In his simple and yet compelling book You can really grow John Hindley turns to talk about reading the Bible. He reminds us that to read the Bible is to read Jesus' love letter to us. We read, fundamentally, to find him, to know him, to meet him.
Hindley advises us to read it like any book - not because he's a great expert, he's brilliantly upfront about how difficult he finds it - and to read with others, sharing our finding.
One of the challenges I'm aware of when it comes to the Bible is the need to read normally. To get past the bible paper, the reference systems and the two columns and recognise that God gave us a book. Back to school... with thanks to those who helped me learn the basics.
1. Observation. Discovering what it says?
It's about Jesus.
Ask: Who? What? How? When? Why? Where?
Rub your face in the text and scribble on it.
Note what's repeated. Note what's emphasised, compared or contrasted.
Note the changes of scene. Note the connections?
What's the theme? Put it into a sentence...
2. Interpretation. Discovering what it means?
Most of interpretation is context.
How does this text fit in with the texts around it?
In light of the author's purpose in the book - what does this piece have to do with the whole?
[The author's purpose is sometimes explicitly stated, sometimes implicit requiring a bit more detective 'observation' work considering the author, audience, context and themes]
What's meant by including this? What wouldn't we know without it?
3. Application. Discovering what to do with it?
Given what it says and what that means... what should I do / think / feel / believe?
The great fight in life is to believe the good news of Jesus - I doubt, disbelieve, disobey, deny..
I live in a culture that wants me to be conformed to his image, why Jesus wants to change me to be more like him. Jesus calls me back to himself.
Application is rarely individualistic and we need the encouragement of others to point us back to Jesus... so it's always worth asking others to share their finding of Jesus... Probably worth lining up some of our Bible reading with others to help us help one another.Learning to read is a means to an end... opening up whole new worlds. And when it comes to the Bible: enabling us to hear Jesus' voice - to meet him whose voice shone light into the darkness of the cosmos and the darkness in my heart. In his word I meet him.
John Calvin said: "This is what we should seek... throughout the whole of Scripture: to know Jesus Christ truly, and the infinite riches which are included in him and are offered to us by God the Father."
When Jesus taught the Scriptures - as Hindley notes - They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32 ESV). Learning to read the Bible, and then reading the Bible is about pursuing Jesus and that uniquely sets hearts on fire.
Like John Hindley, that's not always my experience. But I'd like it to be. And I find John to be good company for that journey - on the page, and to my privilege in person on a couple of occasions. Any sibling in the family can help along the way. Walking with Jesus is both ordinary and extraordinary.
It doesn't require being intellectual or bookish, but God did give us a book and to miss him there is to embrace grey skies and cold autumn wind, when the warm and illuminating sunshine of the gospel is offered freely.