“My Study Bible notes say…”
“Well, MY Study Bible notes say…so I think..”
“MY Study Bible has history scholars in it and THEY say..so I think…”
A typical weeknight Bible study session. Or should I say, a Study Bible session.
The modern church has a deep-rooted but easily blinded problem: biblical illiteracy. In an age where the answers to our questions are just a Google search away, we quickly rely on whatever answers we can access the fastest. We look for answers before we know what question we are even asking, and readily accept information about the Bible before we’ve critically read the Bible for ourselves. We become a slave to what other people say about the text, rather than learning how to read for ourselves.
One of the worst culprits of this phenomena are Study Bibles. Now please don’t misunderstand me; I love Study Bibles, and I love all of the internet resources readily available at our fingertips. We truly live in a time where we are gifted with far more information than we know what to do with. The problem arises when we quickly accept all of this information without learning how to work for ourselves.
A church who does not engage critically with the Bible text themselves is a church who knows Bible facts without having a Bible heart. There is no life in facts. The Holy Spirit rewards us and brings us life and joy through our work and effort with the text, not in quick Google searches and Study Bible look-ups of the facts. We are unable to really respond to peoples questions and oppositions to a Christian worldview because we ourselves are just walking fact machines. We learn to rely on resources to answer peoples questions and not the Bible itself. Does Scripture say that it is Gods Word or resources about Gods Word that are useful for all things, including teaching and rebuke?
I’m not at all arguing for the elimination or removal of resources like commentaries and Study Bibles, quite the opposite as a matter of fact. Instead I am arguing for the church to learn where the proper place is for these resources. We should use these resources after we have learned how to think critically about the text for ourselves, not before.
Below are some suggestions I have for individuals and the church that I think would not only benefit our minds but our hearts. Learning how to think critically about the Bible for ourselves can only serve to increase our affections for Jesus.
1. Learn how to ask the right questions. God could’ve chosen not to leave any form of communication with us, but instead he left us the Bible. When we pause to think about that, our desire should be to learn how to interact with it! Here are some questions that might help you engage with the Biblical text:
– How does this passage or topic fit into the grand narrative of scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration)?
– What is distinctively Christian about how I am reading this passage or engaging this topic? Note: Our Bible studies, sermons and readings are not Christian because they use the name of Jesus or reference scripture. Cults, heretics and even atheists can do that.
– What does this passage or topic tell me about Jesus?
– Does this passage or topic point forward to the cross, backward to the cross, or forward to Christ’s return? How?
– How does this passage or topic equip God’s people to live on mission?
2. Put down the Study Bible, turn off the internet and engage just with the Biblical text. Allow time for the Bible to speak for itself, engage and think about everything you know in light of the current text. After you’ve spent time engaging with the text on its own, make a list of your questions that remain unanswered. Then take these questions and open your Study Bible, internet resources and commentaries.
3. Leave the Study Bible at home. When we bring our Study Bibles to church gatherings, sermons and Bible studies the temptation is to rely on our notes rather than engage with others on the text.
4. Churches: teach your people HOW to ask the questions. One of the primary responsibilities of a local church should be teaching her people how to engage with God’s written Word.
5. Try to read at least one resource a year on engaging with the Bible. Here are a few recommendations:
– The God who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson
– From Creation to New Creation: Making Sense of the Whole Bible Story by Tim Chester
– Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
– New Testament Exegesis by Gordon Fee