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Archive for Bible

Jul
11

How I Read the Bible

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During my years of pastoral ministry I committed to read the Bible through, cover to cover, every single year. And I did, without fail. I had always believed that any pastor worth their salt should do at least that much, given the responsibility of teaching and preaching the text each week. In many ways it was a self imposed legalism that I couldn’t break free from no matter how hard I tried.

Now that I’m no longer in the pastorate my thinking has shifted. I still read the Bible on a daily basis, but I read it more deliberately that before. Here’s the daily routine that I’ve settled in to over the last year.

First, I read for Worship. I begin my daily reading with one chapter from the Book of Psalms. I enjoy the language of Psalms and it helps me focus on God and align my heart with his. In this manner I read the Book of Psalms two times each year.

Second, I read for Wisdom, meaning I read one chapter of Proverbs each morning that corresponds with the calendar date. One the first day of the month, I read Proverbs one, and on the second day I read Proverbs two, and so on. I feel that the practical wisdom from Proverbs is helpful, and this practice enables me to read the Book of Proverbs 12 times each year. If I feel the need to switch it up, I’ll exchange Proverbs with Ecclesiastes, which is my favorite book of the Old Testament.

Third, I read for Witness. By that I mean that I read one or two chapters from the Old or New Testament that helps me see how the biblical cast of characters interact with God and one another. This year I’m focused on the New Testament, taking a deliberate walk through the narratives in such a way that focuses on the context of that day. The stories aren’t just stories. By and large they are about people(s) who are trying to apprehend God and apply their understanding of God to their everyday experiences. This deliberate approach permits me to focus on what people of the Bible did what they did and why they did it, it also helps me see myself in them and ask myself what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. This past year has yielded a new appreciation for Jesus and his interactions with the people of the secular world of the first century.

I’ll probably never read the Bible through cover to cover in a given year again. But hopefully I’ll read it faithfully in a more meaningful way than before. My questions today are different than they were a year ago. And I’m enjoying connecting with God as never before. There’s a wonderful freedom that comes in faith when you’re doing something for no other reason than because you simply want to.

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May
23

State of the Bible – 2021

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Here’s a new study from Barna research on how American’s view the Bible. Check it out here: https://www.barna.com/research/sotb-2021/. Are you surprised by anything in the report?

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Apr
06

Disrupting Thinking

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My wife is an elementary reading teacher, specializing in helping kids with reading comprehension, accuracy and fluency. She spends her days in small circles of children helping them improve what would arguably be the most important skill anyone could possess. Because of her dedication as a teacher she is always looking for ways to improve her craft so she can be on top of her game day in and day out. One of the resources she has shared with me is a book titled, Disrupting Thinking, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

Beers and Probst teach a three-fold technique for comprehension that I think is applicable to how we read and understand the Bible. Since many of us have a little more discretionary time on our hands due to COVID-19, I want to share what I think are the most transferrable concepts from this approach to reading.

First, begin with the book, which for my purposes is the Bible. When you read a passage ask these questions: Who is speaking? Who is the passage addressed to? What is this verse or these verses about? In other words, who is saying what to whom?

Next, move to your own thinking about the text. What surprised me about the verse(s)? What does the writer think I already know? What changed, challenged, or confused my thinking? What did I notice? This is your mental interaction with what you’ve read. But don’t stop there!

The final phase is to move the passage from your head to your heart. Here are two important questions: What did I learn about me from reading the text? And, How will this help me as a person of faith grow and mature?

To me, the approach is designed to create the discipline of moving the text on a page of the Bible to a cognitive interaction which results in personal action. Good books of all genres are transformative, and the most transformative book ever composed is sacred Scripture. The Bible is more than a compliation of stories, it is life giving. But it only gives life when it intersects with your faith being lived out on a daily basis. Next time you read a passage from the Bible, take a moment, and a pen and notebook for that matter, and walk through the process I’ve outlined. See if it makes a difference.

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A new report from Barna Group lists the top 100 most “Bible Minded Cities.” My location, Des Moines/Ames, IA, ranks number 56. Where does your city rank? Find out HERE.

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Barna Research has released a new study that ranks the “Bible-mindedness” of American cities. Check out the report complete with info graphic HERE.

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The first airing of The Bible on The History Channel reaped the highest non sports viewer response of 2013. Barna research has released new findings on American’s view of the Bible. Check it out HERE.

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Perhaps you’ve seen the hubbub in today’s news that Harvard Divinity Professor Karen King has discovered a piece of parchment dated sometime in the second century that claims Jesus was married to a woman named Mary during the time of his incarnation. The parchment, roughly the size of a cell phone, cites Jesus making a reference to his wife.

Since the publication of this “discovery,” scholars around the world have stepped up to the microphone to either support the discovery or to disavow it as fraudulent.

