How Not to Read the Bible

Part 4 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

We are taking a step backwards a bit in our Gospel-Centered Devotions series. Before I get to how to keep Christ at the center of the New Testament (part 8), I want to briefly walk through some unchristian ways to read the Bible.

We learn how to read the Bible from the spiritual “experts” in our lives (usually the three “P’s”: pastors, professors, parents). People especially read the Bible the same way it is preached to them. These unchristian ways to read the Bible run rampant in pulpits all across America and usually leak their ways into small group Bible studies and children’s ministries as well (see my other series going on right now). With God’s help, we can “undo” wrong ways of reading to transform our devotional times. Without further adieu, here are a handful of unchristian ways to read the Bible.

  • Moralism. You read the Bible to find morals and ethics to obey to get God in your debt. If you obey, God loves you. If you don’t obey, he doesn’t love you. When you fail, you need to try harder to ratchet up the obedience. You fail to see that your true problem is identity (sinner), not actions (sins).
  • Self-Helpism. You read the Bible to find examples of how you can help yourself be a better person. You fail to see your natural inclination to resist obeying God by thinking  with the right tips you can achieve the absolute holiness God requires.
  • Mysticism. You read the Bible expecting an emotional awakening from the Holy Spirit. You want goosebumps and chills and an “inner feeling” that God is with you. You fail to recognize that the objective aspect of Christianity (the gospel event of Jesus life, death, and resurrection) is your only foundation for the subjective aspect (what the Holy Spirit is doing/can do in your life now).
  • Activism. You read the Bible to find justifications for corporate “kingdom work” like recycling, planting trees, starting homeless shelters, and other “causes.” These are good things, but you fail to recognize the personal work of the King as the foundation for all societal action.
  • Road Map for Life. You read the Bible only when life gets tough and you need a pick-me-up. You want a fortune cookie saying, so you fail to read the Bible in context and often apply passages to your life that have nothing to do with 21st century Americans.

There are also unchristian motivations to read the Bible. These are straightforward enough, but at least deserve a mention:

  • Legalism: You read the Bible in order to get right with God.
  • Obligation: You read the Bible to appease your own guilt.
  • Self-competence: You read the Bible to gain theological knowledge.
  • Self-righteousness/Judgmentalism: You read the Bible to feel good about your self-worth. You read the Bible to have a hammer to swing at others.

We are guilty of all these on some level or another. We must repent and “unlearn” what others have taught us and, indeed, what our sinful nature wants. Jesus even died to bring us hermeneutical (interpretive) salvation! The Bible is God’s self-revelation to us so that we might taste and see he is good as we gaze upon his Son, who is God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). Let’s read it as such.


One response to “How Not to Read the Bible”

  1. What a great post my friend! I am saddened that the three “P’s” have also formed the way we pray, worship, doctrine we hold to, etc.


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