The Bible Study I Think We Really Need

person reading bibleI 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.

I think this has some good insights and I wholeheartedly agree at the subtle nature of prosperity teaching. I’ve actually argued that we should probably call it something else because the premise of prosperity teaching is not really about going after money but a placed hope in tangible realities being the foundation of our faith. And it’s not just about material blessings but about how we feel about what those blessings mean to our Christianity. When hope is placed in achieving a certain status or obtaining certain blessings or realizing a certain emotional security instead of the all sufficient sacrifice of Christ and faithful witness of his church, and this hope is biblically justified with certain proof-texts, I wonder if better Bible reading methods will make a difference?  


So there’s still something missed. The ones who are opting for the premise of prosperity-ish teaching are not doing so because they aren’t reading their Bible or even seeking to faithfully interpret it. There’s a philosophy that is being imposed on the Bible that turns Christianity into something that’s a bit foreign to its history and foundation. When you add in the impact of therapeutic Christianity and re-shapes biblical and theological terms in ways that are emotionally satisfying to our contemporary culture, what you get is something a bit different than what the church has historically known.  That’s why I think its so challenging to discuss these differences with those who ARE using Scripture on their side. 


But then we have to take that even further and acknowledge that truth is not necessarily being derived from the Bible. I am often amazed when I encounter Christians who either don’t acknowledge the Bible as the word of God which speaks with authority  OR obtain Christian truths through other methods, such as God’s direct speech outside of Scripture and our experience. There are people who profess Christ but don’t believe that the Bible is really needed. At that point, its almost impossible to argue from a basis of the Bible.


So it seems to me that what we really need is a better understanding of our presuppositions are being formed and imposed on our definitions of Christianity. What we really need are user-friendly books on theological method. Theological method is not just about Bible interpretation but what the Bible is and why it speaks with authority. Theological method starts with asking the question of how we know and understand God’s truth and how has he revealed that to us. Now this is a topic that I think tends to stay within the realms of seminary and those inclined to study the discipline of theology.  But theological method aids in our understanding of how Christian truth is derived and why. I could be wrong, but in these postmodern times of everyone obtaining truth in their own eyes, this is the Bible study that we really need and should be brought down to a very basic level.  What do you think?

4 thoughts on “The Bible Study I Think We Really Need

  1. Tiribulus January 25, 2014 / 11:20 pm

    This is a very good piece Lisa. Ya kill me when ya do this. Ya know that right? I bet you can guess why 🙂

  2. twiga92 June 5, 2014 / 7:30 am

    Yes! People are trying to use the Bible to say what they want it to say, instead of what it really says. So are you going to write the book? 🙂

  3. Nate Sonner June 6, 2014 / 1:10 am

    Let the Reader Understand
    by Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton (both from WTS)

    Part One: The Foundation of Understanding: Presuppositions
    1. Truth, Language, and Sin
    2. Knowing God: Presuppositions About the Bible and Creation
    3. The Foundation and the Frame: Presuppositions and Interpretation

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