Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 2, 2015

Letting The Bible Read You

What if instead of reading the Bible, you let the Bible read you? – Brian McClaren

In his book, Apprenticeship with Jesus, Gary Moon tells the story of his uncle Hal who committed to read through the entire Bible once a month until he had read it 144 times.  And he succeeded!  His uncle immersed himself in the Bible, reading it cover to cover twelve times a year for twelve years.  However, Gary Moon concludes this remarkable story by saying, “When Hal died, he was known for being one of the meanest, angriest, and most hateful people you could ever meet.  Hal made a mistake.  He got all the way through the Bible many times, but he never got certain key passages all the way through himself.”

One of the dangers we need to avoid in the Christian life is substituting information for transformation.  When I was growing up, discipleship was often equated with getting my facts correct.  The gospel was presented as a set of propositional statements, and conversion involved giving intellectual assent to these statements.  If I simply agreed that I was a sinner who was saved by grace, and declared my faith in God, I was “saved.”

To be sure, information is an important part of discipleship.  Conversion certainly involves, as Paul says, a “renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2).  This means that discipleship will involve a cognitive and pedagogical element to it.  We need to be taught theology and learn how to read our Bibles.  The problem is that we often stop here.   We forget that discipleship is supposed to have a transformative effect on how we live our lives.  In Galatians 5, Paul reminds us that the fruit of this spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.  This list suggests that our encounter with God is meant to transform not only our minds but also our emotions, experiences, and behaviors.  James 1:23-24 states, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

I recently read a book by Robert Roberts and P.J. Watson where they talk about three levels of knowledge. They use the metaphor of learning about the moon to explain this concept.  The first level is “propositional ascent.”  This would involve, for example, agreeing that gravity functions differently on the moon than it does on earth.  Though a person at this stage does not understand the science, they give ascent to this proposition.  The second level of knowledge involves having a “deep understanding of a concept.”  This would be like a scientist who actually understands the physics behind the gravitational forces on the moon.  The third and deepest level of knowledge is called, “acquaintance.”  This would describe the knowledge someone would acquire by actually walking on the moon and being acquainted with what it is like.  This person would not only know the science, they would experienced this different gravitational force first hand.

The goal of the Christian life, I believe, is to get to this third level of knowledge.  We often begin the spiritual journey by giving propositional ascent to Christian beliefs.  This occurs when we recite the apostles creed, or go through a catechism class and learn basic Christian doctrine.  This type of knowledge has value.  We need to take on a belief before we can test it out and experience it.  It is like a scientist who begins with a hypothesis so that they can move forward with seeing if it is true to experience. We also benefit from growing deeper in our understanding of theology.  We may take classes or read books that help us learn how to read our Bible, work through our doubts, or wrestle with big questions.  This is valuable for our spiritual formation.  Yet, the goal of Christian discipleship is to actually be acquainted with God on an experiential level.  Jesus invites us to become sons and daughters of God (John 1).  This is relational and experiential language.  This means that we do not simply understand the doctrine of grace, for example, but we actually experience the freedom, acceptance, and joy that comes from receiving this grace.

This understanding of spiritual knowledge ought to shape our reading of scripture.  It is certainly important for us to learn how to interpret the text correctly. Proper application of the text must begin with a proper interpretation of what the text is really saying.  However, it is vital that we move from interpretation to application.  While those who are theologically sophisticated might scoff at asking questions like, “what does this text say to me,” or “what is God inviting me to experience as a result of reading this passage,” I think these types of questions are both valid and vital for a proper reading of scripture.

Many of us are reading through the gospel of Luke this winter.  As we do so, let us not simply rush through the text so that we can check it off our list.  Instead, let us take time to meditate on the text and reflect on how the text is speaking to us.  This process, I believe, can help us to not only read the Bible, but let the Bible read us.

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Responses

  1. What is the title of the book  by Robert Roberts and P.J. Watson?

    • Hey Jim,

      Its from the book “Psychology and Christianity: Five Views,” edited by Eric Johnson. This insight was just a short side note in one of the conversations going on in the book.


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