Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Reading & Praying the Bible Formationally, part 2

Reading & Praying the Bible Formationally, part 2

There is one other approach to reading the Bible that has the potential to stifle our spiritual life and, perhaps, destroy the soul.  This is a difficult one because it is the approach that I have most often been taught, observed in others, and even taught myself.

This is the approach that might be called “The Informational Approach.”  This term is taken from M. Robert Mulholland Jr.’s Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation.  This is an excellent book by an evangelical New Testament scholar (Th.D. from Harvard!) who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary.  It is very similar to an approach described by Richard Foster, but I’ll refer more to Mulholland since he has more evangelical street cred.

First, it is important to understand where Mulholland is coming from.  His Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation is one of my favorite books on spiritual formation.  He defines Christian formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  This is a brilliant definition that highlights the ideas that formation is a lifelong process, is grounded in Jesus Christ, has Jesus Christ as its goal, and is primarily for the benefit of the world, not the individual.  He believes that everyone is being spiritually formed at all times, the primary question is what is forming us and in what way?

As an evangelical, Mulholland rightfully places the Bible at the center of Christian spiritual formation.  One of his primary concerns, however, is that we too often read the Bible for information, not for formation.  Consider the contrast:

The Information Approach “is the practice of studying the Bible for information or knowledge alone.  This may include information about particular facts or historical events, or knowledge of general truths or doctrines, or even knowledge of how others are mistaken in their religious views, beliefs, and practices” (see Foster, Life with God, 4). .

Mulholland believes that The Information Approach is characterized by:

  • A desire to “cover as much as possible as quickly as possible so as to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff and get the data needed to do what must be done.” (Shaped by the Word, 51)
  • A desire to master the text: “We seek to grasp it, to get our minds around it.  We bring it under our control.” (52)
  • A view that “the text is an object “out there” for us to control and/or manipulate according to our own purposes, intentions, or desires.” (52)
  • An approach to reading that is “analytical, critical, and judgmental.” (52)
  • “a problem-solving mentality.” (53)

In contrast, Mulholland believes that we need to read the Bible formationally.  This is the Formation Approach.  Notice how the design and intent of this approach contrasts to the Information Approach:

The Formation Approach is characterized by:

  • A desire for quality reading rather than a quantity of reading: “the object is not to cover as much a possible as quickly as possible…The point is meeting God in the text.” (Shaped by the Word, 55)
  • A desire to be mastered by the text: “It is to allow the text to master you.” (57)
  • A view that “the text becomes the subject of the reading relationship; we are the object that is shaped by the text.” (57)
  • An approach to reading that is “humble, detached, receptive, loving approach” (59)
  • A mentality that is “open[ness] to mystery…We come to stand before that mystery and to allow that mysery to address us.” (59)

Notice that these two “approaches” to the Bible are more a contrast in attitude than method.  Of course, these attitudes may alter the methods, but the key is the manner in which the Bible is approached.

But it is the Informational Approach that I have been taught, observed in others, and even taught myself.  It is this approach that – in and of itself – can stifle our spiritual maturation.

Think about these things as you approach the Bible today.  Later this week we’ll consider in more specifics what it looks like to read the Bible formationally.

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