Posted by: Philip Rushton | October 13, 2011

Beyond Sound Bite Journalism: A proposed process for reading through scripture.

We are a couple of weeks in to our New Testament read through group. It has been exciting to see the response we’ve had to this group. I’m personally finding it helpful to have the accountability and support of a group as I journey through the scriptures this fall. Last night it was helpful to hear the perspectives and insights others gained through their reading of the gospel of Matthew. I know that not everyone is around on Wednesday night, so I thought I’d post a few notes from our sessions in case you’re interested in immersing yourself in scripture again this fall.

Reading large sections of scripture can be fruitful. As the Barna research agency suggests, most contemporary approaches to bible reading function more like ‘sound bite journalism.’ Sermons and devotionals often focus in on a single verse or passage. As a result, we rarely read full books in there entirety, and we often read individual texts out of context. This ‘sound bite’ approach to studying the bible also means we avoid or miss out on the more challenging parts of scripture. Last night it was interesting to hear how many people were caught off guard by Jesus when reading the gospel of Matthew. To many of us, Jesus sounded much more revolutionary and controversial then we remembered.

One of the challenges of reading through large sections of scripture, however, is that we are overwhelmed with information. There are simply too many ideas for us to process in one sitting if we aim to read 3-4 chapters a day. That is why I suggested the following process for reading through scripture. It focuses on reading a long section and then meditating or focusing in on one or two smaller sections for more in depth study and meditation. This allows us to read the broader narrative while retaining a couple of important insights each day. Notice that this four step process involves writing and journaling.

1. Reading
Read through the section of scripture you have for the day. Try and divide it up so you only read 3-4 chapters a day. Take time to read and allow God to speak to you. As you read, make note of a verse or section that stands out to you so you can come back to it.

2. Interpreting
Focus in on the section of scripture that is speaking to you. Perhaps take time to write it down.
Are you understanding the text correctly? Are there any historical or literary issues you need clarity with?
Questions to ask of a confusing text – Who is speaking? To whom? What comes before and after this text? Is there a historical reference you need to read up about? Are there any words that you need to clarify? Are there literary devices being used – metaphor, parable, allusion, hyperbole? Consult a study bible or commentary if needed.

What is God saying to you through this text? Does this text provide instruction, encouragement, revelation, conviction? Write down what God is teaching you through the text.

This can be as simple as asking God to help you use this scripture, or it may be a greater insight on what He may be revealing to you. Remember, prayer is a two way conversation, so be sure to listen to what God has to say! Now, write it out.

The goal of this process is to balance our reading, interpretation, and application. The second step, I think, is a particularly important one. Good application must be built on correctly understanding the text. I recently heard the story of a man who was troubled by the constant calls to “fear the Lord,” in scripture. This is an example of how some clarification of language and translation can protect us from false application. In the English language, fear is usually understood as an emotional response to people who are cruel and dangerous. The Hebrew word for fear, however, really means reverence or awe. To fear the Lord means we rest in the knowledge of God’s power and greatness. Our attempt to apply this text to our life would be misdirected if we did not take time to clarify the text.

This is just one model to try out. What sort of things help you get the most out of your reading?

P.S. This weeks reading assignment is Mark and Luke 1-9. There is still an opportunity to join us on Wednesday nights. We’re already expanding into multiple small groups to accommodate this communal reading of scripture.

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