Let me make a few, brief observations as an everyday pastor serving a congregation in the midwest. First, the Bible we carry and open on our laps is not the product of a given manuscript. It is the product of literally thousands and thousands of manuscripts that have been collected and verified by scholars over the course of hundreds of years. So if we have one cell phone size fragment from a manuscript that quotes Jesus referencing a wife, we have hundreds that would argue the opposite. The debate is not “my parchment is better than yours.” The argument out of Harvard is “my parchment is better than the nearly 7,000 Greek manuscripts you possess.” This is the argument from sheer volume. The Bible in your lap is reliable. It’s stood the test of time. Roll with it.

The second thing I would offer is that the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture itself. Every sentence in the Bible fits with all of the rest. We all face the temptation to take pet verses and build entire theologies around them. This practice is called “proof-texting.” We don’t get the privilege of picking and choosing the verses we like and kicking to the curb the verses we don’t. The Bible has 66 unique voices that relate the story of God to us. We traditionally call these voices the “books” of the Bible. But don’t forget that the Bible is a unified document which is best appreciated and interpreted when treated as a whole unit.

Finally, don’t let claims like this make you afraid of scholarship. Personally, I’m thankful that there are people who have devoted their lives to furthering the study of Scripture. We don’t know it all, in part because we are finite in our capacity, but also because the Bible is simply that rich of a resource. Every day new discoveries are being made in archeology. Every day new papers are being published and books are being composed. We don’t know it all. Don’t let that fact make you afraid of something new. Let that fact make you a better Bible student. At the same time, you have a responsibility to be discerning. So don’t swallow everything that comes down the stream.

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I grew up in a day when there just weren’t a lot of options. My home of origin had three television stations, two grocery stores, and one Bible translation, the KJV. So naturally I cut my Bible reading teeth on a text written on the twelfth grade level. As time marched on, other translations began to emerge. The New KJV came along, smoothing out some of the archaic language while still honoring the spirit of the KJV. Then came the NASB (New American Standard), followed by the all time best selling NIV (New International Version) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Currently I’m reading the New Living Translation and am enjoying it very much.

As you know, today we have multiple versions of the Bible that are readily available. Even secular book store chain will carry a dozen or more options for those in the market for a new Bible. I’ve read each of the above mentioned versions cover to cover, and as I’ve read them have carried them into the pulpit and have used each of them in worship and preaching. I’m honored to share a few comments about how to select a Bible translation for you, the faithful reader of this blog.

The first thing you’ll want to know about Bible translations is the philosophical difference in how the version is interpreted. All authentic translations are taken from the Hebrew and Greek texts. (The difference between a translation and a paraphrase is that a translation comes from the ancient text while a paraphrase is a reiteration of the English text.) Some translations interpret the text “word for word.” In this approach, the goal is to convey the most precise interpretation of each individual word in the manuscript. Examples of word for word translations are the KJV, NKJV, and the NASB.

The other approach is to interpret the text “thought for thought.” The idea here is to value to concept to make sure that the main idea of the passage is conveyed clearly. Obviously one can get each individual word correct yet still fail to communicate the broader point being made by the verse(s). Examples of this would be the NIV, TNIV, and the NLT.

Think of the difference this way: word for word sees and values the individual trees while the thought for thought sees and values the forest. I don’t know that there is really a right or wrong in this. It’s simply a matter of preference and what the reader is really wanting out of the study experience.

The second tip I would offer is to remember that every translation is an interpretation. Valid translations are conducted by a committee of scholars who are well versed in biblical languages, theology, church history, and pastoral ministry. Each committee brings their education and their experience to the table. Take, for example one of the more popular new translations, the ESV. It is unapologetically reformed in its theology. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you know it going to check out. On the other hand you have the NLT, which is distinctly evangelical in its theology. Again, its not about right or wrong. I’m simply trying to make the point that you need to be aware that Bible translations are not neutral. Each possesses a theological bent. In fact, you can discern a lot about the theology of a church simply based on the translation that the pastor uses for preaching.

So how do you determine the theological bent of a translation? The easiest way is to thumb through the introductory pages of the translation and see who served on the translation team. Who are they? Where do they teach? A little cyphering at this point will tell you much about how certain passages will be handled, especially in the Pauline epistles.

Third, don’t rely on familiar passages to help you make a decision. Even the most contemporary translations will refrain from tampering greatly with commonly known sections such as Psalm 23, John 3:16, or the Lord’s Prayer. If you want to see how the translation really works, you’ll need to select a passage that is important to you and do the direct comparison accordingly. Visiting a free site such as www.bibletab.com will allow you to do direct parallel comparisons to get a feel for how the translation team handled important passages.

Finally, follow the money. At the end of the day, it’s about cash. The most popular translations may not be the best translations. They may simply have invested the most marketing dollars. Translations live and die based on sales, not scholarship. So whatever you do, don’t make your decision based on what the sales statistics report. Pick what speaks to you.

