This blog series is inspired by a lecture I had the privilege of attending by Dr. Ronald J. Sider. At the beginning of his lecture, he outlined some basic guidelines for how we should interpret the Bible. Though not every article is directly from this lecture, I am drawing heavily upon what Dr. Sider presented, however I am also drawing upon my education and experience. My hope is that each of these articles will help all of us more faithfully read and understand the Holy Scriptures.
There is so much more that could be said about how we read the Bible. In this series, we have looked at the horizon of the text, the horizon of the reader, and how we need to be careful not to read things into the text that are not there, and understanding the author’s intent. We looked at the importance of situating what we read in the scope of the entire canon. That is, what part of the Biblical narrative is a particular verse part of, and what does that context mean for how we understand it? We looked at the importance of reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus the Christ, different sources of authority to help us better understand the Bible, and the literary genre of the different books of the Bible. We also looked at the importance of the Holy Spirit in our study of the Word, and how God truly wants to meet us through the pages of the Bible.
I want to leave you with a quote that I shared in the first post of this series. Paul Lederach, in A Third Way, writes, “Perhaps it is in the wisdom of God that there are many theological streams, so that in the end the totality of His truth will be comprehended in ways no one stream could communicate alone. Thus a responsibility is placed upon each stream to articulate and to live its vision as clearly as possible. It is my opinion that those in the…[denomination] make their best contribution to the total Christian community when, lovingly, they articulate clearly and live committedly the vision that has come to them. When this is done with respect for others, the confluence of these streams will result in new learnings, new commitments, and new forms of obedience for these times. And the truth of God in its varicolored splendor will be seen and known in the world.”
Though you might find yourself disagreeing with some of your Christian brothers and sisters about how to interpret different parts of Scripture, live your convictions and articulate your vision as clearly as possible. Live it out with commitment. Follow God and move forward confidently. But also remember that you might be wrong on a few things, so be humble. This is not to say that we should freely dive into moral relativism or that all interpretations of the Scriptures are equally valid—that would be contradictory nonsense. It is to say, however, that we might serve a different function in the body of Christ than someone else, and so will see thing a bit differently. Therefore we should all serve faithfully while living humbly with regard to our particular stream of Christianity. As mentioned before, orthodoxy is important, but there are a lot of minor issues that we could afford to be more gracious with. In fact, I don’t think we can afford to be any less gracious. My father in-law sometimes says, “As different Christian denominations, we are all different flavours of ice-cream. Some are chocolate, others are strawberry, and each flavour has its loyal fans. So it doesn’t really matter which flavour you are, so long as you’re still ice-cream.”
I once had a chance to sit down and talk with Dr. Leonard Sweet, and at some point in our conversation he said something to me that I will never forget. He told me about a professor he knew who would say something like this: “I’m pretty sure that 80% of my theology is right, and about 20% is wrong. The problem is, I don’t know which parts are right and which ones are wrong, so I don’t know what to change.”
Though the numbers might change somewhat for each person, I know that none of us understands the Bible perfectly or fully. Though we should move forward confidently based on what we do know now, we should also recognize that we each have blind spots, and we should all be open to correction from the Lord as we learn and grow in faith.
So move forward. Be confident. Be bold, even. But be humble. Remember that you are not done learning yet, and God still has something to teach you. When you are corrected, change your way to reflect your new understanding, and make amends wherever is necessary. Then keep moving forward, serving God both confidently and humbly. Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing. Live out your faith and your convictions. Learn to spend time with people who are different from you without fighting with them, and also without jumping on whatever the latest bandwagon may be. Learn to appreciate different ideas even if you don’t believe them to be true and learn how to articulate your own convictions clearly and lovingly, so that you can share your beliefs with others in ways that don’t stir up conflict unnecessarily, but in a way that fosters understanding.
The Bible is an incredible book, and I hope and pray that through this blog series I might have helped you better understand how to read the Bible, so that you might come to a better understanding of our Lord, and better still, to encounter the true and living God through His words for us today.