Reading deeply

Here’s a post I originally wrote for the Crosslands blog on reading the Bible …

It’s all too easy to read the Bible superficially. We assume we know what a passage says and therefore we miss what it says. We see that the passage is about the cross. So in our minds we move from the passage to what we know about the cross – without seeing what this passage says about the cross.

I was very taken by this illustration of the phenomenon from Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

I regard the Scripture and these great statements in it as being comparable to a great art gallery where there are famous paintings hanging on the walls. Certain people, when they visit such a place, buy a catalogue from the guide at the door, and then holding it in their hands walk round the gallery. They notice that Item Number 1 is a painting by Van Dyck, let us say; and they say ‘Ah, that is a Van Dyck’. Then they pass on hurriedly to Item Number 2, which is perhaps a portrait by Rembrandt. ‘Ah,’ they say, ‘that’s a Rembrandt, a famous picture’. Then they move on to further Items in the same way. I grant that that is a possible way of viewing the treasures of an art gallery; and yet I have a feeling that when such a person has gone through every room of the gallery and has said, ‘Well, we have “done” the National Gallery, let us now go to the Tate Gallery’, the truth is that they have never really seen either of the galleries or their treasures. It is the same in regard to the Scriptures. There are people who walk through [a] chapter … and they feel that they have ‘done’ it. It is surely better to stand, if necessary, for hours before this chapter which has been given to us by God Himself through His Spirit, and to gaze upon it, and to try to discover its riches both in general and in detail. (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1-23, Banner of Truth, 1978, 171.)

With this in mind, here are some ways of reading a passage. Think of them as ways to slow yourself down. Read the passage (potentially eight times), thinking about what you read from each of these angles:

  • God-centredly – How does this passage inspire faith in God?
  • Christ-centredly – Could this passage be read as a description of Jesus?
  • as a promise – Is there a promise I could turn into prayer?
  • as a command – Is there a command I need to obey or a call to repent?
  • personally – How does this passage speak to me?
  • communally – How does this passage speak to us as a church community?
  • missionally – How does this passage speak to our culture?
  • sacramentally – How does this passage illuminate baptism or communion?

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