Learning the Story, Living The Story part 2: The Teacher’s Edition of Life

Today marks part two of my six-part series on how we read the Bible. My thesis is that we ought to read the Bible to learn the Story of God and then live the story of God.

Last week we dealt with the reasons why we don’t read the Bible and the consequences of that. This week we will take another look at an unhelpful way we approach the Bible.

'BIBLE IN OLD CHURCH' photo (c) 2009, carl & tracy gossett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Do you remember when you were in grade school and you had those big text books? And do you remember how there were always little quizzes or assignments scattered throughout them or sometimes at the end of each chapter?

Then one day your friend got hold of the teacher’s edition. And do you remember how powerful you felt flipping through it and seeing all the red writing with all the answers to those quizzes and assignments?

I think a lot of us want the Bible to be the teacher’s edition for our life. We want it to have all the answers. And so we read it primarily to find out the answer to some question we have.

I don’t think this is a good way to read the Bible. I am almost four books in and it reads much more like a story than it does like an answer manual.

There are many ways to approach the Bible this way. Here are the first three that come to mind:

The Topical Answer Manual

Does your Bible have a little section in the front or the back with a title that says something like “Where to find help with . . .” or, “What the Bible says about . . .” and then gives a list of topics with verses under them?

If that is your primary go to for reading the Bible, you are going to have a hard time learning the story.

You can start there, but please don’t stay there.

Because what the Bible says about any given subject can vary. Jesus will say something different than Moses. And the Bible doesn’t have a “courage” section or a “depression” section. No, Lamentations doesn’t count. What you actually find are stories that deal with each.

We need to learn those stories.

Proof Texting

What the answer manual will give you are a list of verses. All of these verses are, if you are following the answer manual, to be read without reading any of the surrounding verses.

You want to know what God wants for you? Read Jeremiah 29:11.

But you can also read Psalm 137:9 for a different idea.

I could go on and on.

Proof Texting is taking an isolated verse or section and using it to try and prove something. First of all, and this should basically be enough, the Bible wasn’t written in verses!

Proof texting will never ever ever ever give you the full story. You’re going to need to take a different approach (hint, that will be week five)

The Randomizer

Just to be clear, I have, at one point or another in my life, done all of these things.

The last one is to just open the Bible to a random page with your eyes closed and then start reading. You may want to open your eyes first.

This is like proof texting but with the thrill of adventure thrown in. You never know where you are going to end up!

People often think, “Well, it’s the word of God so there must be something for me in there that speaks into my life and gives me answers.”

Then they open to Ezekiel or Revelation.

You can see where this is going.

You can’t learn the story if you only read little tiny bits of it.

Let’s try an experiment: Read the chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring called “In the House of Tom Bombadil” and then tell me what the book is about.

All three of these methods is inadequate at best, dangerous at worst. There has to be a better way.

Would you add anything to this list? What do you see as the pros and cons of this way of reading the Bible?

Part 1: Why We Don’t Read The Bible
Part 3: Don’t Read the Bible Alone
Part 4: Train Yourself to Read the Bible
Part 5: Context, Context, Context!
Part 6: The Word With Friends


5 responses

  1. It is probably a very old “proverb” but someone told me many years ago “A text without a context is a pretext”.
    Sometimes, I wonder at the lectionary readings, they are often disjointed and bear no relationship to each other.
    Years ago when I was preaching regularly, I would often preach through a Book (Romans was, and still is, my favourite) It was always important to bear in mind where the passage for the day fitted into the context of the rest of the Book.
    I also found that the discipline of expository preaching reduced the chances of using a passage as a “springboard” to fly away to whatever my particular hobby horse was at the time.

    • You were a preacher? Cool! Romans is great, and definitely one of those books you need to read in its entirety. That might be our favorite book to cherry pick from.

  2. Nice bombadil reference. Funny enough, our church is going through a 12 week series that outlines the major themes and elements of the Bible. It is not giving all the meat, but rather a skeleton that people can use when reading particular parts of the Bible so that they know where everything fits. Looking forward to the rest of this series!

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