Reading the Bible Well

There is a chapter in Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet that is subtitled “What Does God Want to Happen to Listeners?” Bravo McKnight! Excellent question! He starts by discussing Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine and finds it to be both annoying and delightful. Annoying on account of Augustine’s questionable exegesis. Delightful because of Augustine’s premise that the Bible’s main mission is “that we can become people who love God and love others.”

Reading the bible well does involve certain skills. We need to be attentive to genre and structure. We need to be aware of audience and context. It is helpful to learn of resources that help us to understand these things. But reading the bible well does not end with scholarship. Reading the bible well ends with disciples. People who desire to follow Jesus and therefore practice what is learned in the bible. People who act on what it is to love God and one another. McKnight says that the bible, “is to give us facts so that we will move those facts into relationship, character, and action.”

McKnight calls out II Timothy 3.14-17 as a mission statement for the bible. He goes on to say that “God speaks to us so we will be the kind of people he wants and will live the way he wants us to live.” He asks “what do we want our students to be and to be able to do?” There is a difference in asking what we want students to know and asking what they “are able to do with what they know.”

McKnight wants us to know that when reading the bible we are reading the words of God. So he highlights that the Spirit “takes words on paper and turns them into the living presence of God speaking to us.” Our reading then, is relational. We are listening to words from God. He goes on to say that what leads the reader into a life of good works “is the promise that the Spirit who hovered over the author is the same Spirit at work in the reader.”

The bible does not aim to make us scholars, but to be followers. “God designs all biblical study to be a useful process that leads us to the bible in such a way that it creates a person who loves God and loves others.” When we read the bible well we are being shaped, formed, and changed. McKnight says that we are changed “from what we are into what God wants us to be.”

He concludes the chapter talking about good works and offers as a definition; “good works are concrete responses to the needs we see in our neighbors.” Then he adds that the question is not what good works are but whether we are doing them. McKnight then responds to II Timothy 3.14-17 like this; 1) if you are doing good works, you are reading the bible aright. 2) if you are not doing good works, you are not reading the bible aright. “If you are in the first group, keep it up; if you are in the second group, make some changes.”