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Feb
20

I Can Only Speak for Me:: 2

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Joshua spent the lion’s share of two chapters giving his final sermon to the children of Israel. Most of his points simply reiterate principles that he had previously shared with the people. For example, in chapter 23 verse 6, Joshua reminded the people to be careful to follow the book of instruction given to them by Moses. “So be careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or the left” (NLT). If those words sound familiar you’re right. They are almost a verbatim the same words that were shared in Joshua 1:7.

Baptists share a longstanding reputation of being a “people of the Book.” Though thousands of years have passed between Joshua’s words and today, we still place a high value on the words of God as preserved through the Bible. Why such value? I believe its because the words of God reveal the living Word of God. The Bible reveals to us who God is, what He is like, and what He expects of His created ones. It also tells us how we can know Him and relate to Him through our worship and prayer. It is an authoritative source for faith and life.

Its unfortunate that people have made the Bible such a battlefield, often reducing it to nothing more than a litmus test for orthodox faith. I suppose some are even guilty of Bible-olatry, where the Scripture is worshipped more than the One it reveals. Being serious about the Bible means so much more than stockpiling trivial knowledge that puffs us up with pride. Its purpose is higher than serving as a billy club to beat others into submission with proof texts. It is the self disclosure of God to a fallen world. Within its pages we find help, hope, and ultimately, the way to eternal life.

What kind of relationship do you have with the Bible? What function does it serve to strengthen your faith? Tomorrow I’ll continue with the second part of Joshua’s closing words.

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Sep
07

Scripture and the Authority of God

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This book came recommended to me by one of our members at Ashworth Road. Jason had finished the first edition, published under the title, The Last Word, and encouraged me to pick it up. Scripture and the Authority of God is the 2nd edition of that original title by N.T. Wright.

Scripture and the Authority of God is not a book about hermeneutics, but rather Wright’s suggestion as to how we should approach reading the Bible in our modern culture. Certainly the Bible is a hot button among evangelicals today, who often resort to using the Bible for the purpose of proof texting their own traditions and values. While many concur that the Bible is an authoritative document, opinions vary as to what kind of authority that conveys. What are the limits or extents of that authority? And what role does the Holy Spirit play in relationship to this authority? With those concerns in hand, Wright presents a balanced approach to the challenge.

Wright devotes the first chapters of the book to a historical survey of how the Scriptures have been handled since the Old Testament. The author reminds the reader that not all generations through history have treated the Scriptures the way we presently treat them. Does the manner in which the Bible has been read in history inform us in any way as to how we should read the Bible today? That, in part, is Wright’s point.

So what purpose does the Bible serve in history and our present day? According to Wright, to understand the purpose of the Scripture we have to think macro and not micro. The Bible was written to bear the gospel of Jesus and to serve as the missional document of the Church. The story of the Bible is chiefly the account of God’s involvement in human history and His redemptive plan that is unveiled through Jesus Christ. As the church emerges in the first century, she becomes the standard bearer, proclaiming the gospel to the farthest reaches of the world. We live to day as a continuance of the plot that was inaugurated through the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost.

How then shall we read the Bible? Wright proposes five ways that will assist and empower us to read the Bible in today’s culture. The list is provided as follows:

1. A totally contextual reading of Scripture.
Meaning, we must renew our commitment to understanding the words of Scripture in their proper contexts, including the verses, chapters, and books of the Bible, and past that into the historical and cultural settings. The words of the Bible meant something then as well as now.

2. A liturgical grounded reading of Scripture.
In other words, Scripture must be read in community. In the first century, public reading of Scripture may have been the only way that people heard the Scripture. Bible reading was not primarily an individual exercise. First and foremost came community. With this being said, Wright presents a powerful argument for the systematic reading of the Bible in corporate worship today.

3. A privately studied reading of Scripture.
While the primary hearing of Scripture may be conducted through the worship of the people, private reading and study is to be encouraged. Private Bible reading is both the privilege and responsibility of each Christian.

4. A reading of Scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship.
Wright views scholarship as “a great gift of God to the church, aiding it in its task of going ever deeper into the meaning of Scripture and so being refreshed and energized for the tasks to which we are called in and for the world (134-135).”

5. A reading of Scripture taught by the church’s accredited leaders.
Years ago the pastoral leaders of congregations had “studies,” whereas today they have “offices.” This significant shift over the past four decades has impacted the church. Wright recognizes that pastoral leaders have to deal with the management and operation of congregational ministry, however, the preaching and teaching of Scripture remains the heart of ministry.

Scripture and the Authority of God is a simple, yet helpful treatment of how to read the Bible in the 21st century. I recommend this book to you, especially if you’re weary of petty arguments about biblical interpretation over things that, by and large, just don’t matter.

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