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Thursday, April 10, 2008
Learning to read again
I have definitely earned my brownie points for Bible reading. 
In fact, throughout my many years of following Christ, growing up in a pastor's home, relishing my "Jesus freakness", and serving as staff for large "mega" churches, there is no doubt that I've read the Bible more than any other book.  (Calvin & Hobbes doesn't really count as a book, does it?  Naw.  I think I'm good.)

Yes, I can definitely say I've had the scripture part down pat.  I mean, that's what we do as Christians, right?  Read the Bible.  Check.   

However, beginning about five years ago reading is just not enough.

What began as a quiet stir in my gut, has become a raging onslaught of shifting, course-correcting, self-eroding transformation in my soul, spirit, mind, and body.  Slowly I'm ditching the traditional views I was fed, stretching my spiritual wings and seeking out Jesus via scripture alone, unencumbered by preconceived ideas or inherited interpretations.  While I've always had a highly intimate prayer life with my Creator, my relationship took a fresh turn as I began hungering to go beyond reading... to understanding.  Oooohhh. What a concept. 

So in my new pursuit of understanding scripture, I've found myself shifting from one method of Bible study to another.  Sometimes I've scoured entire passages.  Other times I've researched a topic or phrase.  However, if I were to speak honestly, at times my study was driven by my desire to validate my thoughts through scripture, rather than to allow scripture to transform my mind.  

And this, my friends, is where you come galloping in.

As a "recovering" Christian from a highly legalistic background, I'm currently in the midst of a quandary of sorts.  I'm studying out a topic that seems to be ambiguous, partly because it is only mentioned once in the entire Bible.   However, due to the serious context and writing surrounding the passage, determining if the instruction is cultural, required by all, or merely an account of what happened, can be tricky.  

So I'm curious... how do you study the Bible?  What guidelines do you use for interpreting and applying God's word to your life?  What are your personal hermeneutics?
For more detail, discussion, query, discovery, and general mayhem on this issue, pop over and visit me at - www.ellenstevens.com.
posted by ellen stevens at 8:47 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 4/11/2008 07:50:00 AM, Blogger Sensuous Wife

    How do I study the Bible?
    I get honest
    I ask
    I listen which may include digging for a little while.

    Well, it starts with my heart and identifying the needs in my heart and talking to Jesus about those needs. Honestly. With gut-wrenching honesty. Sometimes, I'll talk via journaling writing out my stream-of-conciousness prayers with pen and paper. Sometimes I will walk outdoors and talk out loud to God, processing and thinking out loud, pouring my heart out to him about whatever is bothering me.

    And then I listen.

    Sometimes it's immediate, sometimes it takes a while, but the Spirit always speaks thoughts I wouldn't have thought of come into my heart. Sometimes it's an address for a verse chapter and verse and I look it up on crosswalk.com kinda like a scavenger hunt and read it in several translations until one of them hits me square between the eyes. Sometimes, it's a phrase or a little snippet of scripture and I'll look those up on crosswalk.com to find the whole actual verse and I'll read that. Sometimes I'll read something someone else wrote like a blog post or a bit from a book or magazine and it will trigger a verse of scripture put my heart on a new trajectory of thought. This is what happened recently and I wrote about it in my post Accepted in the Beloved. I read something someone else wrote that brought the phrase "accepted in the beloved" to mind. I searched out the verse that came from by looking at an online concordance. Then I read the chapter and after reading it a few times, I did one of my favorite things. I paraphrased it on the fly imagining I was trying to explain the chapter to my DC. How would I explain it to them in precocious yet grade school language? I'll start writing and all the sudden it's very clearly not me writing it's the Holy Spirit translating it for me like the wonderful stage prompter and counselor that she is.
    Accepted in the Beloved is what resulted and I felt dearly dearly dearly relevantly loved by the Trinity in the whole experience.

    This conversational relational way of interacting with Jesus through scripture feels so so good. Like having someone scratch right in the exact spot on your back that itches so bad but you can't reach it by yourself.

    Sometimes I have to dig. Looking through several translations or looking up occurences of a word or phrase in scripture.

    But it all starts with the need. Need it important. Me getting really humble and honest about my needs and asking Jesus to show up for me and he does.

    The difference is subtle but feels different nonetheless. A need-driven Bible study feels like a scavenger hunt where someone who loves you has gone before you and laid out the clues so you know what you're searching for is there somewhere and you know they WANT you to find them because they hid the treasure for you to find. That was their intent in the first place. If you ask him for bread, will he give you a stone?

