Modernity and the Spiritual Disciplines: Bible Reading

See the introduction here.

Bible Reading challenges autonomous reason. In the study of Scripture we accept revelation from outside ourselves. Bible reading also challenges self-law as it calls us not only to receive information, but also submit to the authority of Jesus.

How you read the Bible makes all the difference. You can read it as the Word of God or as just another word of man. If you read it in the former manner, as the revelation of God, the consistent practice of reading (and study, contemplation, memorization, etc.) will reinforce the idea that God has revealed His will to us, that our own conceptions of truth need to be continually renewed (Rom 12:2), and that God really is in charge. It is also possible to read the Bible from the other perspective – that it is just another word of man. Doing this will reinforce the idea that your reason and intelligence are the truly authoritative sources of knowledge over and against whatever the Bible might say.

This appears to be a sort of chicken-and-egg sort of scenario: To train our minds to think of the Bible as God’s Word, we have to come at it with the prior belief that it is God’s Word. But this would only be the case in a purely closed system where God does not play a role. This is not the case with the Bible.

This highlights why it is always important to talk about the Holy Spirit every time you talk about the spiritual disciplines. True spiritual transformation always takes place because God is doing it. In the case of Bible reading the Holy Spirit sheds light on the Scripture so that we can (1) recognize it as God’s Word, (2) see how we fall short (conviction of sin), and (3) understand how we need to respond in obedience. In short, because of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word is “sharper than any double-edged sword.” It goes out and does not return void. It is self-authenticating.

So it is possible to come to Scripture with the wrong attitude and walk away with the right attitude. This has happened to me countless times. I have come at Scripture either with a rebellious spirit or, more often than not, just mentally disconnected and walked away feeling convicted, renewed, encouraged, etc. This was the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is why Bible reading is an important spiritual discipline. Because of our desire for autonomous reason (I know it all) and self-law (I’m in charge of me) – desires that are basic to our fallen nature and, I believe, are amplified by the spirit of the age – we are prone to come to the Bible with the wrong attitude. The task of correcting that attitude comes by the (often) slow but (always) continual work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The discipline, faith-fueled effort[1], of consistent Bible reading, is what ensures we come to Scripture through the ups and downs of life.

[1] to borrow the language of Kevin DeYoung in The Hole in Our Holiness.