5 Keys to Reading the Bible

BibleHeaderHere is a list (by no means exhaustive) of a few guidelines to help in reading and applying the Bible to your life.

1. Read the Bible with an eye for genre.

Some biblical critics (meaning people who examine the actual literature of the Bible) look at the text as nothing more than ancient literature.  This causes some Christians to react with statements like, “I take the Bible literally.”  This statement sounds devout, but it is quite absurd.

Psalm 36:7 says “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Jesus follows this same metaphor in Matthew 23:37 saying, “I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”  No one actually suggests that the Bible is saying God is actually a bird.  The text is using a picturesque metaphor.

The Bible is quite robust as literature.  It contains narrative (Genesis, Matthew, et al.), prophetic literature (Daniel, Revelation), Poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), epistles (instructional books like Ephesians), personal letters (to an individual like Philemon), and others.  A person wouldn’t read a love letter the same way that they would read an instruction manual.  In the same way, they shouldn’t read Psalms the same way that they read Galatians.

A lot of problems in understanding the Bible come from not considering the intended purpose of the book they are reading.  For instance, the purpose of Psalms is to glorify God and remember His goodness, not to teach doctrine.  This is not saying that Psalms cannot teach doctrinal truth, or even that it is not the inspired word of God, just that doctrine is not the point of the book.

2.      Get yourself into the heads of the original readers.

Many Bible experts will make the statement, “something in the Bible can never mean to us what it didn’t mean to its original hearers.”  This doesn’t quite make sense, as original readers of prophetic books like Daniel couldn’t quite have understood the completeness of the prophecy.  But this is a generally good guideline to follow in most cases.

For instance, Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10 both state provisions against eating blood.  Some religious people use this as reason for God to be against blood transfusions.  While the Bible neither speaks supportively nor prohibitively specifically about blood transfusions, an original hearer of God’s message in these passages would have not thought about a medical procedure to save someone’s life.  They would have connected it to pagan idol worship that required drinking blood.  Therefore, it is doctrinally quite dangerous to make a leap in applying these passages to a life-saving medical procedure.

3.      Practice Exegesis not Eisegesis

No, this isn’t misspelling Jesus.  These two words refer to interpreting scripture.  Gesis refers to the text of the Bible.  Ex (ek) means out of and eis means into.  For any student of God’s truth, the goal should be to find out what the Bible means, and then apply that meaning to life, even if that isn’t quite what a person really wants the Bible to say.  The opposite of this, eisegesis, is to twist the scripture (or cherry-pick verses out of context) in order to get the Bible to say what a person wants it to say.

A good way to remember the difference is that exegesis is to find out where Jesus is, and place an X in that spot (x-a-Jesus) as the marker for where God wants people to be.  Eisegesis is like putting Jesus on an ice rink, where a person could push him to wherever he’d like Jesus to be (ice-a-Jesus).

4. Allow the Bible be a little bit mean.

Actually, the Bible isn’t really mean.  It is the loving word of God.  But unless a person is perfect, the Bible is going to point out a lot of ways in which humans cannot meet God’s standards.  It has been reported that Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said that if we always find the Bible to be our friend, perhaps we haven’t read it.

The Bible was clearly not written as a self-image booster for humanity.  Whenever a person comes face to face with the presence of God, the first realization is always how unworthy, frail, and weak humanity is when measured by God’s standard.  The second understanding is that God forgives and loves us anyway.  Before a garment can be cleaned, a person must admit that it is dirty.  The same is true with a person’s soul, and the Bible is one of the major ways that God teaches this lesson to humanity.

5. Let the Bible change you.

The Bible is not meant to be merely literature.  The serious student of Jesus should read the Bible asking 3 basic questions:

  • What did God mean by this (especially to the original readers)?
  • How does this meaning apply to me today?
  • What should I do about this?

God never intended people to read His word, smile to themselves, and then go about their daily lives.  He meant it to be poignant, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and potent for changing lives.  Swords were not meant to be decorative wall ornaments.  They were meant for stronger stuff, as is the Bible.

