Reading Rightly

As Christians, we are to make it a priority to read the Bible faithfully. When I say that I don’t necessarily mean that we need to read it daily—although I believe we should. By faithfully, I mean two things: First, we need to read it in faith, knowing that the Triune God of the universe has revealed Himself in it. Perhaps there are times we approach the Scriptures flippantly with no fear of God in our hearts. Similarly, perhaps the Scriptures simply become another textbook that we are forced to read, thus we focus on our method of reading rather than the God who wrote it. I have experienced this firsthand and it is a frightening thing to read God’s revelation of Himself and be unmoved by it. Second, it is absolutely necessary that we read the Scriptures with the faithful. The primary reason the Bible has been given is not so  I can lock myself in my study and discern what God has to say to me. The Scriptures are for the church, the community of faith and it is meant to be read within the community of faith.

Herman Bavinck, late 19th century to early 20th century Dutch Reformed theologian and author of Reformed Dogmatics (which I highly recommend) writes about the importance of the role of the historic faith community in our reading of Scripture (where asterisk is found, see definition at the bottom) :

Neither scientific objectivity[1] nor complete subjectivity[2] are possible. All knowledge is rooted in faith, and for faith to be real it must have an object that is knowable… Christian theologians must place themselves within the circle of faith and, while using church tradition and experience, take their stand in the reality of revelation […]

The concern for revelation-based normativity in dogmatics[3] must not be construed to serve as a reason to overlook or deny the importance of confessional and cultural factors in dogmatic treatises. No one is free from the biases of church upbringing and particular environmental contexts. We are always products of our background, including our ecclesiastical[4] upbringing. Awareness of this reality led some to attempt divesting themselves of their confessional identities and returning to the more confused and “pure gospel” situation of the New Testament and the early church. So-called “biblical theology” is then opposed to “scholastic theology,” as though the latter were not at all biblical. But setting Scripture against church teaching is as wrong as separating heart and mind, feeling and knowing. The sole aim of dogmatics is to set forth the thoughts of God that he has laid down in Holy Scripture. A good dogmatic method must take into account church teaching and Christian experience as well as Scripture. Dogmatic theology is possible only for one who lives in the fellowship of the Christian church.

[1] Objectivity can also be described as unbiased, or not influenced by one’s personal feelings.

[2] Subjectivity – whereas objectivity is unbiased, subjectivity means that one is influenced by their personal feelings. In other words they are biased.

[3] The word dogma, from the Greek word dokein (“to be of the opinion”), denotes that which is definite, that which has been decided, and is therefore fixed. When we use the term dogma, or dogmatics we are referring to beliefs in the Christian community that are non-negotiable.

[4] from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning assembly. Ekklesia is the word in the New Testament for church.

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