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Posts that relate in some way to my books. Excludes administrative posts and most reviews of other people’s books.

Approaches to Bible Reading

Approaches to Bible Reading

I want to list some attitudes to Bible reading and some approaches with a brief discussion. I may choose to post some more on this. I think there is too much of an either-or approach to how one goes about reading the Bible. Different times may call for different methods and attitudes.

  • Fast Reading (Overview)
    When I returned to active church membership some years after I left seminary, I chose this approach first. I had kept up some reading so as not to use my language skills, but that was always short passages with focus on grammar and vocabulary. I chose to read the entire Bible (NIV at the time) as I would a novel. It was the book I kept by the bed. I completed the reading in 11 days. I find great value in this approach to help orient oneself in the canonical text, though it would be excessively confusing for someone not already acquainted with the text, I think.
  • Detailed reading (outlining, exegesis)
    This involves slower reading and spending time over specific texts. Most of my reading ends up here. I’ll read longer passages quickly, but some specific text will drag me in and then I’ll spend time dissecting the passage from all points of view.
  • Passage Overview, Multiple Readings
    One of my own approaches to studying shorter passages is to read the passage multiple times. This differs from the fast reading in that I choose a reasonable length passage along with a more temperate pace. Sometimes I read the passage in other languages (not original, usually modern, Spanish, German, French) to slow my reading. The longest passage I’ve done this was was the book of Ezekiel. Normally I choose something more like the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Original Languages
    Obviously this method is for those who know the languages. Here I vary my reading speed and approach much as I do in English. At the slowest level, I’ll go through the scripture indexes in the Greek or Hebrew grammars I have on my shelf and read the sections that cite the verse I’m reading. I might also prepare a personal translation. At the faster level I try to read several chapters in succession, and mark words or constructions I want to go back and look at in more detail.
  • Devotional Reading
    This is simply reading my Bible prayerfully, listening for what God has for me. This is one of the more difficult options for me; I slide into a more technical reading very easily.
  • Historical Reading
    Reading biblical books either as history or from a historical point of view. I find that Samuel-Kings and Chronicles reads very differently when seen devotionally rather than historically.
  • Literary Reading
    This is a fairly broad category. Think of Samuel-Kings. One might read this to study the history of Israel (historically), one might read it looking for theological points, one might read it devotionally (What is God saying to me here?), or one might look at it as literature, looking for characters, plot, and so forth. What type of literature? That’s part of the fun!
  • Critical reading
    Reading the text looking for sources, redactional issues, genre, canonical connections, and so forth. I don’t specialize in one or another of the tools of biblical criticism. I think they all have their place, and they also all have places where they don’t work so well. In my view Form Criticism is probably the most abused by being applied where it just doesn’t apply.
  • Liturgical reading
    Reading as worship or as preparation for worship. In my experience, this is largely lectionary reading. I like to read the lectionary passages for the week several times, and I also have occasionally, but not consistently, read from one or another daily lectionary. I would see this as an attitude to reading as well–reading the Bible as part of the church’s heritage and as part of the church’s worship.
  • Bible Year, or Reading the Bible Through
    Other than my 11 day thing under the first point, of course! Right now I’m trying a year’s reading from a booklet by Robert Murray McCheyne, More Precious Than Gold: READ THE BIBLE IN ONE OR TWO YEARS (Didasko Files),which tends to line up a chapter each from four different places in the Bible. I haven’t warmed to it very much thus far, but I’m going to try it for a while before I decided it doesn’t work for me.

That’s the list for today. I’ve probably left out plenty, and have certainly left out details. I may blog some more about Bible reading. In the meantime I recommend two things: 1) Find and use a Bible reading method that is comfortable for you and 2) Make sure you use some methods other than the one you found in #1.

Choosing a New Church

Choosing a New Church

No, I’m not choosing a new church. In fact, I really like my home church, First United Methodist Church in Pensacola. But today I received an e-mail from someone who asked me to share a blog post with my readers. I get few enough such e-mails that I normally at least read them, though I’m not going to link unless I feel there’s something worthwhile.

In this case, while I think the post makes some interesting points, I have a major problem with the entire approach. The post is 10 Tips for Finding a New Church Home.

The points are generally valid. I have some objection to the fact that “mission” is #9. But that is only the minor point.

My major point is that the primary thing we should consider when choosing a church congregation is how we will be able to serve through our membership in that congregation. Now all of the other points in the article may well contribute to our ability to minister. For example, if your church does not have adequate ministries for children, or if you are not challenged and convicted by the sermons, you may find it more difficult to use that congregation as a base for your own ministry.

Christianity is about serving others. When my wife and I have changed congregations, we generally ask first about the mission of the church. In fact, I have quite a “thing” about church mission statements. Most churches have one. What I’ve found in visiting churches is that if the members in general can tell you what the focus of their church is in ministry, you’ll find you have a vibrant church. If the members in general aren’t sure what they are there for, you’ll find the church is dead.

