For this final post in the series, let me point out the obvious: Bible knowledge doesn’t always translate into Christlike thinking and living. I’ve known some brilliant Bible scholars whose lives were anything but godly.
We can read scripture for a lot of different reasons. Some read trying to prove their preconceived dogmas. Others read just to gain knowledge (as if “knowledge of God” in scripture referred to info on a hard drive rather than personal relationship). And still others read to serve what Eugene Peterson calls the replacement trinity: Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. (“The new Trinity doesn’t get rid of God or the Bible, it merely puts them to the service of needs, wants, and feelings.”)
So for this last piece, I want to underscore the image of Peterson’s new work, Eat This Book. He skillfully plays with the image of John — and before him Jeremiah and Ezekiel – being asked to eat the scroll.
“The voice then tells John to take the book from the angel. He takes it and the angel tells him, ‘Eat this book’: Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your bloodstream; chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and gristle an bone. And he did it; he ate the book.”
He’s pleading for a way with scripture that is more than just packing in the knowledge (as important as that is). We are to read scripture in a way that lets the words dissolve, digest, and distribute to our very nerve endings. These words — as they point us to the life-giving God — will offer health, vitality, holiness, and wholeness.
“The act of eating the book means that reading is not a merely objective act, looking at the words and ascertaining their meaning. Eating the book is in contrast with how most of us are trained to read books — develop a cool objectivity that attempts to preserve scientific or theological truth by eliminating as far as possible any personal participation that might contaminate the meaning. . . . The reading that John is experiencing is not of the kind that equips us to pass an examination. Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of our lives. Readers become what they eat.”
We read the words of scripture not as curiosity seekers who have an hour to zip through the Louvre (“Quick! Where’s the Mona Lisa . . . Venus de Milo . . . The Winged Victory?”) Rather, we come as disciples of Jesus who live in a story. We absorb the words, reading them carefully and slowly.
Because this story comes sentence by sentence, we enter carefully into our reading as a community. “The more ‘spiritual’ we become, the more care we must give to exegesis. The more mature we become in the Christian faith, the more exegetically rigorous we must become. This is not a task from which we graduate. These words given to us in our Scriptures are constantly getting overlaid with personal preferences, cultural assumptions, sin distortions, and ignorant guesses that pollute the text. The pollutants are always in the air, gathering dust on our Bibles, corroding our use of the language, especially the language of faith. Exegesis is a dust cloth, a scrub brush, or even a Q-tip for keeping the words clean.”
Our goal is not to master the text, but to be mastered by it as we are drawn by God the Father, Son, and Spirit into the world of the kingdom. We read humbly and obedient. We pause prayerfully over words and phrases. We memorize sentences. We reflect on paragraphs. We marvel at the overarching story.
I often hear today that our people don’t know scripture like we used to. Why is that?
Maybe it’s our distaste for the kind of arrogance that knowledge often produced. Perhaps it’s also business, laziness, and a general cultural shift from reading to watching.
But I want to close this series by urging us all to enter again eagerly into the world of scripture. Eat the book. Taste the words of the Torah, remembering that they come from a rescuing, life-giving God. Chew on the words of Isaiah 56-66 as you seek to imagine what life after the exile lived before God might look like. Digest the gospeled words of Matthew as he walks you through the story from Abraham to David to Jesus. Be nourished by the encouragement of the writer of Hebrews as you’re called to keep your eyes on Jesus, our high priest who sat down at the right hand of God.
A meal awaits. Feast on it!
This post originally appeared at Mike’s blog at this link.