THEN WHY READ IT?

One of the reasons I like to read articles and books by good Christian writers is because they teach, challenge, warn, convict, encourage, and affirm me.

The last few days I have been reading a book by Timothy Keller entitled The Prodigal Prophet. If you are somewhat familiar with the Bible, and think about that title, you will eventually correctly guess that it is about Jonah.

What sparked my attention today was Keller’s observation that Jonah was “misusing the Bible” when he refers to God’s revelation to Moses’ that God is “compassionate and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). That was apparently one of the reasons Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. But Jonah did not continue and refer to what Exodus 34:7 says about God. Keller notes Jonah “reads the Bible selectively, ignoring” parts of it (p. 106).  I don’t think Jonah was the first or last to do that, do you?

On the next page Keller writes about Christians reading the Bible today and really got my attention by suggesting “if we feel more righteous as we read the Bible, we are misreading it; we are missing its central message. We are reading and using the Bible rightly only when it humbles us, critiques us, and encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws” (p. 107).

In all honesty I must say I very rarely feel more righteous after reading the Bible. Do you? (Please note I did intimate that every once and awhile I do feel more righteous.)

But what about Keller’s suggestion that we’re correctly reading the Bible only when it humbles us and critiques us. Who wants to be critiqued and humbled? I certainly don’t. As I suggest in the title of this post, if we’re reading the Bible to be humbled and critiqued, then why read it? I can think of two reasons.

One is that most of us need to be humbled and critiqued. I know I do. And who better to do that than the Holy Spirit through the reading of God’s Word? The prerequisite, of course, is that in coming to the Bible we have to be open to and willing to accept God’s humbling and critiquing of us.

The other reason we should read the Bible is the rest of what Keller says: reading the Bible “encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws.” Who doesn’t want to be encouraged by God’s love and grace? And don’t overlook Keller’s added truth that God does this even with our shortcomings and failures.

Because of my “job” as a pastor, I have had much opportunity to read and study the Bible the last 46 years. Even though I am still reading it in order to teach others, these days I find myself getting a lot more out of it for myself. Perhaps you would like to join me in praying that as we read his word God will continue to humble us, critique us, and encourage us with his love and grace even with our flaws. Need a suggestion where to start? How about Jonah?

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ARE YOU BIBLE-MINDED?

The Barna Research Group recently published the results of their study of the top Bible-Minded Cities and the Least Bible-Minded Cities in 2017. I wasn’t surprised by the results, but the results are not what interested me.

I was interested in what they mean by Bible-minded. Here is the explanation: “Individuals considered to be Bible-minded are those who report reading the Bible in the past week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” While the results with regard to the cities did not surprise me, I was surprised to learn that “Nationally, only 25 percent of the population is considered Bible-minded.”

Given their definition, are you Bible-minded? Do you read the Bible at least once a week and do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches? The first part of the question is easy to answer, but the second part is slippery. What makes it slippery is that not all Bible readers agree on the principles it teaches.

Certainly we should and do need to read the Bible. Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson makes that clear when he writes, “Read the book!” I agree with the first part of his next sentence, but am uneasy with the second part of it: “The meaning is in the book; not in the information about the book.” Yes, the meaning is in the book, but the meaning is not always obvious.

Often we get help in understanding the meaning of the Bible by reading or hearing what others say about the book. As a Bible teacher, I was affirmed and encouraged by a reminder from John G. Stackhouse, Jr. in which he notes “God gave his people teachers, as the Bible itself affirms, precisely because much of the Bible is not easily understood.” As we read the Bible we can benefit in understanding the principles it teaches by consulting trusted teachers of the Bible.

I wish the research group’s description of what it means to be Bible-minded added a third criterion. To be Bible-minded, I would add one needs to submit to and obey the principles the Bible teaches. That’s Jesus point in his close to the Sermon on the Mount about two builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But hearing Jesus’ words and not putting them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

It is not enough just to read the Bible. Nor is it enough just to believe the principles the Bible teaches are true. We need to apply them in our lives. Too often we read the Bible, and strongly assert the principles it teaches are accurate, but fail to allow what we have read to shape our lives. When that happens I’m not sure we are really Bible-minded. To be Bible-minded we have to read the Bible, believe that the principles it teaches are accurate, and put those principles into action.

Are you Bible-minded?

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