How Not to Read the Bible
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Good news? Half of Americans are Bible users. Bad news? It doesn’t seem to matter. Last month the Barna Group released its annual “State of the Bible” survey, and the results seemed pretty promising. For example, half of Americans are Bible users. And almost six in ten Americans say that reading the Bible has “transformed their life.” But on the same day I read about Barna’s “State of the Bible” survey, this headline caught my eye: “Americans Hold Record Liberal Views on Most Moral Issues.” That from Gallup. Since Gallup has been surveying people on such topics, more Americans than ever before view the following as “morally permissible”: Divorce, sex between a man and a woman outside of marriage, gay relations, having a baby out of wedlock, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography, and polygamy, among other things. So … Half of Americans are Bible users, that number has remained pretty steady, and yet more Americans than ever are changing their views (in the wrong direction) about serious moral issues. What’s going on here? Well, in the context of the Barna survey, “Bible Users” are defined as people who “engage with the Bible” outside of church “at least three to four times a year.” Three or four times a year? That’s a pretty low bar. Now, that’s not to say that the Barna survey isn’t valuable. Quite the opposite. It says a lot about how so many of us use the Bible: As a quick source of inspiration. As place to get answers or affirmation. We open the Bible, find a verse or two we like . . . out of context . . . apply it to whatever situation we find ourselves in, and move on. Phillip Yancey has called this the “moral mcnuggett” approach to Scripture. It may taste good and curb your hunger for now, but folks, this no way to nourish your spirit, to grow in Christ, to feed your Christian worldview. Or to become salt and light to the culture. As the Gallup survey reveals. However, if we approach Scripture for what it is—God’s revelation of Himself—and not simply for what it can do for us, our time spent in the Word can truly transform us and shape us for Kingdom work. There is a talk I give to college students called “How not to Read the Bible.” And in it I remind them that the Bible is God’s authoritative Word not just because of what it says, but how it says what it says. God did not give us a self-help book. Or an answer book. An encyclopedia or a dictionary would have done nicely if that were His intent. Instead, he gave us The Story: The grand epic of the all the universe ever was, is and will be. He reveals Who He Is, His creation, His work in history—specifically through an obscure but enduring tribe of people known as the Israelites—His becoming one of us in Jesus Christ, whose suffering, death, and resurrection has atoned for the sins of the world, and His promise to raise us from the dead and establish a new Heavens and a new Earth. And he does it through historical narratives, poetry, proverbs, love songs, gospels, and instruction. All of which point to the centrality of Jesus Christ, through whom and for whom all things were made, and in whom all things hold together. And there is no way to even begin to comprehend the enormous scope and power of this Great Story in three or four encounters a year. This week on the BreakPoint podcast, I talk about the absolute necessity of Scripture forming us and our worldview. First is my interview with Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. And starting today, my talk “How not to Read the Bible.” And truth be told, I spend a great deal of time on how to read the Bible, with ideas for you and your family on how you can approach the Scriptures in a way that will draw you closer to God and deeper into His Great Story. So please, check out our podcast at BreakPoint.org.