What would it mean to read Scripture missionally? In what ways would we interact differently with God’s Word if we were wanting to become a God-formed, mission-shaped community? I want to talk about some of the things that I have tried, a few that I want to try, and some hunches that I have about how we could better (or more responsibly) use Scripture to shape us as God’s (missional) people.
De-Versify our Bibles
One of the projects that I have become increasingly excited about is The Books of the Bible from the International Bible Society. You can read some posts that I have written about this project elsewhere on my personal website here, here, and here.
One way that we will be able to better and more faithful readers of Scripture with an emphasis on actually doing it will be to remove the natural barriers that are raised by the insertion (and yes, they were inserted not original) of chapters and verses. With this format I find that I am able to read more Scripture, understand the natural divisions and flow of thought in each book I read, and hear more clearly what the author is trying to communicate. This format will also force us to learn our Bibles better because we will have eliminated from our habits a reliance on references.
Read at Multiple Levels
In this case I’m not talking about reading exegetically, corporately, and individually. Instead I’m talking about the level of “zoom” or “focus” that we apply to the text. I know a lot of people in my tribe that can quote Acts 2:38 and can maybe even go through verse forty-two. But ask them to tell you the significance of the sermon that leads up to that point and most of them will be at a total loss. Or take Romans 12:1-2 for another example of this. One comment (that I have heard more than once in more than one church) is “the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can get up off the altar.” While this may be true in some respects this is not the idea of the passage. How does this passage fit in with what we call Romans 6? What does the exodus narrative have to do with all this? Is there any connection between what we know as Romans 6, 9, 11, and 12? What was Paul saying up to this point that led him to the “hinge” that we find in Romans 12:1-2? I would suggest that we perhaps read and study in (at least) three different levels of “focus.”
Here the idea is to understand the “big picture.” In the book of Acts (whose context is really the entire book of Luke) you might read it in five sections. Each section ending with words like “and the word of God spread…”. The idea here is to get a feel for the contour, flavor, and focus of the book. Understanding the major structure (not a detailed outline) of a book so that you can identify recurring themes, transitions, and contexts for “key passages” will I think significantly reshape our understanding of Scripture and of our own identity as God’s missionary community.
Here you would operate within the organic sections of the book (that were discerned from the previous level) to look at smaller passages within the major sections. So, in Philippians for example this would be an examination of “the Christ hymn” in 2:6-11 which is really a subset of chapter two and the first part of chapter three. The idea here is to better understand the “units of thought” that tie the book together.
This is the place where we spend more time in reflection and meditation. After grasping major sections (grasp) and understanding particular units of thought (focus) we will take more time to wrestle with smaller pieces of Scripture. Here we would look at the two different sections of the Christ hymn by meditating on his humiliation and then exaltation.
Read in Community
I am all for individual daily Bible reading. I’m not necessarily very good at it but I certainly think it can be beneficial. What I think we often miss out on is dealing with large portions of Scripture slowly (not in 30 minute sound bites), carefully, and intentionally in community. There is something to be recovered in our churches today in the fact that the documents that constitute the New Testament were always public documents meant to be read and applied on a corporate level.
Explore, Expirement, Experience
The more I read the New Testament (and more specifically lately Luke and Acts) the more that I find that the life of the early church and the way in which they manifest themselves throughout the Roman Empire was what I would call “messy.” There were a multiplicity of ways that were employed, some of which were successful, others were a lot more problematic. (Anyone remember Paul being considered as a god and other awkward ministry moments?) If we are going to read Scripture missionally we will need to explore Scripture, experiment with what it means, and experience what God has for us.
These are the beginnings of my hunches. Any thoughts or other ways that we can better read and interact with God’s Word?