Saturday, April 18, 2015

Notes on Scripture 3

continued from Wednesday

... There is another intuition underlying this most fundamental one. This is the sense that God is more interested in who we are--our motivations and intentions--than even in what we believe or what we do. This is a theme we find in various places in the Bible. In 1 Samuel, when God is telling Samuel who will replace Saul as king, Samuel is tempted to look at outward characteristics. But the Lord informs Samuel that "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). David is thus remembered as being a man after God's "heart." [1]

In the New Testament, Jesus in Mark connects the root of defilement to the heart, not to matters external (e.g., Mark 7:21). In Romans 14:23, Paul conceptualizes sin in terms of a person's faith and how actions play out someone's fundamental intentions (Rom. 14:23). The book of James draws a distinction between temptation itself and a point of decision when temptation "conceives" (Jas. 1:15).

If these are the right priorities, then perhaps God most importantly uses the Bible in a more profound way than simply informing us about cognitive truths or giving us answers to our questions. God may use the Bible to form and transform us, to shape us into Christ-like people and godly communities of faith. Many read Scripture with this spiritual intuition without even thinking about it, reading Scripture with an openness to God, letting him shape them to be more like Christ.

4. How do you prepare to read the Bible in this way? Clearly an expectation is involved, a reason for reading in the first place. Am I reading Scripture to master it and its content, or am I reading it with an openness to the Holy Spirit to change and transform me? [2] In particular, am I reading Scripture with an eagerness for God to empower me to love him and my neighbor more?

Clearly submission is involved. Am I completely surrendered to God and to his will? Not only am I willing to be what he wants me to be? Am I eager for him to change me? Am I eager to be his servant in this world, not as a burden but as a delight?

John Wesley spoke of putting ourselves in a place where we are more likely to experience God's grace by praying, reading Scripture, and participating in worship, to mention just a few "means of grace." [3] If we worship with the community of faith regularly, if we read Scripture and pray regularly, we are more likely to experience God's hand on us than if we hardly give him a thought. The "method" of reading Scripture, in this regard, is simply to read it with an openness to what God might do in us.

To be sure, this sort of experiential approach to Scripture has its dangers. Countless people will have intuitions that are not at all from God. Some have been enculturated to read the Bible for hidden truths and the answers to questions God may or may not have actually tried to answer on the scrolls of the Bible. As far as groups of Christians are concerned, who decides what God is really saying?

God knows the difference to be sure. God knows who is really hearing and experiencing him. God knows who is using the Bible to gain power over others or who is just nuts. But it would be helpful for us to know as well. Do we just trust the leaders of our church or the majority vote of our denomination? History makes it clear that these bodies are often wrong. Do we trust whoever the latest "prophet" is, the one to whom everyone seems to be listening?

Our criteria help us. Anyone who is using the Bible as an instrument of hate toward others is not speaking for God, even if he or she invokes the name of justice. Anyone who tries to use the supposed "love of God" to justify the harm or hurt of others is simply hiding an ungodly heart behind pious-sounding words. But it would help if there were some reliable way of knowing when God was speaking/acting and when he was not.

Contextual Meaning
We are beginning to uncover some of the deeper issues that lie below the surface in our reading of the Bible...

[1] Acts 13:22, referring to 1 Sam. 13:14.

[2] The first chapter of Joel Green, Seized by Truth (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), does a good job of presenting the difference between reading the Bible to dissect or analyze it and reading the Bible to undergo God's action in us.

[3] Wesley's sermon, "The Means of Grace."


Martin LaBar said...

May I have your permission to use a sentence (or less) from this post as the basis for a poster?

See here for the sort of thing I do:

Thanks for your work, either way.

Ken Schenck said...

Sure :-)

Martin LaBar said...


Martin LaBar said...

I have posted a poster of a quote from this post, here:


Ken Schenck said...


Martin LaBar said...

I was going through my on-line posters, and found that the one referenced in the comment above has been viewed over 11,000 times, for whatever that's worth. Thanks again.

Ken Schenck said...

You're doing better than I am. :-)