Getting Deep in the Word

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.[1]  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[2] 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.”[3]  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:

  1. What did you like about what we just read?
  2. What didn’t you like?
  3. Was there anything you didn’t understand?
  4. What did you learn about God?
  5. 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?[4]

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?”

          [1] 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.

          [2] 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.

          [3] 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.

          [4] Ibid, 167.

6 responses to “Getting Deep in the Word

  1. this seems to be a restatement of the Beatitudes. I think that the Beatitudes get to the heart of the matter better. The beatitudes heart will be one that is open to encountering the truth in Scripture. the beatitudes heart is one that is blithe to be always in communion with God so as to hear the truth that comes through the narrative of Scripture, and that has been divested of the deception that comes with the scripts that our evil imaginings have hitherto ensconced us. The beatitudes heart, the heart which is blessed, the heart that sees God, is the heart that is unceasingly in the inner disposition of prayer, and out of the vanity of the mind, and out of the process of gaining mere information, knowledge that puffs up.
    As a practical note, the most productive place of encountering Scripture is in the Liturgies the Church which is an environment of prayer, and which follows the lex orandi lex credendi format, so that prayer and doctrine are all of one piece, for doctrine shapes us for the experience of God in prayer and prayer shapes us for the receptivity of sound doctrine. The ecclesial context places us squarely upon the pillar and ground of the truth, the same pillar that the man who needed no teaching in the epistles of John, was established upon. The beatitudes man has been delivered from his perception of himself as the most reliable interpreter of Scripture, and all the delusion that subsist therein.
    Finally, the beatitudes is the life of the cross exegeted; the cross is the beatitudes demonstrated, and we through our personal crosses, given to God, enter by the process of anamnesis into the Cross of Christ, and so, are being saved. Lord have mercy on us all.

  2. And finally, perspective on the uses and limits of Scripture. St. Ignatius the Godbearer said, “those who know the word of Jesus, must go on to know His silence, so as to be perfect.”
    Those who meet Jesus are always being taken by Him, back to the Stillness of the Father, that is beyond propositional truth, into the Rest of God, the Sabbath of God, the Stillness, where the deep transformational work of the Spirit is done. Be Still and Know that I am God. Let us therefore labour to enter into that Rest. Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and you will find rest unto your souls.
    And, you search the Scriptures thinking that in them you have life, but it is of Me that they speak. And the word of God is sharper than any two edged sword….HE. the word of God is the Logos, to which Scripture points. Lord have mercy.

  3. Ben,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with your perspective on the beattitudes and the beattitudal heart. You probably have figured out by now that I am not that much of a “high church” when it comes to worship, fellowship, and faith transformation (not that I don’t see some value in the what the “high church” has to offer). Nevertheless, I firmly believe that transformation bible-study can only occur within a larger framework of prayer and song (especially prayer). Certainly a more formal worship environment provides the context for including all of these together. When I lead small groups/house church, I am conscious to include prayer and song as part of the process. I also value the role of a sermon but since the sermon is typically monological in nature, I also value the place of dialogue in consideration of our present culture which is much more dialogical now.

    Grace and peace,


  4. Having once led a house church, I have some feeling for what you are saying! High Church 🙂
    I guess one could call it that….
    If you’ve never been to an Orthodox service, it is hard to call it ‘high’, for though there is Liturgy, there is a distinct family feel, and people come in, and go into a particular corner and say their particular prayers, while the goings on are going on, and some are crossing themselves and some lighting candles, and some showing up late.

    I am 60 and spent most of my adult life trying to do what you are doing, and I suppose, we all must…. but, for what it is worth, I discovered I was trying to reinvent the wheel. The Wineskins that structure Orthodoxy, if done from the heart, lead one inexorably into an endless succession of deepenings with the Lord that is Theosis; theophanies and unions; theophanies and unions. I just reviewed a scholar’s meeting at Lipscomb and my old teacher Thomas Olbricht was talking about recovering the OT idea of Covenant in the Restoration movement (I suppose to counteract its Pelagian tendencies). There is no having to reinvent the wheel in Orthodoxy. Just do Church from the heart and it will take you into unimagined depths with the Lord.

    But for all of us, we are brought successively to the end of ourselves; reduced into ashes as we rediscover the blessed place of brokenness, our own insufficiency, our own neediness, and catch the vision that the only fuliflling righteousness, is that of Christ, to whom we must be united lest we die, and so ‘see God.’

    Lord have mercy on us as we seek HIM!

    Grace and Peace to you too!
    (Grace being the Divine Energies, the presence of God outside his Essence; Peace being the Stillness that comes from the descent of the nous into the heart, that is to say, the co-ascension of our hearts with Christ to being seated in the heavenlies at the right hand fo the Father) 🙂

    • I have actually been to an Orthodox worship service but it has been 15 or so years ago, well before I had any historical theology studeis to appreciate anything. I have a brother-n-law who was raised in the Orthodox church.

      Grace and peace,


  5. Interesting! I suspect your brother in law might need time away from it to find the Lord, as happens to many. The Orthodox I knew has a kid did not commend it to us as a way that particular made one faithful. We are very fortunate; we have a pastor who is a converted Jew, and has a very serious love for the Lord, and is a bulldog when it comes to the prayers of the Church. Consequently, the felt presence of God is so Rich! in the Assembly. Pascha last year I could feel the Divine Energies extending to our apartment next door. Not all are so fortunate.

    Bible Study. Has a place; it is a catechetical place and is a noble part of the Tradition. But I had more in mind the spiritual formation that happens in worship. The worship of heaven, we see in the book of Revelation, is very High Church; with elders around thrones and prostrations and liturgical chants, and casting of crowns, and angelic responses, around the altar, of which Christian worship is an icon and is modelled on. No seeker sensitive prgram there; historically ‘catechemens depart’. Church worship is not evangelism, though it may evangelize.
    But I am full of opinions and you are very gracious to entertain my comments. Back to my woodcarving of the san Damiano Cross, while Ancient Faith Radio podcast broadcasts in the background (all a capella too- _:)

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