I recently saw a publishers list of forthcoming books, most of which were academically oriented but at the same time, user-friendly type material. I couldn’t help but notice yet more books on “how to read the Bible”. Now anyone who knows me, knows my passion for this area. As one who spent many years reading Scripture in a fragmented way with the tendency to impose presuppositions on to the text. This is because the teaching I was exposed to informed the method by which I was reading Scripture and interpreting accordingly.
Over the past several years, my studies have reverted to understanding Scripture more holistically, historical and cultural background, how language is being used, who the author’s were and what were they addressing, how the events of each book relate to the overall grand narrative of what God is accomplishing in redemptive history. But most importantly how Christ is at the center of it all. This has cut down on the tendency to take passages out of context and impose prescriptions where they really don’t exist in the narrative.
So I get that we need the “how to” books that break down good reading methods. A good study bible will have articles in it for this very purpose (I recommend the ESV Study Bible). Also, there’s Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All its Worth.
But I don’t think this goes quite far enough. I could be wrong, but the problem does not seem to be that Christians don’t read the Bible, though that has been on the decline. Even the ones who do are already reading with certain presuppositions. The rise in Biblical Studies have given the impression that we can read Scripture with a neutral lens but that’s a problem. I love what Derek Rishmawy says about that here. And as I wrote about here, no one comes to the text neutral. No matter how objective we think we are being, there are presuppositions that are being imposed on the text.
I came across this insightful commentary on the 9Marks blog about prosperity teaching and the direction the church might take with respect to it. Jonathan Leeman wrote;
As with any pressurized system, the growing cultural opposition to the biblical faith will send Christians and spiritual seekers in search of a relief valve, some path of least resistance that lets the God-talk continue flowing through the pipes, while the tough demands of the faith disappear through a valve door. And here it’s hard to think of a better path of least resistance than a message that promises health and wealth but is effectively post-biblical.
Prosperity is a different kind of sneaky than theological liberalism because it usually affirms the doctrines you affirm, at least with its lips. Liberalism appeals to the intellect, prosperity to the appetite. But it’s like liberalism in two ways: it exploits the evangelical inclination toward an attractional model of ministry, which builds on common ground with the culture; and it enters church buildings and sermon manuscripts wearing Christian camouflage. It sneaks in softly, gently, not with the BLING BLING of the Preachers of L.A., but with a nodding and sympathetic, “You want a healthy marriage? Jesus wants that, too.” Which of course is true. Yet little by little, the Bible becomes a handbook to your best life. Church morphs into a therapy session. And God and his gospel exist for your sake, not you for his. Hello, Shadow Christianity.
Amidst external oppositions and internal temptations, I expect the broad center of evangelical churches to move in one of two directions in the coming decade: toward prosperity squishy or biblical solidity. The latter could mean another fundamentalist retreat, or it could mean learning how to better balance our bridge-building instincts with biblical fidelity in everything from sermon scope to church structure.