Lover or Theorist? – How You Read the Bible

How do you read your Bible – as a theorist or lover? First and foremost, as a student/scholar or a eager pursuer? Chris Webb, President of Renovare, challenged me recently to rethink how I read my Bible. He points out in his new book, The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground (IVP), how important it is to make sure we are not just using our heads to read our Bibles, but most of all our hearts.

It stands to reason that there is a vast difference between knowing about someone and knowing them personally. For instance, I knew about a young lady named Pamela for three years before I got to know her personally. We went to college together. I had seen her from a distance and I knew other people who knew her personally, but until my senior year – I had never met or gotten to know her personally. Once we met, mere information turned into the transformation of not only my thoughts and understanding of her, but my personal interactions and experiences with her.

Now, Pamela and I have been married for several years. I know her pretty well. So well, in fact, I think I could write a book about her. If I did so, there would be several chapters: One would be on her incomparable beauty – she’s gorgeous! Another chapter would be on her phenomenal culinary abilities – my waistline is evidence. I would also include a chapter in the Book of Pamela on her winsome personality – she really lights up a room. Another chapter would be on her conversational skills. Yet another would reveal that she doesn’t know too much about the sport of football – but I suppose she’ll survive that weakness.

Let’s say I had only taken some time to read that book – the Book of Pamela. What if I had only given mental ascent to the hard facts of her life. Would that have been enough? What if I had merely analyzed the data? Would that be the same as meeting and getting to know her personally? Would just reading the book alone have given me a relationship with her. Of course not.

In The Fire of the Word, Webb writes:

How can we learn to come to the Bible … as lovers and not simply theorists? … Here …is our starting point for a fresh reading of Scripture. Not resisting the insights of the scholars, but at the same time refusing to read merely as theorists. Not denying the liberal conviction that the Bible presents us with a window into the past, an opportunity to share the inspiring experiences of previous generations; nor denying the conservative conviction that Scripture can be a nourishing well of propositions, a deep spring of eternal truth with timeless relevance. But determined to push beyond this, to read as lovers, to approach the Bible as an opportunity for encounter, as the medium of the divine kiss, as a way into presence. (pp. 71 & 77)

The point is this . . . There is a vast difference between knowing about Jesus Christ and knowing him personally. The ink on the page is meant to ignite a passion in our hearts. Christianity is not a mandate to simply espouse some new creed or doctrine; it is a call from heaven to every soul to actually experience God, to encounter the person of Jesus Christ in our very hearts and lives. It is not just a book for learners … but for lovers.