Yes, I know. There are tons of books out there dealing with the subject of how to study the Bible. And you may have read some of them and may feel that you don’t want to be bothered with yet another book on this subject. But before you lose interest and stop reading right here, let me tell you why this book — How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Stewart and Fee — not only is absolutely worth reading, but ranks among the “must-read books” for every committed and devoted lay Bible student or teacher.
We all know the importance of interpreting the Bible correctly. Our understanding of Scripture deeply influences our Christian lives, our families, our ministries, etc. To give you an example, I heard of a church in Germany where in which women are still required to cover their heads with scarves before coming to church, because Paul talks about a sign of authority on their heads (1 Co 11:10). In a similar vein, Paul forbade women to preach (1Tim 2:11-15). Some churches obey this command literally, forbidding women to preach or to teach men. We in UBF do not literally follow such verses; women are allowed to publicly speak in our congregations and teach and preach from time to time. This implies that we have understood these passages in a different way. If we adhere to a certain interpretation, we should have good and sound reasons why we understood a passage in one way and not another.
At last weekend’s Harvest Festival in College Park, Maryland, my friend David Kim gave a lively and colorful presentation titled “Fruitful Fishing and One-to-One Bible Study.” His talk really made me think.
In the middle of the talk, he presented statistics reported by a New York missionary in 2005. At the beginning of the fall semester, 300 students were contacted to see if they would be interested in Bible study. Three students (1.0%) actually came to a Bible study, and one student (0.3%) eventually participated in discipleship training.
Statistics don’t lie, but they can be interpreted in many different ways. Here are two opposing narratives that can be built around that figure of 0.3 percent.
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What’s the problem with the church? Someone said, “The problem with the church is that it has people!” This is funny, I think. But the reality is that Christians in church inflict wounds and emotional trauma on one other. If we have been in church long enough, we experience recurrent problems of conflicts, quarrels, divisions and factions. These weaken the church, spread disunity, and displease God.
Why do we have divisions in church? Surely this happens for a multitude of reasons which are all rooted in our sinful pride, along with interpersonal, racial, cultural and prejudicial blind spots. But let’s look specifically at the church at Corinth and see if we might discover the cause of divisions there, and how Paul dealt with it.
Bible-believing Christians maintain that there is absolute truth. We reject the popular idea that right and wrong may be tailored to suit individual preferences and occasions. But how many of us live out this conviction? Do we actually tell the truth in all circumstances? Or do we practice situation ethics, changing our stories whenever it suits us?
In an excellent little book titled Dare to Be True, Mark D. Roberts makes a convincing case that most people are not very honest in their thoughts, words, or actions. It is extremely difficult to be truthful in today’s world. Most of us routinely give in to the temptation to exaggerate, spin, obscure, or misrepresent. By this dishonesty we injure ourselves, damage our relationships with people around us, and keep a safe distance from God.
Jeannine Brown’s book Scripture as Communication offers the reader a communicative model for biblical interpretation. God communicates with us, and he uses the variegated genres of the Bible to accomplish this purpose. According to Brown, this understanding allows for cognitive and noncognitive interpretations of a text. A biblical author may write a propositional statement, but he may also be doing something as he writes: praising, exhorting, etc. In short, “a communication model allows for such a holistic approach” (pg. 16).
Brown beckons us to approach the Bible with a hermeneutic of communication. Before adopting this the communicative model, we ought to ask whether or not the theory can account for interpreting all of the genres of the Bible, and how well this theory can be applied in practical theology — in the pulpit, in Bible study, in evangelism, and on the mission field.