A good point was brought up in the comments. It was suggested that fundamentalists do not take the Bible at face value. After thinking about it for a second I realized that is completely true. If fundamentalists really did take the Bible for what it was meant to be they would be just about the most radical, revolutionary and loving people in the world. As it is fundamentalists are usually dry, boring and rather spiteful.
So how, then, is the Bible to be read? Joey’s right that there are loads of difficult, complex and even seemingly contradictory things in that big book. Because of this we can’t just call our interpretation of the Bible ‘taking it at face value’ even though I’d like to. This is basically how I think the Bible should be read:
- With a focus on what is focused on. Major in major points. Those things that are repeated the most and stressed the most and given the most place in Scripture should be given the most place in deciding how to interpret it. The things that I see repeated most are issues about the glory of God, the waywardness of man, the benefits of following God, the supremacy of Christ and the radical demands placed on the life of a believer. I see these things stressed again and again and so I give them high place.
- Literally. I do not mean that every single word in the Bible has a corresponding physical meaning. If that were the case then Jesus would be a physical, wooden door. When I say I read the Bible literally I mean that I try to take it the way the author intended it. So when things are obviously meant in a spiritual way I take them spiritually. When they are meant in a physical way I take them physically. It’s hard to figure out which one is which, but I don’t believe it is necessary to take something as purely spiritual just because it involves the miraculous.
- Prayerfully. If we believe in any way that the Bible is God’s book and God is alive and active then we’d be fools to read it on our own. Our reading must be saturated with prayer so that the Spirit will guide us into the meaning He meant for us. Reading the Bible without praying is kinda like taking your vitamins without eating any food. It looks good, but you’ll starve to death anyway.
- Honestly and self-critically. Let’s face it, we’re sorely influenced by the way we’ve been brought up and our education. Regardless of our background and convictions we all need to realize that we are influenced by our families, teachers, favorite books and movies and everything else we’re come in contact with. Try to limit how much influence all this has over the way you read. Not that this influence is bad, because it is by influence that we learn. We cannot teach ourselves everything. It’s just that when trying to figure out how to read the Bible it’s best if we do it without presuppositions.
- With a focus. People read the Bible for different reasons. If you read the Bible purely for interests’ sake then I suppose it doesn’t really matter much how you choose to read it. But if you read the Bible to change your life and understand God better then the way you read it matters very much. It’s pointless to read the Bible if you have no reason to read it. Find out what your reason is.
My little list here is born out of my convictions on what the Bible is. If you think the Bible is something different you’ll certainly end up reading it differently. Of course, all this stuff is useless if the Bible doesn’t change our lives. It’s true that fundamentalists have failed miserably here by studying the Bible intently and trying to find the right way to ‘think’ instead of allowing the Bible to change and challenge them to the right thing to ‘be’. I realize I may have worded things a little off in my last post. Joey’s right on that the people who read the Bible to gain fuel to attacking others and insisting all those different from them are on their way to hell are scary. In my reply I didn’t really mean to say that those who consider the Bible literally and inerrantly the Word of God are scary. I meant that those who claim these things had better be living radically obedient lives. The Bible, though certainly concerned with thinking rightly about God, seems more concerned with being holy before him.
A dear friend of mine words it better than I could:
And the reason why “fundamentalism” goes sour is that people are able to believe right and revolutionary things that don’t make sense and then completely divorce them from their lives. Or they take no prisoners on doctrine but then let huge concessions go in lifestyle. In their speech and worldview they make their own concessions as well. They take up causes that don’t cost them anything, like being anti-gay or fighting for the ten commandments monument to remain standing in the supreme court or to bring back prayer at the start of the school day. And then they completely ignore their own theology of the poor, or of hell. They believe that everyone is condemned and they reflect the wrath of God to the world, and yet make no expression in their life of the compassion that God/Jesus burn with. This is truly something that doesn’t make sense.
And what [Matthew is] saying is that if we really believe in what the bible has revealed, and actually do warp our lives to it, then we don’t make sense at all. We don’t make sense to liberals, we don’t make sense to fundamentalists. We don’t make sense on the planet. And that is the call.