Holy Everything: How do you relate to the Bible? Try these 4 ways
Is the Bible true? Is it historically accurate? Are there any errors in the Bible? Does everything contained within the Word of God relate to our lives today?
Who wrote the Bible? Which parts of Scripture are about Jesus? What if I disagree with parts of the Old Testament and New Testament?
These are some of the most frequent wonderings I hear from folks after they find out I’m a pastor. Whether I’m visiting a congregation on a Sunday morning or downtown grabbing coffee on a weekday afternoon, folks are curious to know more about the Bible, and that’s fantastic. People have so many great questions.
But the reality is that no one has a monopoly on the answers to any of these questions; it just depends on whom you ask. I’m far more interested in inviting people to begin a relationship with God’s Word and far less interested in pretending I or anyone else knows the eternal truths of the Universe.
Relationships take work. They require respect and understanding. Relationships have different phases; they ebb and flow. The healthiest partnerships develop over time and necessitate humility. Relationships don’t generally require complete agreement between all parties; they instead benefit from a willingness to regularly express, “I hear and respect what you’re saying. I care about you. And I disagree with you.”
All of these relationship qualities are also true about building a connection with the Bible. Instead of solely approaching Scripture as a book of answers, what might it feel like to think of your relationship with the Bible as an ongoing, lifelong conversation?
There’s an initiative called “Book of Faith” that invites people to embrace a relational, conversational approach to the Bible. You can read about it and view all kinds of handouts and resources for personal and congregational use online at www.bookoffaith.org.
Book of Faith recommends a four-fold method of reading Scripture: devotional, historical, literary and theological. It’s helpful to think about these various Bible-reading methods like you’d think about the different ways to exercise. Cardio, strength training, and stretching are all good, but they each serve a unique purpose. It’s useful to recognize their differences and make use of each of them accordingly.
Devotional: A devotional approach to a biblical text is probably the most common way to read Scripture. As we read the Bible with a devotional lens, we reflect on what it means for us personally. We put ourselves and our histories into what we read, and we consider how we might apply verses and books of Scripture to our contemporary life situations.
Historical: The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was first written in Greek. All of the books of the Bible came together over the course of thousands of years spanning vast changes in societal norms. When we read God’s Word through a historical lens, we ask questions about the social and cultural contexts in which the words were originally written, and we also ponder the worldview and experiences of the original audience.
Literary: In addition to being a sacred tool that facilitates our connection with God, the Bible is a book. It’s a big book filled with 66 smaller books. Some of the books of the Bible are poetry. Some are more like a newspaper story, and still others read like a family scrapbook. When we read the Bible with a literary lens, we acknowledge it as a form of literature. We notice themes and characters. A literary reading of Scripture is a way for us to honor the care that the many authors of the Bible took in crafting a compelling story that would span the ages.
Theological: Theology is defined as “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” Exploring Scripture theologically is a means by which we can invite our various denominational backgrounds in as fellow conversational partners. Each denomination has its own historical texts and ways of understanding God’s Word.
A theological reading of Scripture makes space for the multitude of contemporary theologies that exist, including process, womanist, queer, liberation, environmental and feminist. What a gift it is that we now have access to so many ways to understand God’s word and to learn about how the Bible has been used to both empower and oppress.
The next time you’re near a Bible, I hope you’ll pick it up. Pray for God’s guidance. As you turn the pages, imagine yourself interacting with a new friend. May the four-fold method of reading Scripture be a useful framework as you step forward into this new season of your relationship with the Bible.