A New Way of Thinking #2

Why do we develop ways of approaching and analysing scripture (is analysing scripture ever a spiritual exercise? Probably, but maybe only when approached with a specifically spiritual end in mind not a merely intellectual end) that are abstract and unapplied? I can think of one good reason: as a response to approaches to scripture that start and end with "what is it saying to me?"

When we start and end with that question, we approach the Bible only to get out of it what I would like to hear it say. We capture its meaning within the orbit of what we would like to hear from it. We only let it speak within the limits we set on the matters we are prepared to address. Only asking "what does it say to me, or about me" is the best way of crippling and imprisoning the Word of God.

In truth we need to do the exact opposite. It is crucial we let God say what he wants to say about the things he wants to talk about. We must let him speak in his Word about the things we don't want to hear, the things we need to repent of, the things we need to be challenged by, the things that make us uncomfortable. The things that call us to wholeheartedly yield our ambitions and our lives to Him.

So there is a strong case for approaching the Bible with the question "what is it saying?" rather than "what is it saying to me?" But we must never leave it there, which is the temptation. I fall into the trap of spending so much time figuring out what it is saying that I am always in danger of neglecting to ask what it is demanding of me. The trouble is that the latter is the whole point of coming to the Bible at all: to find out how to live, how to relate to God, how to know him and love him and obey him and worship him. How to hope in him, how to love others, how to live by the Spirit, how to not put confidence in the flesh, how to die for Christ and count it gain. How to grow in maturity and joy and depth and kindness and goodness and all the other fruit of the Spirit.

I have sat through (and, in the past, delivered) countless Bible studies that stopped short of really ramming home application. I really enjoy being in a home group at the moment in which every week the leader asks "have we done what we learnt last week?" rather than the much more aenemic "can we recall what we learnt last week?" 

If we omit the application question then we don't let the Bible, or any passage in it, achieve what it is written to achieve.  No passage of scripture is written merely so we know something. That is not it's purpose. Stop there and we might as well not bother because we miss the whole point.

Knowledge, for Christians, is not an academic category, it's a moral category. We know we have understood not when we have mentally comprehended the Bible, but when we do what it says. Non-Christians can get the meaning of a lot of the Bible, but they haven't understood it because they don't obey. Its just an exercise in epistemology. If Christians leave biblical understanding at the level of knowing in the abstract then there are reasons to doubt whether we have understood anything.