It seems like a simple idea, reading Scripture. It’s what happens when (or if) you sit down, open up the Bible and read. But, as most of us are aware, the reality is not quite that simple. We bring to that reading many presuppositions. Presuppositions about who God is, who we are, and especially what the Scriptures are. Even presuppositions about how we should read Scripture.
I recently finished reading an excellent book called Sanctified Vision (if you love, like or are curious about the early church fathers – ahem, James Garcia – then this is a must read). While the book focused on vindicating the fathers and their exegesis of Scripture it also touched on our modern processes. One of the most helpful things the authors highlighted was the modern tendency towards a referential theory of meaning. Essentially this theory says that meaning lies in what a text refers to and whether that is “true” or not. In other words, the real meaning of a text is discovered when we uncover what lies behind the text (the event it’s talking about, the person who actually lived, etc).
Partly this is shifting in a postmodern framework for meaning, but I think it suggests a way we often read or feel like we should read the Bible – analytically. In the best way, seeking to understand what the authors really meant, we analyze the background and the context to try to better understand the text. In the worst way, we search for what we believe is true and discard the scraps as the opinion of the author but not the “facts.” But one need not be a scholar to engage in an analytic reading of Scripture; the person who seeks to simply understand the audience of Paul’s letters and why he says what he does engages in an analytical reading.
On the one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, I would suggest that an analytical reading is indispensable to our approach to Scripture. However, when analysis becomes the only tool in our toolbox we are missing out. When all we have is a hammer, how can we possibly hope to access those parts of Scripture that require a screwdriver?
If we truly believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that the Spirit was both involved in its writing and in its reading today, then surely there is also room in our theology for a spiritual reading of Scripture. Pure analysis rarely develops an appreciation for beauty. It prevents us from tasting, rolling words around in our mouths, reflecting on the emotions they evoke, letting the words stir our souls. We often read to get information or to check off our daily reading plan, but not to be transformed. As we read Scripture, with the help of the Spirit, we should read not just analytically but seeking to be confronted by Christ, to be transformed simply by experiencing Scripture itself.
I imagine that if we patiently sat with Scripture, tasting and playing it through our hearts and minds, transformation may become a little easier. Of course, there’s always a need for analysis but a toolbox needs both a hammer and a screwdriver (and when they work together, it’s even better).
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk [the Word], that by it you may grow up to salvation – if indeed you have tasted the Lord is good.” –1 Peter 2:2-3