Page 2 of 3

Moreover, what is good—even glorious—about her reading of Jeremiah 29:11 as applied to her diet is that she has the right posture toward God and Holy Scripture as she reads. That is, she is going to the Bible looking for God to speak and guide and direct her life very personally. She expects the living God to speak to her, and she is willing to listen. She has chosen the better part. Certainly we might want her to grow in her theological knowledge and interpretive skills, but not at the expense of this simple God-ward faith and posture.

We as trained exegetes and theologians can and should also have this posture, but honest self-reflection reveals that for most of us, our learning often creates layers of distance between us and hearing the Bible as God’s Word to us. Although it was obtained for the supposed goal of bridging the gap between us and the biblical text, our training in fact often creates in our hearts and minds an elaborate structure of paper walls and divisions that create a maze of distance between us and Scripture. Relegating meaning to the sensus historicus, obtained through the employment of an elaborate skill set, and making understanding and application secondary steps only opens the door for this deferral more widely. Instead, we can learn from our faithful mothers-in-law that to read Scripture is to seek to hear and obey God now in very practical ways. Anything less is not reading Holy Scripture according to its purpose.

If we’ve made it this far in our thinking, then the second question posed to ourselves becomes a little clearer. We should not say anything to her about her refrigerator magnet if that conversation will be a lecture on improper exegesis or the foolishness of such mistaken theological reading. If we discourage her devotional reading of Scripture and/or sow seeds of doubt in her mind about reading the Bible as God speaking to her, then we are certainly doing more harm than good and likely we should be put into the category of “causing those little ones to stumble”—not a positive place according to Jesus.

Yet at the same time, this does not mean that she is free from the need for instruction and guidance in reading. This is, after all, why God has always given teachers, preachers, and prophets to the church: to guide how we read and understand and apply the Scriptures. And herein lies a beautiful balance worth pursuing: developing skills as readers (whether professional or lay) while also keeping the true goal always in sight—hearing, reading, and applying the Holy Scriptures to our lives. This is understanding. This is wisdom.

This same situation was already pondered and illustrated by the great theologian and hermeneutist Augustine in his textbook on how to read Scripture. His illustration has stood the test of time and indeed has experienced a renaissance recently through the rediscovery of a theological reading of Scripture. Augustine promotes a balance between reading the Scriptures for the sense that the author (including God) intended and yet recognizing that the ultimate purpose is to build up “the twin love of God and neighbor.”

Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today
How We Read the Bible Rightly and Get It Wrong