Monday, March 24, 2014

Why We Should Read the Bible First

Before I start, I want to admit that I am totally guilty of this so I'm including myself in this question:

Why is it easier to read a book, blog, magazine articles, or devotional than it is to turn to scripture when we are looking for spiritual nourishment?

I'm not picking on books, blogs, magazines, or devotionals in the slightest; I write some of these so obviously I feel they have value.  Immense value.  I've spent hours pouring over C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, Wayne Grudem, Charles Swindoll, and John Piper, just to name a few.  I deeply appreciate their works and their dedication to making scripture, truth, and theology accessible for people.  I get excited hearing others share their stories of what God is teaching them through their blogs.  I am drawn towards magazines with their fun tips and tricks that I can incorporate into my life.  I love getting devotionals in my inbox which help remind me of my focus. 

Why don't we express the same kind of passion when we talk about reading the Bible?

Maybe it is because it is intimidating: it is a varied collection of books that range from narrative, to poetry, to law, to letter, and even to prophecy.  It can be hard to know where to start, but we need to be willing to start.  We need to be willing to learn about our God as He has revealed Himself through scripture.

Maybe it is because it can be harder to find the application.  If we look deep in our hearts, we have to admit that we are selfish.  Are we just looking for the "what's in it for me?" instead of coming at it from a perspective of trying to better understand God and the whole grand story of His redemptive grace?  God is the Hero, and it ultimately isn't about us.  Yes, He has saved us, but that is because He is good and not because anything we've done to deserve it.

Maybe it is because we think we know it all.  I grew up in the church and could recite stories and verses with the best of them.  However, I doubt any of us even come close to the knowledge that was commonly described in scripture:  scholars typically memorized the Torah which are the first five books of the Bible.  Ironically, the more we learn, the more we learn that we don't know. 

Maybe it is because it is confusing.  Anyone who has tried to read through the Bible straight through usually hits a point of frustration around Leviticus, if they don't get stuck there altogether.  However, God gave us the whole Bible for a reason:  Jesus is the fulfillment of the law in the Old Testament.  We can't understand Jesus and grace without understanding the Old Testament.

None of these are good reasons.  They are understandable, but there is a profound difference between understandable and good.  If we are to call ourselves Christians, we need to go to the source.  That is where C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers got it.  That is the place that Wayne Grudem, Charles Swindoll, and John Piper spend time.  It is where we need to be too. 

There are a lot of good reasons to read the Bible, and to be passionate about it.  For starters, I could tell you that Paul walked on water and that Peter was a tax collector (neither of which are true, by the way!), but if people don't actually study for themselves that misinformation, while somewhat immaterial, might be allowed to persist.  (Just in case you were concerned, it was Peter who walked on water and he was a fisherman.)  But, there are a lot of things we say are in the Bible that actually aren't and many things that we don't seem to remember that scripture actually says.

As much as we try, we can't distill God down into one little human-authored book.  The Bible is different:  "All scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV).  It comes straight from God; the only way to truly get to know Him is to go straight to the book that He divinely inspired.  The other resources are great because we can get a great deal of wisdom from brilliant minds, but ultimately, these authors are still fallen human beings, capable of mistakes.

If we start following authors as our main source of spiritual nourishment instead of a secondary one, we run the risk of becoming primarily their follower.  It is easy to do.  We revere their work so we put them up on a pedestal and we connect with other people who like their work.  We start talking about their work and maybe attending conferences by them just to see them.  It starts to sound a little bit like worship doesn't it?  That is the kind of behavior that should be happening with Christ as the focus, not another human.  God should never be secondary. 

When we are reading the Bible and we come across a question, there are resources to help us understand.  But, that is what they are: resources.  Resources like books, blogs, magazine articles, and devotionals are wonderful tools to help us learn more and keep us focused on God.  But, if that is all we are passionate about, it begs the question, who are we actually following?

Despite our common objections, the Bible is exciting, interesting, and applicable.  Wouldn't it be great if next time we were asked about what we are reading, we answered passionately about the Bible?  I am sure that Lewis, Chambers, Grudem, Swindoll, and Piper would all be proud.  I would be.

As a side note, I think I'm going to do a post on how to study the Bible and resources to help answer Biblical questions that come up.  Please comment if this would be helpful and if there are questions that I can attempt to answer in that post!

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