So while this list of tips for finding a new congregation includes many things that should characterize a good church, it looks much too much like the way I’d choose a grocery store.

This leads to point #10: Keep trying until it feels right. I’d suggest instead a prayerful process of selection that ends when you know you will be able to carry out your personal part of the overall mission of the body of Christ as part of that congregation.

On C. S. Lewis

On C. S. Lewis

There’s an article in the Touchstone archives by Bishop Wright which I find very interesting, largely because it expresses some of my own feelings regarding Lewis.

C. S. Lewis is, of course, a brilliant writer. I enjoy reading even those things with which I disagree, and not just because I like to be challenged. He simply uses the language brilliantly. I would also say that the book Mere Christianity played a role in my Christian life both when I was a student, and then when I was returning to church. At the same time, I don’t use a great deal of the apologetics that Lewis used in supporting my own faith in discussions with others. The trilemna, for example, doesn’t work for me as an argument for the divinity of Jesus. It does help clarify things, I believe, at a certain point, but it is not, in itself, convincing.

I have also observed what Wright notes as well, that C. S. Lewis, though often embraced by conservative evangelicals, was not one himself. I would note that even from my more liberal perspective, I find Lewis’s view of inspiration to be a bit beyond where I want to go. Nonetheless, I think I can understand the value of Lewis to evangelicals in that he makes some fairly viable statements on some of the essentials, and he provides us with expressions of many other ideas that are valuable in themselves.

All in all, thanks to Bishop Wright for helping clarify some of my own thinking about one of my favorite authors. (Wright himself is another, though he tends to be a little less delightful in style!)

I Believe Some Bizarre Things

I Believe Some Bizarre Things

The Sunday School class I currently attend uses a random selection process for the questions we’ll discuss.  Class members put questions in a container, and we draw a question for each week.  Last week the question was:  Why am I such a doubting Thomas?

As we were discussing how much we doubted, what we doubted, and why, someone commented that what we believe as Christians really is quite bizarre if you haven’t gotten used to it.  Most commonly we would cite things such as the resurrection.  I believe that one person who died about 2,000 years ago didn’t stay dead, but came back to life.  That’s a fairly bizarre thing to believe, or better to base an entire system of belief on.

The person who made the comment cited the belief that Jesus died for our sins and thus we can have salvation.  I believe that’s equally bizarre.  Who these days would think of such a thing?  The idea of atonement was much more common in the ancient world, but not so much in western civilization today.

And that brought another question, which seemed to be addressed to me.  Did Christianity seem less bizarre back in the first century.  My answer is “yes,” though different things would seem bizarre and likely in different ways.  As I’ve already mentioned, the atonement would seem more natural, provided one was drawing on a range of ideas prevalent in the ancient world, but there are aspects of it that are odd.  For example, the idea of a single, universal atonement, reconciling the whole world to God, was unique to Christianity, I believe.

I don’t think it came out of thin air.  There are many, many parallels that come close, but I think the full idea of atonement as expressed especially by Paul, is unique.

But what first comes to our modern, or even slightly post-modern minds, is generally the question of miracles.  But there is where I think we differ less from the ancients than we generally think.  We imagine that they were much more naive about miracles in general than we are, that they would tend to believe whatever miracle might be claimed.  I see little evidence for this.  In fact, the resurrection was very hard for either Greeks or Jews to believe, and was often a stumbling block, as noted, for example, in Acts 17:32.

I observe two things.  First, there are quite a number of miracle stories even today, and plenty of people to believe in them.  Second, there is plenty of evidence of ancient people who were quite unwilling to believe miracle stories.  In both cases, such belief tends to be easier regarding miracle stories in one’s own religious tradition than in those of others.  As a Christian, I find it much easier to accept the idea that Jesus ascended to heaven than that Muhammad did.

I’d suggest that this has a substantial impact on the way I read the Bible, as opposed to how I might read other literature, especially religious literature.   While I look at evidence regarding historical events related to my faith, at some of the most critical points, it is faith, without that much sight involved.

One important reason to recognize this, I think, is that it will impact the way we relate to other people.  When we understand that, in a sense, one must put on a whole new religious culture before our religious faith makes sense, we may be somewhat more charitable.  I’m afraid I may lean the other way.  I find doubt and even rejection of things I hold dear quite reasonable, despite the depth of my own commitment to those beliefs.

So I may not believe at least six impossible things before breakfast every morning, I do believe some things that, to someone outside my faith tradition, are bizarre.

Quote on Worship

Quote on Worship

From C. Michael Patton:

What I have been coming to realize over the years is that there is simply no one way to do church. …

You need to read the whole post at Parchment and Pen to get the real drift of what he’s saying, complete with evangelical discomfort with a seeker sensitive service, a discomfort I share to some extent. I do think he makes some excellent points for people on both sides to consider.

On the one hand, advocates of seeker sensitive worship should take to heart the points about discipleship. Christian discipleship is not really all that seeker sensitive!

On the other, many do well to consider why people come to hear the gospel under some circumstances, but not others.