Friday, July 19, 2013

The Dangerous Adventure of Bible Reading

[this is my third post for the month of July for the Society for Christian Psychology]

“It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to.” (Bilbo Baggins)

Many of us are too familiar with the Bible. This is especially true for those of us who have had formal training in its teachings as seminary or college students. The stories, the idioms, the metaphors, words and phrases wash over us like water off a duck’s back. Familiarity has bred contempt. When the preacher reads a text, most of us instantly access the dozens of sermons, articles or studies we have heard about this text; our eyes glaze over and we pretend to listen for 40 minutes, not realizing that we are completely disconnected from our hearts and our God. What can we do? Can we recover a different way of reading? Is it possible to approach the familiar in a way that is new and fresh? Is there a way to access the Scriptures that breaks through the “eyes glazed over” and the wandering mind?

I believe there is a way, but it is not the way that “seems familiar.” We often have to try different approaches, different translations, different ways of reading that shake things up. Sometimes it’s enough to change the wording of the familiar text and the place and time in which we read it. By far, though, the best way to shake things up in your Bible reading to get your imagination talking with your mind again is to become a different kind of person.

The work of the Spirit in conforming us to the image of Christ can be a daily reality that constantly breathes newness into our minds and hearts (Rom 8:28-29; Gal 4:19). That is, if we’re working with him on that project. If we’ve got our own projects going on, we will miss this process for the most part. Jesus assumes that his disciples will be about this (Matt 6:33; 11:25-30; 28:18-20). To the extent that we share this project with Jesus, taking up his easy yoke, to that extent we will grow and change. If we’re paying attention to the God who is in our midst (Zeph 3:17) over time we will become a different kind of person who sees and thinks differently. This is the best way to read the Bible afresh, to first seek God and His Kingdom (Matt 6:33) and allow him to “transform [us] by the renewal of our minds” (Rom 12:2), so that we no longer approach the Scripture text as we were, but as the new persons we are becoming.

“When a minister reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson—something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen— and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.” (Frederick Buechner, Magnificent Defeat, p.10)

The next time you are exposing yourself to the text of Scripture, ask for God to speak in fresh ways; seek to become a different kind of person, so that you might knock on the door of the text in a different way. There’s no telling what you might hear.


Mick said...

CAme here from the Buechner FB page. Good thought for me today, Scott. Thanks!

Scott said...

Welcome, Mick! Always glad to meet other Buechner-ites out there!

Stephen Johnson said...

What a refreshing blog Scott. I recently just read Wild at Heart to discover the significance of adventure in one's life. And with that adventure comes danger! It is a magnificent experience to laugh out loud, cry or even become furious with the profound stories of the Bible. Right now I "changed things up" by reading the Bible chronologically like so many of those thrilling science-fiction trilogies where one can get lost in such a magical world. Even the book of Chronicles has become fascinating. I've been a christian all my life and I have never known satan came before and tempted David. Some of the greatest heroes we almost praise in the church (David, Solomon, Abraham etc) have profound flaws. I have now finally come to the realization, they needed God every step of the way. It sounds foolish I know but when you hear David (such a warrior), Solomon (so wise) Abraham (so dedicated); it is easy to listen to the lie, "through their will, intellect and passion they fought the enemy." In everything we need God. Thanks Scott for your insightful blogs. Blessings my friend.

Scott said...

Thanks for joining the conversation, Stephen! I'm a huge fan of Eldredge too; he has great insight into the ways of the heart before God.

It's a constant challenge to keep the earthy humanity of the biblical characters before us; they were just like us! When we think of them through idealistic lenses, our spirituality becomes abstract and vague. In order to live life before God in all the realities that actually inhabit our lives, we need conversation partners (e.g., bible characters) that are messy like us; messy people relating to God - that's what it's all about!