Thinking About the Bible


Bible readingThe Christian faith is not mindless. As a follow-up to the quotation I recently posted from Elisabeth Elliot (reproduced at the bottom), I would suggest that though she speaks to a timeless, human failing, this failing has been magnified in recent times. Postmodern culture is a mentally lazy one that pays more attention to feeling than reason and which prefers stories to logic.

In their book In Search of Excellence, Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman advise contemporary businesses to recognize this phenomenon and appeal to customers through stories rather than information: “‘Does it feel right?’ counts for more than ‘Does it add up?’ or ‘Can I prove it?’… Simply said, we are more influenced by stories … than by data…people reason intuitively.” (Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., In Search of Excellence (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1982), 55, 61, 63.)

Logic does not generally require much of us in the way of higher order thinking skills that engage in analysis and synthesis. Such things as the law of non-contradiction and the post-hoc fallacy (“after this, therefore because of this”) are relatively simple ideas. Still, as Peters and Waterman noted, consumers in our day do not generally respond to persuasion through reasoning as much as they do to marketing that makes them feel good about a product. “Does it feel right?” counts for more than “Does it add up?”

Likewise, most principles of sound interpretation of Scripture do not require higher order thinking skills in the way that theology does. Nevertheless, to many Christians, when it comes to determining the meaning of a verse or passage “Does it feel right?” counts for more than “Does it add up?”

Nearly everyone knows, for example, the principle of understanding a text in its context, but context is frequently ignored. Readers of the Bible often just pay attention to the intuitive feelings that arise as they encounter individual verses. As they verbalize the feeling, they will express it as “what God showed me.” Explaining to them what the verse means from its literary context is often pointless because they “know” what God supposedly showed them.

This is why the objective nature of the Bible as propositional revelation is so very important. It is not sinful to use the mind in understanding the Bible’s contents. God created our minds and expects us to use them.

Feelings can be deceptive. We have both a human and postmodern tendency to believe the Bible means whatever makes us feel good. When interpreting the Bible, “Does it add up?” should count for more than “Does it feel right?” We must be very prayerful when reading the Bible but let us not neglect the hard work of thinking when we do so.

“The Spirit is not given to make Bible study needless, but to make it effective.” – J. I. Packer

“It is amazing how frequently things that are called disagreements prove, upon examination, to be simple dislike. ‘I don’t agree with you’ often means nothing more than ‘I don’t like what you say.’…People either like things or they don’t like them and would rather avoid the real labor of thinking. They have had so little practice in it that they are quite unable to distinguish between reason and personal preference.” – Elisabeth Elliot

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.


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This post was last updated: Jul. 17, 2013