In a recent post I talked about why I think it’s important for the church to have a whole-Bible theology of mission. I’ve just been listening to a talk by N.T Wright given at a launch of the Biblefresh initiative, where he talks of the need for the whole church to engage with the whole Bible.

I think one of the ironies of modern evangelical churches is that we can become so focused on Bible knowledge that we actually miss the message of the Bible.

Many churches have a value of reading through the Bible and teaching it verse by verse, which I think is an excellent aim, coming from a desire to live lives based solely on knowing God. But it’s also something that has to be done very carefully – the danger is that when you read very small selected portions of scripture and focus intently on just those parts that you can end up teaching on the themes you feel comfortable with, and taking the message out of the context of the whole Bible.

I would say that pastors who I’ve seen do this well intentionally teach through more difficult portions of the Bible as well as those they find easy, and that they do so by asking:

  1. what can we learn about this verse?
  2. how does this verse fit into the immediate and wider contexts of scripture?
  3. how do we fit in to this larger picture?

rather than the other way around:

  1. what can we learn about this verse?
  2. how does my situation relate to this verse?
  3. how can I apply this verse to my life?

As examples of how not to read scripture, Wright talks of how the South African government frequently quoted the Bible during apartheid, and how US slave owners in the American south similarly used parts of scripture to justify the keeping of slaves, ignoring the fact that one of the overarching narratives of scripture is that of release of captives. Time and time again we’re reminded how God set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt as this event echoes throughout scripture.

Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly excited about seeing the Bible as a grand narrative, rather than as a collection of isolated gems of wisdom. If we’re to read the Bible in its own context, rather than through our own cultural quest for abstract knowledge, we have to see it as a narrative of God’s interaction with humanity, rather than as an encyclopaedia on life or a manual for how to live.

Only then can we truly join in with what God is doing, and not end up missing the wood for the trees.

  • Listen to N.T. Wright’s talk, world-changing Bible readers (mp3).

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