You're Reading the Bible Wrong

When my wife and I were first dating, I wrote her a letter every day. For 2005, this was still kinda old-school. I had recently transitioned from Xanga to MySpace, so I wasn't unaware of the internet. I just thought that she needed to hear from me with my handwriting. These letters weren't grand in any sense. In fact, most of them featured pretty awful drawings of small animals, homicidal stick figures, and grass. I'm sure she didn't know what to do with most of them. But then again, that wasn't the point. I was just hoping she'd get to know me.

Pause that thought.

For my college internship, I had to teach at least ten seminars on a subject of my choosing. So I decided to teach through the book of Judges for a summer at my church. Compared to many current approaches, this was a relatively large amount of ground to cover in such a short time. But that was the point. My goal was to try to teach this work of literature holistically and give a 30,000-foot view of its themes. And I would say that this approach was largely well received. Years later, some of those folks still tell me that they can easily recall what that book is about. But there was one piece of feedback that didn't offend me as much as confuse me. I was told that while they learned a lot about Judges, there wasn't enough application.

I've said before that some people take a Where's Waldo? approach to biblical application and go looking for things that aren't actually there. But I'm going to take it a step further and say that life application isn't the purpose of reading the Bible at all. That's not to say that the Bible doesn't offer commands and guidelines to live a life pleasing to God. I just think that God's more interested in building a relationship than building up our holiness quotas.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Isn't it odd, our perspective of hermeneutics (you know, that fancy word for bible study method)? Too often, when we sit down at the feet of Jesus--or read our Bibles, we're not interested in getting to know him (unpause) or even listen to him. Instead, we bombard him--or the text--with questions about how his words apply to me, how his words should change my life, how his words will make me a better person. Like the classic, gender stereotype where the woman just wants to share her feelings and the man asks her what she wants him to do about it, we're too self-involved. Reading the Bible has become a selfish activity. And our perspective has shifted from God to us.

But the Bible isn't found in the self-help section of the bookstore. Even if Costco accidentally labels it fiction, we can't complicate our reading of it with concerns about the day's affairs like Martha did. The Christian life isn't about trying to become a better person, it's about knowing God more. Holiness is simply a byproduct of that relationship. Just like any committed person tries to be better for the person they love, so is our relationship to be with Jesus. It's not about obligation; it's about love.

Imagine how that would change the way we read the Bible. Imagine what sermons, seminars, teachings, and devotionals would sound like if they weren't written with the need for applications points (or for the Bible students out there, written without cognitive, affective, or behavioral aims). If instead of trying to answer the question: "What does this passage mean for me?", we meditated on this question: "What does this passage say about God?" Maybe, just maybe, we might get to know him.

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