    I've just been learning that feeling hungry and then asking for bread is a big help.

  • At 4/11/2008 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    SW -- so beautiful the way you share your adventure with the Spirit of Jesus. It is luscious!

    Ellen, I have to say I have found that often discovering truth outside of the bible has given me a fresh perspective and brought me BACK to a feeling of being inspired, having scriptures come to mind, like how SW describes. It's almost like when you've written something and you have to take a break and then come back before you can actually have enough perspective to see what's worth keeping, what's in need of some work or editing, what can be cut and pasted into a different section and what is best let go of, off to to the cute little trash icon :)

    So for me, as sense of open-being and space has offered me the opportunity to have that intimacy with the Spirit Who Is and who can let us come alive through scripture.

  • At 4/11/2008 08:56:00 PM, Anonymous john t.

    Just curious........

    How do you really study the bible if you dont speak or read aramaic, hebrew, and greek?

  • At 4/12/2008 11:03:00 AM, Blogger John

    As a progressional preacher I find that Bible Study is done best in the context of a few friends who will join in with you. I think that the scriptures were created with the idea that they would be read in community.

    Does that mean I don't take the time to meditate on scripture? Of course I do that. That can be done by simply memorizing scriptures and then perusing over them in your quiet times, walking, resting, praying.

    An interesting form of Bible study for instance is available as we read each other's blogs about certain scriptures and discuss them.

    I am currently researching a way that others in our community can have input on the Sunday discussion at least a few days before Sunday.

    Scripture reading is a regular part of our gathering. So the idea would be to place the scripture we will discuss on Sunday in the hands of people in the community before hand, meet together on a Tuesday, and hear from others how this scripture plays itself out in their lives -- hear from them what God may be saying to me about the words on the page and finish our conversation on Sunday after summing up what we talked about on Tuesday.

    In this way, we are taking the Bible at 10 - 30 words a week and processing all week what the implications are in light of our lives, the scriptural context itself, and our community.

    Again, this is more experiment than anything else, but it really is pretty exciting. We are on Matthew Chapter 6 right now. We started Matthew in September 07.

    Wild huh?

  • At 4/12/2008 09:30:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    John: That's an excellent idea...on a number of levels I think I would find that very appealing in a faith community. Let us know how it goes!

  • At 4/13/2008 10:53:00 AM, Blogger John

    Well, I can't take credit for it, completely. Although this has been something that I have often dreamed about doing, the mechanics and structure are things I picked up in reading about it along the way.

    Stuff like Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis really got me thinking about scripture reading this way.

    Of course Doug Pagitt's church Solomon's Porch in Minnesota is the pioneer of what he calls progressional preaching.

    What we are doing is essentially taking these ideas and making them our own through experimentation and adaptation. Its a lot of fun.

  • At 4/14/2008 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Seeking the Vine

    I too have had a great tugging at my heart in this area over the last year or so. I had been unable to really move into it due to time constraints but I am starting to seriously take a much deeper walk into all of this.

    I love evangelism and have been very active in this area over the years but this season is now one of discipleship and growing of new believers for me personally. I am being brought new and hungry believers who are wanting to go deeper as well.

    I have always been more of a study type person who has had materials to facilitate my readings. However, the movement in my heart has been really learning how to read the Bible. The reason for this is that most people don't have access to materials such as these yet they learn how to dig for those jewels out of the text. This is something that should be a basic learning concept of the faith just like learning to pray. I am not sure why we don't teach these things.

    Currently, I am about to begin training with the Precept to Precept Ministries with Kay Authur. The inductive study method is helping me a lot. I am amazed at the detail that is in the text that I have just not really seen before.

    I see that many are journaling (excellent) and combining contemplative type prayer and meditation which was my own dominate method. It is very useful for seeking communion with God but the inductive is very helpul as well. I will probably start teaching using this as well because that actually helps me be consistant and dig even deeper from within myself.

  • At 4/17/2008 10:36:00 PM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    I have to admit I do love inductive bible study - I had a class that the professor admitted he recreated from a masters level class he had taken. But, with really hard stuff that doesn't seem to cross reference very well, the only thought I'd add is that I ask God what questions I need to ask - because sometimes it is mentioned in a lot of other places, but I can't see it yet because my paradigm isn't decoding the other ways it plays out. I need the paradigm shift to see it and the only way I can get outside the paradigm is to ask God to help me think outside my box.


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