As you read the Bible what are you expecting? Or what should you be expecting?
It’s an important question with a host of possible answers. Let’s note three and then I’ll share part of what draws me—an avid Bible reader—into sustained and whole-Bible reading.
First time readers may come to the Bible because it’s called “the word of God.” So they expect it to be a biography of God. And with that the reader has normal questions: Where did God come from? What’s his personality like? And how should we relate to him to get eternal life? This approach is usually short-lived because it doesn’t fit what the Bible actually offers.
Others who are more familiar with the Bible from church and family exposures may look for specific benefits. These differ depending on the values they learned in their particular heritage. Creedal communities and the devotional fellowships offer two very different examples here.
The creedal groups like to build proofs to support their main beliefs. Doctrines, Creeds, or Confessions are like citadels built to protect faith from demonic attacks. So, for instance, a member of a Reformed church reads the Bible to find proofs of God’s sovereignty, his major covenants, his salvation calling to some people but not to all, and the key features of the elect person’s righteousness based on the imputed benefits of Christ’s vicarious atonement. It’s a huge project and the most able advocates will work to collect the most proof texts possible.
The devotional fellowships, on the other hand—call them the pietists—treat the Bible as a resource for holy living. Some basic doctrinal knowledge is needed—just enough to have handy shields against evolutionary secularists on the one hand and from free-will-denying creedalists on the other. But Bible reading is mainly a search for life-principles. The logic is that if God wants us to live happy, healthy, and holy lives he must have offered all the advice we need in the Bible, so the goal of reading is to find useful applications.
What both approaches share in common is their raw pragmatism. For both groups the Bible is like a diamond mine that demands heavy digging for limited rewards. One group mines it for doctrinal proofs and the other digs for blessings.
Ironically both groups share a common view that much of the Bible is like the earthen debris piled up outside a real mine. Content that lacks creedal proof texts or happy blessings can be discarded. And both groups know where the richest veins of the mine run and which regions can be ignored. And they both have short cuts that let busy people avoid any Bible reading at all. Systematic theologies serve the creedalists; and daily devotionals serve the pietists.
So in the name of efficiency these approaches quietly dismiss Paul’s words to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The “all” should catch our attention, along with the call by Jesus for all who are “truly my disciples” to “abide”—as a branch in a vine—in his word (John 8 & 15).
Here’s my own approach to the Bible. It keeps me reading the whole Bible and coming back for more.
It starts with a very big view of the Father, Son, and Spirit God. In his triune reality he’s a bold, effective, and wonderfully creative communicator. And his way of sharing himself is much closer to a puzzle-maker than to an auto maintenance manual writer. So we’ll never fully conquer or capture his heart and thoughts even if we explore the Bible for every waking hour of our remaining days. But we are able to grow in the process!
It also views the problem of sin as bigger than we seem to realize. Sin, for instance, includes our arrogance in picking and choosing what we want to hear from God. He has a message to share and it incudes Leviticus, Hebrews, Chronicles, and Revelation; and everything else the Bible offers. All of it is from God.
In my reading I’ve come to see it as a book that invites faith and displays the fruits of unbelief. It starts and ends with garden imagery: an Edenic place where God lives with his faithful family; and where his love is given, received, and reciprocated.
But how do all the pieces of the Bible puzzle fit together within this ultimate frame?
That’s where the joy of discovery keeps on giving. The more I read, the more I see. Disconnected stories or themes start to make sense. A picture of human fallibility and God’s loving kindness begins to gain depth and breadth. I start to see and enjoy the ultimate message that God so loved the world that he sent his beloved Son to share his heart. And faith is my response.
The bottom line is this: read the Bible as a relational resource that invites us to taste and see God’s goodness even in a broken world. It works!