Approaching chapter two of Foster’s Life With God we may find ourselves tempted to skip past it. With its title, “Entering the world of the Bible”, our instincts as long time Bible readers is to guess that we have read all this before. We have been trained to remember context and literary genres and history and all of the other skills that we bring to a technical study of the Bible. What should prevent us from turning these pages too quickly is Foster’s core message of reading the Bible not just for knowledge, but for spiritual transformation. He poses this very question in introducing this section by asking what kind of attitude is most helpful to us in trying to apprehend the transformation that awaits in the Word.
Hint, it is not the mechanics.
The mechanics that we have learned feed our head and provide a guide for praxis but they do not necessarily engage the soul. Orthopraxy is the result of inner transformation, not just the expansion of one’s knowledge base. Jesus vehemently pointed out the bibliolatry of the Pharisees who were frozen in their mechanical devotion to the letter of the scripture:
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. Jn 5:39-40
To avoid a similarly arid fate for ourselves, a different approach is called for with the aim of spiritual transformation. Foster recommends a trio of attitudes for entering the world of the Bible; we should seek to enter expectantly, attentively, and humbly. To enter the story of the Bible expectantly is enter fully anticipating an encounter with God. Reading the words is less about hearing the words replayed in our mind and more about the expectation of a dialogue between our soul and the Holy Spirit (cf. Rev 3:20). With the approach in mind, we become fully present to God in a way that transformation is now possible where in the process of memorization it is not. In the immediacy of that contact we engage more than the God that is written about and we find ourselves face to face with the living God as He is revealed through the Bible.
To come to the Bible attentively is to come in recognition that more than any other label that we apply to it, the Bible is a story. It is not neat and systematic, instead, it is an epic depiction of how works out His purposes through the messiness of human life. We see good and bad, trial and error, and success and failure and through all of it we see the triumph of God moving purposely to His ends. God certainly could have told His story in the form of a systematic theology but the temptation would be to gather the knowledge and then move back to a position of self reliance. Instead, Foster observes, God has made the story difficult so that we must rely on Him for life and to have any hope of comprehending the transformative message of the scriptures.
Though it should go without saying, we must also come to the Bible humbly. Foster uses the Damascus road story to demonstrate the depth of humility needed to engage the process of spiritual transformation. In a humbled state such as Saul found himself, he and we are open to multiple opportunities and avenues through which God can initiate and further our transformation. Humility that is less than complete tempts us to rely on our own powers to change, with the expected less than satisfactory results. Transformation occurs as we surrender to the variety of ways that God chooses to speak through the scriptures as we are drawn away from our own concerns and needs.
The difficult question that we must address is the application of these attitudes to our bible study. Do you have ideas on how we might properly approach the scripture with the purpose of reading for spiritual transformation? How about breaking from the old habits of reading for information? I’m interested to start a dialog about transformation, so please join in.