I am settling into a new Sunday school class. (It’s actually a class that I helped start several years ago and have returned to after doing some other things on Sunday mornings.)
The class emphasizes freewheeling discussion and has studied an eclectic assortment of books on a number of topics. Our substitute teacher decided to review some of the books and topics that the class has covered over the past year or so and began by referring to this passage:
This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
As he began his review, he asked the question, “Has any of this helped you to grow closer to Christ?” Although I have not been in the class for a while, I have read most of the books they have studied, so I applied the question to myself.
As I reflected, I began to think about my own pilgrimage in relationship to Scripture. Over the past 50-plus years since I became a believer, my concept of the Bible has certainly changed. When I was in my 20s, I probably thought that I had answered most of the questions I had about the Scriptures, but as time went on, I realized that Scripture still had a number of questions to ask me.
Various writers and teachers have expanded my appreciation for the Scriptures. For me, the Bible is at the same time a very familiar and a very surprising book. Where I stand today, I would list these observations about my relationship with the Bible.
1. I have come to realize that while Scripture may be a comfort in time of need, I tend to grow more when Scripture makes me uncomfortable. The primary purpose of studying the Bible is not to make me feel good but to produce some level of discomfort that results in personal change.
2. I have come to understand that the Bible is dynamic. The canon may have been closed, but the Bible continues to provide new truth through the work of the Spirit of God.
3. I have learned not only is it important to have some understanding of the context in which Scripture was originally written and the audience to which it was addressed but also the present context to which it speaks.
4. I have discovered that I can listen to perspectives on Scripture that differ from my own without harming my faith. In fact, some of these perspectives have enriched my faith.
5. I have learned that my study of Scripture is limited when it is simply an individual exercise. I need a community to help me to achieve a more balanced understanding of how God speaks to us.
6. Finally, and most important, I have discovered that I must always use the lens of Christ in reading Scripture. Only a Christocentric approach provides the focus that results in the balance between believing and behaving.
So I can read contemporary writers like Borg, McLaren and Wright or writers of an earlier time like Augustine, Luther or Fox to gain perspective on the Bible, but in the end I read the Bible and allow God to speak through it.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.