyclopedia or dictionary. All of the answers to every question ever asked cannot be found in the back of the book.
Now John Wesley saw the Bible as very authoritative and even the final word of authority. But he was honest enough to admit that we bring so much to the Bible whenever we read it. We cannot divorce ourselves from the traditions we’ve been formed in, the contexts we live in, or the biases we cling to whenever we read the Bible. So Wesley saw tradition, reason, and experience as important authorities with which to engage Scripture as we read and seek to be transformed by the text. Scripture may be the final authority but it is certainly not the only authority.
This is why we find ourselves living in a constant tension between the way(s) we read the Bible, the biases we cannot shake ourselves from, and the challenge to live in such a way that we continually seek to make God’s story our story. So let me offer a couple of ways we can faithfully delve into the Bible in (hopefully) new and exciting ways:
- Read together — Personal Scripture reading is a great way to use time for devotion. But it is NOT the only way we should read the Bible. Instead of doing the latest, greatest book study on 7 Ways to Live a Happier Life, why not read the Bible together in your small group, house group, accountability group, or Sunday School class. Take turns reading aloud and leave time to stop and ask each other questions. Say out loud when you struggle with what the text might say and see if others share in your struggle.
- Read slowly — I’m a fan of the read the Bible in a year stuff and I know many who make that a personal practice every year. Great! But maybe there are times when we should slow down our reading and not just plow through it in order to complete it? Maybe we need to spend some extra time with a particular verse, chapter, or book of the Bible? If reading the Bible is to be a transformative experience, then we must allow time for the text to seep down into our bones.
- Just read — Too often we find that we would rather cherry-pick our favorite passages. And way too often we hear preaching that does the same. Instead of dealing with a chunk of the text in order to get a little depth and context, we prefer to extract whatever verse(s) fit whatever little problem we might have or point we’re trying to make and we neglect the more full reading of the Bible. Stop. Just stop it. Read more than just your favorite parts.
Here’s a question our group got back to that I think is a great question and reveals a lot about us: How do you use the Bible in your life?
How we answer that question will reveal a lot about what we believe about the Bible. We might call it sacred but if we never read it, is it actually that sacred? We might say we believe God speaks through it, but if we’re too busy finding evidence to support our own opinions when we read it, are we giving God a chance to speak? And if we only see it as a weapon to exclude or prove wrong or hurt others, then surely we aren’t being changed by the wonderful mystery of the gospel revealed most fully in Jesus Christ and found within the pages of this amazingly complex and life-giving book.