When have we sufficiently read the Bible?: on individualism and community

I came across this article the other day on The Gospel Coalition, Let’s Be Honest: Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles. Erik Raymond suggests 5 reasons:

1) It makes us uncomfortable

2) It’s too hard

3) We are undisciplined

4) We think it’s stale and lifeless

5) We have a dysfunctional relationship with God

He gets to the crux of the matter with this statement;

Let’s be honest: if you don’t read your Bible it is because you don’t want to read your Bible. And to bottom line this further, this is indicative or your relationship with God. We cannot separate a love for the Word of God and the God of the Word.

person holding bibleNow, a lot of this really resonated with me since I’ve written similar prescriptions of why we might find Bible reading boring. Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows my passion for believers being serious about Bible reading and comprehension. In fact, I would expand on his 2nd point about the Bible being too hard in that Christians really need a framework to understand how the 66 books fit together as God’s complete story of redemption. When I consider my own trajectory in Bible reading, my comprehension of the holistic Christ-centered nature of Scripture has evolved and is evolving over time because of the direction of others. But especially because of how it is emphasized in the preaching and teaching of the Word at my church. Over the past decade, I have been increasingly exposed to preaching that considers the holistic nature of Scripture not just cherry picked verses to support whatever instruction the preacher wants to provide so that I do x, y and z.

And that leads me to ponder prescriptions about I need to read the Bible on my own. Truth is, while I accept Raymond’s reasons for our lack of motivation of reading the Bible, there was something not sitting quite right with me. The reasons were all about what we do with our private time in the Bible – just me and my Bible. Now, hear what I’m NOT saying. I’m not saying that we should not read the Bible in our private time apart from corporate gatherings. Nor am I suggesting that Raymond is advocating abandonment of the community.

teacher_small groupBut when I consider, the framework for which Christianity exists as the body of Christ, I can’t help but see these prescriptions as indicating the way we understand our Bible is by ourselves, with our tools on our own. And that leads me to ask this question: Why we do think we’ve not read the Bible sufficiently unless it’s on our own? I’m also asking this question to myself since this is how I’ve been conditioned. But I’m wondering if this is the way it is supposed to be considering the communal paradigm in which Christianity is supposed to exist in which we grow together in the Lord (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:11-16). How much of these reasons why we don’t read the Bible is about the individualism promoted through contemporary evangelicalism?

In God is Not Enough: The Story of Christian Community, I think Rich Lusk presents a challenge to Christians today in how we think about our individualistic pursuits;

Moreover, the whole Christian life can only be lived out in the context of the church community. The New Testament authors presuppose that followers of Christ will be discipled in the matrix of an ecclesial community (cf. Acts 2:42ff). Numerous apostolic commands only make sense in this light. For example, we are told to love one another, pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, confess to one another, forgive one another, and so on. In other words, we’re to “one another one another.” But this can only happen in the environment of a church body. It can’t be done in isolation.

American Christians struggle with these things because of our heritage of individualism and dislike for authority (including church authority). Community means you give up some privacy, some of your rights. It means you sometimes have to accommodate yourself to things you wish could be done differently. You have to learn to “give a little,” and to be flexible. It means we have to learn that life together involves becoming vulnerable at times, admitting weaknesses and needs. It also means meeting needs and showing strength on behalf of others at times. Communal life means we are willing to submit to the brethren, especially those God has put in charge of us through ordained office.

But whatever the costs, it is imperative that we learn to live in community once again. We must learn to deal with our differences in a biblical manner (Phil. 2:1-11). We must learn to live under authority (Heb. 13:7, 17). We must learn work together on the common project of building God’s kingdom. We must learn to live as an organic body, in which every part of the community cares for every other part. We must learn what it means to be the communion of the saints, as we confess in the early church creeds. We must rediscover what it means to live shared lives of generosity, of mercy, of friendship, and of hospitality. Many of these virtues the ancient church excelled in have been lost on us.

American spirituality often treats church community as a “tacked on” extra to a personal relationship with Jesus. In other words, we often act as if God alone is enough, and other Christians were quite unnecessary. “Quiet times,” in which the individual gets alone with God, have replaced the church’s corporate gathering as the pinnacle of spiritual growth. But the Bible points us in a different direction. Remember Adam: life alone with God is not the divine plan for us. God alone is not enough, in a profound sense. We must live in fellowship as one body with other believers if we are to grow and mature as God’s people. As Augustine said, the essence of God’s plan for humanity is mutual fellowship with himself. We are called to share a common life with the Trinity and with one another.

This is a good reminder, I think to remember that our life is not our own. Yes, those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and adopted into the family of God through the sacrificial work of the Son, belong to the Father. But in a sense, we also belong to one another. This is repeatedly emphasized in the NT letters. What we learn of Christ, we learn together and it is in this framework, that we grow together in the Lord. So why would this also not incorporate our reading and studying of Scripture? I contend, that the church that does not orient believers in whole books of the Bible and how they fit within the redemptive narrative, is not really doing it’s job. This is what fuels motivation for Scripture reading, not the individual reader getting motivated on his or her own to understand what Scripture is really saying. I also recognize that pastors/teachers must spend a good amount of time studying in order to communicate the text to others. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

So it makes me think about reasons I may not read the Bible on my own. Maybe it’s because I’m not really supposed to. Or at a minimum, because our inspiration comes by what was learned when we come together.

One thought on “When have we sufficiently read the Bible?: on individualism and community

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s