reading

Giving up Bible Reading in 2019

Photo by  Priscilla Du Preez  on  Unsplash

Reading the Bible is a time honored tradition in the life of the Christian and this year I think I am giving it up. I am giving up reading the Bible for scripture reading.

Reading the Bible and scripture reading are different not in content but in posture. The same words are engaged but it is a different approach. When we read the Bible we tend to look for what we can learn or what we can gain. We look for the teaching or the wisdom we need to get through the moment. We find something that can challenge us or stimulate our thinking. The vast majority of Bible studies that I have been apart are interested in expanding your thinking in order to shore up belief structures. Reading the Bible puts the reader as the protagonist (the main actor) in the process.

Reading scripture is different.

First of all, we do not read scripture - scripture reads us. Scripture exposes to us the things in our life and world that we are blind to and even need to repent of. However the primary difference is that scripture reading means that we are open to (and expectant of) an encounter with the living Christ. This means scripture reading is not an action but an event. It is a “happening”. It is a theophany.

Shifting from reading the Bible to scripture reading is ultimately differentiated by the fruit each practice bears. If we are not transformed by the words we read, then we are reading the Bible. And so, as a start consider this scripture reading:

But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
— Jesus, Matthew 12:7

"Reading the Statisticians of Our Predicament Rather Than the Prophets of Our Deliverance"

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R.R. Reno

Give and Take is a conversation podcast that can be very heady and wonky for those who love theology. Frankly, the people on this podcast are too smart for me to always follow and I am humbled every time I listen - I just am not as smart as I want to think that I am.

Recently, Scott Jones (the host) had a conversation with R. R. Reno (AKA Rusty). I was introduced to R. R. Reno in Seminary via a book he wrote called In the Ruins of the Church. When I heard this podcast, I wanted to just jot down a few great ideas that came from this conversation, so that I don't forget them. I hope these notes are as inspiring to you as there are for me. 

Among the gems that I found in this conversation was the idea that too much of our time is spent reading the statisticians of our predicament rather than the prophets of our deliverance. I am aware of how much I spend reading about the "predicament" we are in. I know that it is critical to diagnose the illness before treatment can begin. It seems clear to me that too many of us (self included) are parsing diagnostic words but few prophets are discussing what the treatment is for such ills. 

We are not able to listen to these prophets for at least two reasons. First is human nature. Prophets call us to account and call us to change. Humans have done a very good job at killing prophets in our world; this is an ancient problem.

The other reason we don't listen to prophets sharing solutions feels newer. We may not listen to the prophets of our deliverance because we do not have consensus on what the problem is. 

Moses was a prophet and he was not killed by his people. Why? Perhaps it is because there was a consensus on what the problem was - the people were enslaved. There was a deep agreement that slavery is the "predicament" and so it is easier to hear the prophet who is speaking deliverance to that predicament.

I grow frustrated about how much time I spend on understanding the predicament, I also know that until there is a sense of what the "problem is" we will never be able to hear the prophet lead us toward the path of healing.

Absorbing the Bible is Easier Than Being Absorbed by the Bible

Sometimes we think of the Bible as combination of an ancient encyclopedia and fortune teller. That is to say, many of us read the Bible in order to absorb it's knowledge so that when we are faced with a situation we can fire off a few Bible verses to make sense of the situation. There is a respect given to those who are fluid in their knowledge of the Bible that often times we think that the more you absorb the more you must really know the Bible. There is a comfort in absorbing the Bible, but absorbing the Bible is easier than being absorbed by the Bible.

When we absorb the Bible often fall into the trap of using the Bible as a tool for argument. We reference the scriptures that are used as bullet points to try to make the argument. However, the Bible is not a tool for argument, it is closer to being a tool for conversation. It is a collection of conversations over time and space even into today. There are numerous conversations going on in the Bible that to pick up and begin reading at any location would be like walking into a party that was well underway and try to jump into a conversation. We don't know how the conversation got to this point, but we are now a part of it and we are invited to participate.

Just as we are absorbed in conversation, keen readers of the Bible are absorbed by it. You don't jump into the conversation with your own agenda and topics, the conversation has already begun, the direction is well underway. When we are absorbed by the Bible we are invited to take a different perspective and world view. We are invited to participate, rather than dictate the terms of the conversation. 

When we are absorbed by the Bible we are shaped, formed, transformed. We are, like clay, molded and fired. We are strangers in a foreign land and dependent upon the hospitality of our conversation partners.

Here is one way to know if we are absorbing or being absorbed by the Bible - If we believe there is one, and only one, correct interpretation to a scripture then we are absorbing the Bible. If however, we trust that the Bible is a conversation that is influenced by the Holy Spirit, if we believe the Bible is the living word open to new and fresh understanding, a book that speaks life into every age - then we are being absorbed by the Bible. 

Absorbing the Bible is much easier, it does not involve much faith or trust at all. Which may be why we are more interested in just absorbing the scriptures than being absorbed by them.

The Bible is not Meant to be Read

I have been told that the Bible is boring. Maybe it is. I have a difficult time seeing how a book that is thousands of years old is not boring. Telling the story of how I brush my teeth is boring, it is why no one writes down all their teeth brushing experiences. Perhaps the Bible is boring because we are no longer surprised by the Bible.

We know about Adam blaming Eve, Samson’s flowing locks and strength,  Jonah’s resentment, Jacob’s sneakiness, Esther's courage, Peter's denial, Paul's conversion. We just are not surprised when Easter is celebrated.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret that might sound a little crazy and even hyperbole, but it is something that changed my life. Here it is:

If you are reading the bible, you are doing it wrong. The bible is not meant to be read.

The bible is boring when you read it. We treat it like a movie that we have seen countless times. We think of the bible as like another media source and so it is something we read, something we consume, like any other book or movie. When we read it once we feel like we do after we watch a movie, we tell everyone that we have seen that. I is and have no deep desire to see it again.

You are not supposed to read the Bible, the Bible is supposed to read you.

It is collection of writings that we open ourselves up to in order to be convinced and shaped or formed. It is a living book that invites us to see that blaming another is not limited to Adam, that we too harbor resentment, that you and I manipulate others for our benefit, that Esther's courage is our courage and that we are Peter and we are Paul. These are not characters locked in the past or on a page. These are the stories of our lives today.

When we read the Bible, we are not surprised because we already know the ending. However, when we allow the Bible to read us, the surprises are never ending.