The title of this post “Getting Deep in the Word” hopefully sounds like it has something to do with scripture and faith, getting deeper in the former to strengthen the later. I hope it sounds like that because that is what it is about but it’s more than just that. It is about life, our life – the life God made us to have and is redeeming us to have.
The question is, how do we go deep in that? Of course, the way that question is answered varies from the variety of Christian disciplines that help facilitate that process. For this post, I want to address the practice of scripture and biblical studies for the purpose of life formation.
However, I think it would be helpful at this point to share several convictions I have about scripture and our life. First, I believe the sixty-six books from Genesis to Revelation recognized by Protestants as a complete canon of scripture tell a true story about life, from creation to consummation, as God has created it to be and is redeeming it to be. Second, sticking with the ‘story’ metaphor, I believe God work in creation and his goal of redemption reveals the story script all people were intended to live but in a variety of ways, we have gotten way of script and began writing our own story scripts and have often deceived ourselves into believing our own independent script is the truth. The most deceptive aspect of this is that many of the story scripts we have tried to forge for ourselves contain just enough of the truth to actually be believable. Third, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Father has sought to intercept our life and get it back on its intended script through the sending of the Son, Jesus Christ, for which scripture has been given to us as a witness to explain this creative and redemptive grace of God. Lastly and as a result of the above convictions, I believe that through scripture God wants to intersect with our life (no matter where it is) and locate our life back into the script he has written for it.
With that in mind, I hope you can see why it is imperative that hear, listen too, and give careful consideration of scripture. How then? We could do a topical study…we could but the danger of topical studies is the risk coming to scripture with our conclusions already drawn and subsequently just proof-texting the necessary verses to support our preconceived conclusions. We could do a rigorous exegetical study of scripture…we could and while I believe a solid exegetical knowledge of scripture is indispensible for those gifted in preaching and teaching, such an approach runs the risk of improving our intellectual knowledge without lending towards much transformation.
Given all that I have said about life, faith, transformation, living out the story God has written, etc…, I believe there is another way which allows the deep theology of scripture, the transcendent and immanent voice of God to be heard in a way that is life transforming for those with ears to hear and eyes to see (cf. Matt 13.15). This is because going deep in scripture “…isn’t about head knowledge of number of years following God. It’s about honesty, common struggle, and being transparent in both weak and strong moments.” This means that we can get deep into scripture in a transformative way when we are honest about our life – its struggles and triumphs – and the life God is trying to teach us about in scripture. This deep transformative engagement with scripture then can be practiced by everyone from the non-believing seeker who knows very little, if anything at all, about scripture to the very mature disciple of Jesus who has been reading scripture for many years. Even better, both the non-believer and the mature disciple, along with everyone between, can practice this engagement together because in such an engagement, God is speaking as his voice in scripture intersects with our lives.
Like good practitioners, Halter and Smay suggest as a group reading a single unit of scripture which may turn out to be a single paragraph, an entire Psalm, a single parable, etc… and then asking the following five questions to facilitate a discussion of the particular scripture:
- What did you like about what we just read?
- What didn’t you like?
- Was there anything you didn’t understand?
- What did you learn about God?
- Regardless of where your faith is at right now, if you were to apply what we learned about God to something in your life this week, what would that look like?
I also like to ask the question “if I take this scripture seriously, what about my life must change?” which I first heard asked by a friend and colleague of mine.
What I like about these questions is the fact that they are open rather than closed questions. If the small group or house church has created an atmosphere of not being hyper-critical and judgmental, these questions give us permission to be honest about the challenges we are being presented with including challenges we don’t like. After all, while I believe what Jesus taught is true, that doesn’t mean everything he taught is easy to accept nor something I always want to accept (who want to love and pray for their enemies when their enemies continue in their oppression and abuse…cf. Matt 5.44). Also, the nature of the questions allow us to talk about the deep mysteries of God, to connect the message of that passage with the larger theology and story of scripture in a way that not only has resulted in life transformation but depth in the knowledge of scripture as well.
If you had a group of Christians and/or seekers of God together in a small group or house church, do you think this would methodologically work for “getting deep in the word?”
 For more on the practice of Christian disciplines, I recommend Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 3rd ed., New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998.
 The reason why I believe we must hear scripture as one coherent narrative is that, as Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen point out, “If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should” in The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004, 12.
 Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008, 166.
 Ibid, 167.