Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Reading & Praying the Bible Formationally, part 1

Reading & Praying the Bible Formationally, part 1

Reading the Bible is an absolute necessity for any person to maintain a relationship with the Triune God.  But, is it possible to “use the Bible in ways that stifle spiritual life or even destroy the soul”?

This is a bold question and one that is worth considering in some detail.  On the surface it is easy to see how people have misused and abused the Bible, typically to serve their own purposes.  This was evident in the 1800’s when the Bible was used to promote slavery (see Mark Noll’s exceptional The Civil War as a Theological Crisis).  But I want to avoid some of the extremes on either end and think about us as sinners saved by God’s grace who want to grow in our relationship with our Savior.  Is it possible for us to use the Bible in ways that stifle spiritual life or even destroy the soul?

Let me first say this: I’m always pleased when people are reading the Bible.  Again, the Bible is absolutely necessary.  In Grudem’s terms, the Bible is necessary for knowledge of the Gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for certain knowledge of God’s will (Systematic Theology, 116-121).  So when a Christian has a Bible in hand and is faithfully reading it, I’m pleased.

However, not all Bible reading is created equal.  There are certain approaches that, while popular, are not as beneficial for maintaining spiritual life and obtaining a certain knowledge of God’s will.

To illustrate the point, let me recall some methods of reading the Bible that are often less than adequate (with thanks to Dr. Richard Peace of Fuller Theological Seminary for these):

  • The Consultation Approach: This approach is seen when a person says “I have a problem and the Bible has the answer!”  Yes, the Bible does have the answer, but this approach often leads to selective, occasional, and happen-stance readings that are simply looking for a quick solution to a felt-need.
  • The Vitamin Pill Approach: This approach is seen when a person says “a couple of verses a day will keep the Devil away.  Yes, the Bible does help overcome the evil one, but this approach sees the Bible as a fortune-cookie or a little saying on a calendar.  It lacks depth and intentionality.
  • The Magical Approach: This is the approach when people are searching for some guidance or word of advice or simply feel guilty for not reading their Bible and they open it up randomly and read whatever words appear.  I realize that God has used this approach (consider Saint Augustine!), but again, as a practice is lacks depth and intentionality.
  • The Devotional Approach:  This is a popular Christian approach to the Bible and includes devotional books that talk about the Bible and may have Bible verses printed in them, but are not the Bible themselves.  If your “Bible” reading consists primarily of non-biblical authors, you are guilty of this approach.  Explanations are nice, but they are not the Word of God.
  • The Pastor’s  Commentary Approach: I don’t want to let pastors off the hook of “the Devotional Approach” because it is too easy for us to go straight to the commentaries and theology books.   For you pastors, ask yourselves this question: in preparation for my last sermon or Bible study, did I spend more time reading the actual text of the Bible or more time reading other people’s thoughts on that text of the Bible? (full disclosure: for my upcoming sermon this Sunday I KNOW that I’ve spent more time reading commentaries then the text itself!).  Again, these are helpful tools, but they are not the Word of God!

As I conclude, let me say again that I am so pleased when Christians are habitually reading their Bibles, even if it is one of the approaches mentioned above.  However, as we desire to grow in our relationship with our Creator and Savior, these approaches become inadequate and, therefore, may have the unintended consequences of stifling our spiritual lives.

This week we’ll look at turning the corner in this area and reading the Bible – correction: reading AND praying the Bible – for spiritual formation.

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