Should we be a Christian Nation?

Jesus Loves AmericaIn order to look at American post-Christianity, it is of the utmost importance to examine the question of whether it should be a goal for America to be considered “Christian” in the first place.  Now, I don’t have a desire to get into the political quagmire of the intentions of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.  In fact, my purpose is to look at this from the exact opposite angle.  So then, the question is not whether it is good for America to be Christian, but instead is it good for Christianity for America to be called “a Christian nation.”

Of course, American Christians should in some sense want our country to be Christian.  Even avid abortion-rights supporters, for instance, would say that they would prefer to live in a country where abortion is rare.  Christians would agree (abortion-rights issue removed) that the best thing for our country is for Christian values and morals to be embraced, and therefore, for the question of whether a woman should want an abortion to be one that is not often even considered.  Most American Christians also understand the important mandate of God to be a light to those who have not been freed from sin and death, and would therefore hope to live in a country where everyone had been saved by the grace of Jesus.

What is at issue is how and why these values should be embraced.  Most sincere Christian would say that Christian morality should be welcomed because people are deeply committed to following Christ.  They will then order their lives around what He would want of them, and what would be best for their relationship with Him.  Therefore, it is best for Christianity for a commitment to Christ to be a thing of supreme value, and a Christian morality to flow down from that.

The problem is that this is not what appears to be happening in American culture as a whole.  Much of Christian morality is seen as normative in American culture still, but a commitment to Christ is often believed to be secondary to a devotion to Jesus by many at best, or a even a distasteful thing when pop-culture is taken into account.

I therefore, strongly believe that American Christians need to run far from the idea that getting people to live more Christian-ly will make them followers of Jesus.  It is irrational for people to want to follow any value-set when they have no commitment to the source of that value-set.  Don’t believe me?  Try walking up to a random person in a store and telling them to organize a shelf of merchandise.  They won’t follow your command at all, and might use a few expletives.  But if you were a manager at that store and they were an employee, the situation would play itself out exactly the opposite.  In the first example, you won’t be heeded because you have no power or authority over that person, but in the second you have both.  It is the same way with morality.

Whenever Christianity becomes a lifestyle instead of simply a commitment to Jesus, it loses the essence of what gives it power.  When Christians lose “Christ” as the primary source of their identity, they become just “ians,” which are no different than Australians, or politicians, or librarians.  So, in one sense it is very good for America to be a Christian nation, when Christ orders everything we do.  But when we are anything but that, we put ourselves in a corner where we are forced to prove our lifestyle as a powerful force for good in the world by only our moral code.  We will never win that battle.  Without Christ as the center, Christianity is neither powerful, nor good at all.   -Ryan


10 Ways that Churches can Improve Communication

communicate It seems that the Information Age has been one of the most aptly named epochs in history.  The popular meme may be true, that the average American accesses more information every day than was accessed by our grandparents in their entire lifetimes.  But even if it isn’t, no one can deny that everywhere we turn some advertisement, announcement, print ad, or electronic message is vying for our attention.  The advent of the Internet has done nothing but make matters worse.  Now, instead of a couple dozen pieces of junk mail in my mailbox, I have an email box full of “cheap replica watches,” “free iPods” and unmentionable others.  Unfortunately, the church is doing a worse job at communicating that most of these spammers in my inbox.  Here are 10 ideas for your church to improve communication. Continue reading

10 Commandments of Cell Phones

I wrote this a long time ago, but I thought it bears repeating.

The 10 Commandments of Cell Phones:

Ok, I know that we in America really value our independance, our sense of automatic rights, and our fast consumer lifestyle.  Cell phones have in one sense made all of that, and our lives in genral, a whole lot easier.  In other ways they have actually made life more difficult.  Of course, there is the fact that now with a cell phone everyone thinks that they have automatic access to you.  Also, there is the constant ringing and chatting and texting that surrounds us constantly.  There is also no peace that normally comes with going “incommunicato” and having alone time. Continue reading