Reading Scripture…to Follow Jesus

One of the things Christians do is read scripture, the Bible.  But how do we read the Bible, that’s an important question.  How we read the Bible shapes the what we believe is important to God and hence, what Christianity ought to be about.

Growing up, I was taught to read the Bible as though the New Testament was a blueprint for the formation of the church, with the Old Testament having only historical value.  Consequently, I can recall debates taking place over how the church should care for orphans (i.e., could the church support an orphanage?).  It seems hard to believe that so much energy was spent on the question of “how” we care for orphans rather than just ministering to their needs.  But that’s what happened because of the way the Bible was read.

In more recent years, I have ran across Christians who read the Bible to extrapolate principles.  It goes something like this:  Citing a passage like Matthew 10.16 which reads, “…be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves,” a principle regarding wisdom will be formed.  The problem with extrapolating principles from scripture is that once we extrapolate the principle, it is the principle that becomes the rule (authority) rather than the scripture itself.  I use this example because on more than one occasion I have heard Christians employ this wisdom principle to exclude using money to benevolently help those in need, both in and outside of the church.

That highlights a problem that seems to dog Christianity…reading the Bible in the wrong way.  Jesus begins his ministry with a call for his disciples to follow him where he teaches them to think and live as he does and then commissions them to go out and teach other people how to think and live as Jesus does.  That tells me something about the way we read scripture.  If our reading of scripture does not result in us thinking and acting like Jesus then it would seem that we are misreading scripture.

The day is overdue for us to learn how to read scripture so that we think and live as Jesus did.  We can disagree all day long over how a particular passage or two actually out to be understood but for those who have the eyes to see and ears to hear, there is little to wonder about the way Jesus thought and how he lived.  If we’re to be followers of Jesus who take scripture seriously, then we must learn to read scripture to follow Jesus…to think and live as Jesus did.

8 responses to “Reading Scripture…to Follow Jesus

  1. It helps to know that we have a faithful tradition and are not left to our own devices in such matters. The faithful tradition is the imprint of the Holy Spirit in history. Christians have been reading Scripture for 2000 years. It helps to give greater weight to the Scripture readings of those whose lives have been attested to as holy…the Fathers, if you will. Christ teaches that discerning God is a matter of purity of heart. Scripture is not perspicuous. This is simply a development of the command to honor your mother and father; this applies not only to biological parents but spiritual parents; we ignore them at our peril. It helps to know that some decisions are properly that of the Bishops of the Church, and we can rest in their decisions. They have the authority to bind and loose, to deal with the gray areas. It helps to know that Scripture is there primarily to point us to Christ, in whose fellowship we are inwardly reconfigured to have a better inner disposition towards the Truth and its application. Of course, if Christ was wrong, and the Church failed so that it needed reformation or restoration, then we are left to our own devices. But Scripture was never meant to be something to which we add people and, whammo, reconstitute the Church. The Lord gave us the Church which both gave us Scripture and the Tradition through which we understand it, and as certification the production of countless numbers of martyrs and saints who attest to its Presence. After decades I came to the end of myself. Tired of reinventing the wheel, or attempting to.

    • I agree that we need to listen to the voice of tradition as we read scripture but in this case I’m not talking about reading scripture so that we understand the nature of God, the divinity of Jesus Christ, or other historical Christian doctrines…not that they are unimportant. I’m talking about reading scripture that brings about understanding consistent with the way Jesus thought and lived. I’m just outright suspicious of any reading of scripture (as well as consideration of tradition) that, by way of example, justifies coercive power and domination when Jesus embraced a power of humility and self-sacrifice.

  2. richard constant

    our father gave scripture to israel, they perverted scripture to such an extent with their traditions, that the pharisees, the leaders of the religious order,, for the people of israel in there worship to the father, and they convinced all the people to be faithful to the tradition, by way of their authority to regulate, and we all know the end result of that.
    and of course james says, be not many teachers among you

  3. richard constant

    to finish:
    I consider your post a bit ironic, ben.
    in that I would say most people haven’t learned a thing from scripture, 2 day
    1 thing our father is though is patient, kind and merciful, to the sheep. I feel very sorry for a lot of teachers. you know the shepherds.

  4. richard constant

    maybe you need to write a llittle on regulating love!
    the good samaritan.
    and oh yes that great word exclusiveness.
    the tradition for the ages, that I hopefully think we are finally breaking away from.
    we have been a pretty pathetic bunch.
    2000 years of subjugation,bickering, arguing, never coming to the realization, of what the regulatory

  5. richard constant

    to finish:
    principal of traditions through the ages has accomplished for the lord’s church, and the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace!
    just exactly who is my neighbor rex.
    boy oh boy what a mess we made.
    blessings rex

    • The incarnation of God ought to challenge much of the exclusionary and judgmental practices (couched as “faithfulness”) prevalent in so much of North American Christianity.

  6. Reading Scripture- St. Anthony said ‘whatever you think or do, have before you an example from Holy Scripture.” Yet this is different from proof-texting, or reasoning our way forward with Scripture. It involves learning to abide in Christ, so that the Holy Spirit, brings to the heart the Scripture, and the discerning heart, knowing the difference between, the logical brain, and the discerning heart, perceives the Word of the Lord. There is a rich vein of evangelical missiology that explores the relationshp between the life of prayer and the expression of incarnation mission. The Book “God’s Man in China”, the story of Hudson Taylor comes to mind. Studies concerning George Mueller, who established an orphans home in Britain that was supported only by His pryaers. David Wilkerson, “The Cross and the Switchblade”, the study of a man who turned off the Tonight Show to Pray and who was lead into incrnation missions in the gangs of NY. Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting…. by Derek Prince, show the intimate relationship of an abiding prayer life, the Scripture wielded by the Spirit, and incarnational missions. The Abiding heart of incarnational missions, is the heart immersed in Scripture, attuned to the Spirit, in a posture of unceasing prayer.

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