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Why Read the Bible?

June 1, 2014
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Christians all know that we are supposed to read the Bible. Most churches have groups or programs dedicated to getting people to read the Bible more. But why do we read the Bible? While this seems like a simple question the different answers suggest different ways that we should read and process the Bible.

I have heard two main reasons to read the Bible. The first is to gain knowledge. The Bible is the great storehouse of doctrinal information and some Christians regard learning additional doctrine as akin to leveling up in a video game. Even if one does not have an unhealthy obsession with being the most doctrinally-knowledgeable person on the planet to the exclusion of all else learning doctrine is important. So perhaps we read the Bible to gather doctrinal information.

The second reason I frequently hear to read the Bible is to get specific information about how to live. This is different than doctrinal information which may be relatively hard to translate into concrete action. (“Bob is embezzling. The Father, Son, and Spirit are three persons in one being. Therefore….”) When Bible studies do “application” these focused pieces of advice are frequently the goal.

There are issues with both of these. The issue with the doctrinal approach to the Bible is that sooner or later one should be done. We often tell people to read the same parts of the Bible again and again and yet if one has extracted all the doctrinal statements from a particular section of Luke why revisit it? Theoretically “advanced” Christians would eventually stop reading everything except the weirder bits of Revelation.

The issue with reading the Bible for specific advice is that much of the Bible is extremely hard to extract specific advice from. Proverbs is happy to hand out advice. The book of Judges is a harder place to get advice from. If we were most concerned about advice we should probably skip large sections of the Bible. In fact, we should probably skip all of the Old Testament since some of the advice in the Old Testament is later modified by the New Testament and we wouldn’t want our advice to be out of date.

There’s also a major theme that binds both the read-the-Bible-for-doctrine approach and the read-the-Bible-for-advice approach. Both of these approaches provide us with mental objects that we are familiar with: facts or advice. We already have bins in our brains for these things. They do not challenge the way we organize our minds, they simply provide some items to put on our pre-existing mental shelves.

I would like to propose that the reason we should read the Bible, all of it, multiple times is because we should be immersed in the world of Scripture where out 21st century culturally-influenced modes of thought are not present. We should, for instance, read Paul not merely so that we can pick out the good bits but so that we can practice thinking alongside him in the manner in which he thinks. It won’t be the manner in which we think (and even Paul won’t be free of some culture’s thought-patterns) but it will stretch us. If we want to think outside of the box of our culture (which is inevitably sinful) we need practice. If we want to think like God does (in general direction and pattern if not in power and scope) we need to immerse ourselves in a world with a different set of concerns, a different set of mental categories, and a different approach to just about everything.

The primary difference between this approach and the previous two is that this one is an attempt to break our mental shelving system and make us come up with a more Godly one. It’s also not a once-off process. We won’t acquire God’s manner of thinking in one go – it’s not a fact to be memorized and then done with. Instead, we need to practice thinking in this way constantly. We need to bend our mind towards Scripture again and again until the bend sticks.

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