Christians and non-Christians alike can have a tendency to use Scripture solely as a means to gather information. The purpose of God’s Word has become lost in the human agenda to know things instead of God himself.
While it is important to have a biblical foundation and discernment on certain topics, reading it is so much deeper than knowledge.
Rather, it is a tool to build a relationship with the heavenly Father and guide us in understanding who he is and who we are in him. It is critical for us to remember that God has gifted us his Word with much more intention.
“The importance of God's Word is that it should be our lifeline,” Third Center Olson discipleship assistant junior Abbie Boyer said. “It is the closest communion we can have with him.”
Christian environments encourage this type of Scripture saturation — but what does it mean to properly engage with Scripture? Oftentimes Christians get told to pray, read their Bibles and worship with little to no guidelines.
The shattering fact is that there is no right way to study Scripture; instead there are many methods to immerse oneself appropriately. To limit oneself to a singularity of application would disregard the gifts of engagement God has provided.
Phil Collins, department chair of biblical studies, Christian ministries and philosophy as well as executive director of Taylor Center for Scripture Engagement, has been involved in educating students on such related matters.
“We don't want to kind of read the passage and somehow invent meaning,” Collins said. “We're trying to discover the meaning that's already there. As we discover that meaning, then we need to appropriate it in our lives. We do that through meditation and reflection, and obedience, and prayer, and through the work of the Holy Spirit. So that's what we call Scripture engagement — study, and then engage, study engage.”
There is an abundance of opportunities to pray, sing, meditate and memorize Scripture. It is a tool to strengthen oneself with truth to fight against lies and corruption.
Yet, it cannot go without acknowledgement that Scripture is written for us and not simply to us.
Denise Flanders, assistant professor of biblical studies, stressed the importance of this cultural understanding.
“It was written for you — for your growth, and edification, and learning, and instruction and growing closer to God,” Flanders said. “But, it was written to ancient Israelite people who lived, you know, however many hundreds of years before Jesus was born.”
When we come to the Bible, we must also be prepared to encounter a different cultural context for these writings.
The past must be contextualized before being interpreted in today’s time. Ignorance of such can lead to one’s situation being applied into God’s Word rather than allowing God’s Word to be applied.
Eric Turner, Hannibal-LaGrange University chair of the Arts and Humanities Division and associate professor of New Testament and Greek, said that the Bible is not just a roadmap. It is a story with a complex narrative.
“The Bible grounds us in the reality of who we are,” Turner said. “But it also grounds us more, I think, [in] the reality of who God is and his purposes, and his agenda for creation, and his reason why he is doing the things that he does even today.”
When one limits one’s view of the Word of God to a manual of instructions, it can inhibit how it is read. If readers open up that lens, however, a boundless wealth of wisdom and understanding is unleashed.
It must be said: many Christians become intimidated by these reading lenses — but that should not be the case at all. Instead, recognition of good guidelines can help readers to have a richer experience in God’s Word.
“I think there's a lot of strength in being willing to be wrong and be willing to grow,” junior Elise Boutell, Third South English discipleship assistant, said.
Context determines meaning and comprehending the context, genre, linguistics and other components of the Word can strengthen the source of truth.
It is important to nourish our relationship with God, and his Word is a primary way of doing that. It tells us where our meaning of life is found and has a significance that bursts past its physical form.
Kevin Diller, professor of philosophy and religion, said the Word of God is more than ink on paper — it is a reflection of Christ coming to Earth therefore, it is living.
“There's an analogy to the Incarnation here,” Diller said. “Just as God was in Christ, fully human, — and his full humanity really, really mattered for his work and revelation — so also the Word itself, the written Word, comes to us in the flesh and skin of text.”
God’s Word is an important source for understanding him, his love and our own identity. That is why it is fundamental to see it in such a way and know how to properly understand it.
Still, Christians should be cautious not to burden themselves and see these guidelines as “limitations.” God works in boundless ways, and each person comes to the Word with their own experiences.
“There's, like, truly not a perfect way or, like, a one size fits all,” junior Delaney White, Christian ministries major, said. “I think each person is going to connect with God differently.”
God’s purpose for us, his identity and so much more can be seen in the Scripture he has given us. If we learn how to immerse ourselves instead of limit ourselves, we can open up our hearts to a whole new view that refreshes the soul.