If you’re a Christian then you likely read the Bible, or at least you should. It’s important. But do we ever consider to how we read the Bible?
My Christian heritage, the Churches of Christ, have helped instill the value of reading the Bible, which is a good thing. I know the Churches of Christ are not alone when it comes to the value of knowing what the scriptures say. But how the Bible is read makes a big difference in how we live as Christian people . . . people who confess our faith in Jesus Christ.
How We Read the Bible Matters!
You might recall a couple of years ago evangelist Harold Camping predicting that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. He based his prediction from making calculations on his interpretation of certain biblical prophesies but, as time proved, he turned out to be wrong.
Camping illustrates one of the ways in which Christians can read the Bible poorly, leading sometimes to disastrous and potentially harmful results. Let’s call this approach the Doom’s Day Bible Reading. People who read the Bible like this always seem to be reading scripture as though it has some cryptic message that needs to be solved like a puzzle. Typically, their conclusions alway point to current events and public figures as the sign of bad things to come, even the end of the world. In my experience, such people don’t seem as interested in talking about Jesus as they have in talking about their latest doom’s day whims.
Another tragic way of reading scripture is that of those who read scripture just to prove their dogma. Let’s call this approach the Religious Dogma Bible Reading. People who read the Bible like this are reading the scripture as though it is legal writ and some how they happen to have a perfect understanding of scripture . . . or at least a perfect understanding of all the “essential” matters. Typically, they become self-appointted guardians of sound-doctrine (=their dogma), ready to pronounce judgment on all who disagree with their views. In my experience, they collapse following Jesus into following doctrine (=their dogma) as though there isn’t any difference between the two, making scripture the goal so that Christianity is about following the Bible rather than following Jesus.
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
– Jesus, the Gospel of John 5:39-40.
Sadly, there are still people who read the Bible, searching the scriptures diligently, but seem to miss Jesus. And if our reading of scripture doesn’t lead us to Jesus and shape us to be more like him, then we are the ones who read scripture but miss Jesus!
When We Read the Bible…
How do we read the Bible then? I have two suggestions, one of which I have already hinted at, that I believe is the beginning place of reading scripture.
First, read the Bible with humility. We all are still sinners and human-beings with a finite mind. Because we’re sinners, we sometimes are tempted to read scripture with self-serving agendas. Because we are humans, we still make mistakes and don’t understand everything as we would like. To put it bluntly, sometimes we are still wrong! So rather than reading the Bible as though we know it all, we should read it with an humble awareness that we could be wrong. Our interpretations could be wrong! Besides the need for humility, that should remind us of our need for God’s grace.
Second, read the Bible as a window to Jesus. When we look out the window of our house, the window is never the point. It would be a shame to spend all day starring at the window and never notice anything beyond the window. Likewise, it would be a shame to read the Bible and never really notice Jesus as so many “Doom’s Day” and “Religious Dogma” Bible readers seem to do. There is so much more that needs to be considered about how we read the Bible to live as followers of Jesus and not dogma. However, we must start with the realization that scripture is pointing us to Jesus, to see then where Jesus is presently at work, and then to join him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in that work as his follower. This doesn’t mean that we’re reading the Bible to keep reinventing the wheel, so to speak, but to be a living expression of Jesus Christ among our world. If we don’t read the Bible like this, I fear that we’re missing the point of the Bible.