There are at least three ways to approach scripture:
1. Study. Learn as much as you can about history, original languages, literary genre, and the relationship between various parts of scripture. Then, with careful analytic reflection, you will be able to extrapolate God’s will for you from the pages of your Bible.
2. Story. Listen with your entire self to what scripture is saying so that you can understand the people that are a part of God’s story. Learn how they “ticked,” how they succeeded in their relationship with God, how they failed. Let yourself see, hear, feel, and taste the events of scripture. Cry and laugh with them. Let the Psalms become your own prayers. Then, reflect on how God is moving in your own story – how it is similar (or dissimilar) to those in scripture. And understand that you are a part of the same, larger story as all of those other characters that appear in the pages of scripture. Don’t be so concernred with “learning” God’s story as becoming a part of it.
3. Sword. Scripture’s purpose, if the apostle Paul is to be believed, is to “cut into us” – convicting us of our imperfections and exposing our weaknesses for what they are. The light that scripture shines on these conditions then opens a door for God’s healing.
I favor an approach to scripture that embraces all three, but I think that – in reality – I am much too study oriented. Here’s why:
– “Bible study” is comfortable. It is learning and sharing facts. No need for personal involvement.
– “Study” is enjoyed by eggheads. I’m an egghead.
– “Study” makes eggheads look good. I like to look good and be respectable.
– “Study” is socially safe. If I just do “bible study” with people, I can trade “insights” and make “comments” about a text without having to talk about how scripture is cutting at me or calling me to engage in a particular story. Everyone ends up leaving a “bible study” impressed with each other’s spirituality and congratulating each other on their keen biblical insight. But they have no idea how God wants to form them spiritually, because they haven’t had the courage to ask those kinds of questions of themselves.
– “Study” leads to tips and hints, not prophetic cries. When we “study” things, we end up trading tips and hints about “study” or about prayer life or about any other number of disciplines without really getting down to how God wants to enter our stories or change our persons. Again, handy “tips” about how to improve devotional life or family relationships are comfortable. Prophetic utterings, on the other hand, tend to shake our worlds.
I want to be a part of a community where people are being formed into Christ. Not that study has no place in such a community, but it is only a small part of a much larger picture, in which story and sword are equally important.