Thursday, May 3, 2007

Father Greg Jones on Reading the Bible

Father Jones, rector of St. Michael’s Church in Raleigh, North Carolina and a member of the board of directors of the General Theological Seminary, and well known here as the blogger at Anglican Centrist, has a good post on reading the Bible over at the Episcopal Cafe. He starts with a reminder of why it is important to read the Bible, and then lays out some important advise on how to read the Scriptures (from the Bible for Amateurs):

1. Humility

The first thing seekers and disciples of Christ must do in their approach to the Word of God in the Bible is assume a posture described by Jesus himself – we must approach humbly. St. Augustine of Hippo said that the Word of God in the Bible cannot be understood by those who come with pride. The Bible is a book for those who come to it humbly. An appropriate prayer before reading Scripture is this: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

2. Expectation

The desire to meet God in Christ through the written texts of Holy Scripture is another essential ingredient. Unless we come to the Bible deeply seeking after God, our engagement with Scripture can be quite a tedious affair.

3. Honesty

Reading the Word of God in the Bible is not really that easy. There is much in Scripture – whether in terms of content, language, style or story – that is intellectually and emotionally challenging. I liken the Bible to a box of nails – it really cannot be engaged with comfortably for long. When one delves into the box of nails, as with Scripture, one’s hands will be punctured or poked or scraped or contested in some painful way. Because there is much that challenges us in Scripture, we must be honest and accept that these challenges are real. We mustn’t deny those challenges, nor must we allow those challenges to keep us from continuing our active engagement with the Word of God in the Bible.

4. Imagination

As with all good stories, our truest enjoyment of them comes when we find ourselves in the midst of them. Unless we identify with the characters of a story, unless we find ourselves on stage and involved personally with them, unless we connect with the narrative in our imaginations – the stories really aren’t good to us. Green argues that the God-given imagination all human beings have is a gift we ought to use to help us engage with the Word of God in the Bible.

5. Attentiveness

Hurry may get us through the Bible faster, but it will not do anything to get the Bible through us. We must make time to read, reread, mark, learn and digest the Word of God in the Bible – as the Prayer Book teaches. The conviction here is that if we do—God will indeed show us something and make the text breathe into our hearts.

6. Obedience

My first parish church had a verse of Scripture written on the wall in big gold letters, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” I always felt like that passage of Scripture spoke to me the essence of an incarnate Word of God. We must come before the Word of God in the Bible with an attitude of obedience for it to have any transforming power in our lives. As Jesus’ brother says in the Epistle of James:
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” (James 1.22-25, NRSV)

7. Regularity

As the Prayer Book emphasizes, the Scriptures are best consumed daily. Again, Green likens reading the Word of God in the Bible to the eating of food: “I do not have a massive lunch on Sunday and starve for the rest of the week. I like my lunch every day! Very well, then, I should make a regular daily meal of my Bible reading. It can have an enormous impact on our lives if we come to it regularly, and allow it to affect the way we behave. It is life-transforming, no less.”

Read it all.

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