Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
Guest blog by Daniel Attaway (Student at Dallas Theological Seminary)
“Bible, Bible, Bible. Everybody is reading the Bible.” This is how one of my seminary profs chose to begin one of his classes and it was slightly shocking because it was satirical. This statement is more or less true about Evangelicals because the Bible is our authority and the written revelation of God (no argument there). Have you ever encouraged someone to read their Bible? Have you ever told them that if they want to know God’s will for their life then they need to read the Bible? Have you ever even given the slightest thought as to what you were asking that person to do?
On a large scale we as Evangelicals claim that if Christians will interpret Scripture using a historical-grammatical method and good exegesis they will arrive at an orthodox interpretation. Is this true? No, and here is one reason why: interpretation never arises from a blank slate, which is what the historical-grammatical approach claims. This approach does not take into account that everyone comes to the text with presuppositions and a predisposition to interpret the text in a certain way. Currently, we find ourselves living in a post-enlightenment world, which states, “I am just concerned with the data.” So we look at the original language, the grammatical structure, and the cultural setting for our interpretation. This method is not all-together wrong or incorrect, but is it complete?
Here is how this scenario plays out… Suppose the head pastor of an evangelical church wants to do a sermon on David and Goliath. He spends the week leading up to Sunday studying the cultural background, geography, history of the Philistine/Israelite controversy, and the fight between David and Goliath. What will likely happen is after this information has been given, the pastor will say, “Here is how you slay the giants in your life,” and he goes off on that subject. Is that a poor application to make? Maybe not, but is the interpretation whole? Is that reading distinctively Christian? I submit that it is not because it is not informed by the Christ event, namely the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Stopping at the “facing your giants” interpretation seems to be what Dr. Christian Smith calls “Therapeutic-Moralistic Deism.” So what is the distinctively Christian reading? Tim Keller gave a good answer when he said, “Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.”
So what is the alternative? A Christocentric, orthodox informed lens through which we read and interpret the Scriptures. The early church interpreted Scripture through the lens of what had been passed down to them, known as the “rule of faith.” A simple definition of the rule of faith is apostolic, orthodox teaching. Irenaeus was a mainstream defender of the Christian faith against heretical teaching and he wrote that the one standard of correct interpretation is the rule of faith, which has been preserved in the church in the apostolic succession. So what is the lens? What should inform our interpretation? Orthodoxy. What is distinctively Christian is our starting point and that informs our interpretation.
In conclusion, we should not seek to read Scripture as anyone other than a Christian. You should not want to read the Old Testament like a Jew. You are not Jewish! You are Christian. The call is that we no longer place ourselves at the center of the Scriptures and determine “what they have to say to me,” but to read the Scriptures through the lens of orthodoxy and what is distinctively Christian. Is the Bible about what we are to do, or about what God has done? I believe that we have taught our people to read the Bible. We have even taught them to read it correctly with a historical-grammatical approach. But have we taught them how to read it Christianly? Don’t get me wrong, the historical-grammatical approach to interpretation is beneficial, but I do not believe it is complete. My fear along with others is that we are encouraging people to go home and read their Bibles in isolation and we give them no lens through which to do so. Sadly, the average layperson does not view God as Trinitarian, nor do they read the Scriptures through a Christocentric lens. This is raising up a multitude of people who view the Bible as their “roadmap to life,” and have little to no knowledge concerning historic Christian orthodoxy. This, among other things has lead many to predict an evangelical collapse. Do you agree or do you think orthodoxy as a starting point is ill conceived?