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December 18, 2013

Why Reading Scripture Matters (July-Aug 2010)

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My Generation: Unraveled Readers

by Amy McLaughlin
July – August, 2010

Imagine a braided rope. The rope exists and functions upon the fact that it has several strands that have been woven together. If the strands are separated, each strand may perform a more diminutive task, but the rope simply cannot complete the task for which it was created if all the strands do not function as a whole. The charge for Christians to read the Bible can be compared to a braided rope.

This past school year I was required to read Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book for one of my classes at Lipscomb University. I found in its pages a convicting challenge, and the challenge was this: lectio divina.

Lectio Divina, commonly translated as “spiritual reading,” is a reading of scripture in which living and reading are reciprocal, interwoven with one another; it is a formative life-changing reading of scripture. I tend to agree with Peterson that this kind of reading should indeed be our goal. However, this task has proven to be more daunting than I imagined.

As part of a generation of post-modern thinkers I find myself, along with my peers, to be full skepticism and confidence. Perhaps this is a broad generalization, and there are, of course, a multitude of exceptions. But the mass majority of us have been taught by society that we can learn and study and hold the world in our hands. If a fact is presented to us, we are likely to question it and prove it either right or wrong in our own minds. My generation has a wild distrust in words; words no longer hold the power they once held. We’ve witnessed the abuse of words by the modern media and have grown wary of the passive acceptance of such words, both in spoken and written form. The daily bombardment of consumerist sales pitches through television, magazines and websites has taught my generation that words are used for manipulation; when we turn on the television, open a magazine, or a book, we are being sold products, trends and ideals. Our initial defense is to create separation between ourselves and the words; in the case of literature, we separate ourselves from the text.

We tend to depersonalize texts as a way of giving ourselves the upper hand; we then proceed to push the text under the [metaphorical] microscope and begin to analyze and scrutinize until we’ve satisfied our urge to know more. We have a ravenous hunger for facts and figures, which has been encouraged by the age of technology. If we want an answer, it’s only two clicks away. While this tendency has greatly inhibited most of my generation to be transformed by meaningful text, I’m more greatly concerned with the community of Christians within my generation, and how we will learn to read formatively.

Remember, the Christian’s duty to read the Bible [formatively] is much like a braided rope. In order for scripture to perform the task for which it was created, we must not separate the strands. The first strand is the reception of the word—that is, what we see or hear. Much of the hearing of words occurs in the context of church, where scripture is frequently quoted and Biblical stories are told again and again; the seeing of words occurs when the individuals read the passage with their own eyes. The next strand of the rope is perception—the use of our minds to understand the word. Upon receiving a word, readers must utilize knowledge of the word, the context in which it was given, and any other resources they might have stored in their minds in order to formulate the most adequate understanding of the word. The last strand is application, when the meaning of the word pervades deep into our lives, our hearts, and the depths of our souls. In this application process, our meditation on the word pushes the text outward into our lives. Each strand of the rope is necessary for adequate reading of scripture (although the post modern generation would generally assert that “adequacy” is subjective). We must be willing to see or hear scripture, we must be willing to think and study, and we must be willing to apply it into our souls. All these experiences must function together. Eugene Peterson relates this process to the digestion of food. We take the food, eat it, digest it, and it works its way throughout our bodies.

Strong, formative spiritual reading cannot be reached if these three components are separated from each other. This poses a difficult hurdle for my generation. Our hesitation and skepticism in approaching words tempts us to unravel reception from perception, and perception from application. In an attempt to remain objective and safe from manipulation, we frequently back away from a word as we read it which keeps the word from pervading into our deeper beings. My generation has no problem tending to the individual strands of spiritual reading; but our propensity toward skeptic reading often keeps us from re-braiding the rope, thus keeping us from the goals of lectio divina. I am in fact confessing to you one of the weaknesses of my generation. In an attempt to resist the power of words, we ourselves begin to commoditize words as we read them, take pride in our factual approach to meditation, and take far too many liberties in spiritual application. When we receive a word, we pause and hold it at an arm’s length. We suspend it in time, making sure no manipulation or connotation await. Sometimes we choose to meditate, but often we choose to store it away in our minds in hopes that the new added words will add to our bank of facts (a missed opportunity for transformative reading). We may become deeply interested in the history of the city of Corinth, or the traditions of ancient Hebrew culture, but we often do not search for application. Rather we keep our hearts tucked safely away.

It seems that many people belonging to the generations of my grandparents and great-grandparents clung deeply to words and terminology. There were specific words and phrases that had layers of meaning, and very specific connotations. Even today if I were to ask my grandpa to speak to me about baptism, I would receive a very different response than if I asked about immersion. It was my parents’ generation that felt the initial distrust in the words they were reading and hearing. Some literary critics believe sometime near the close of WWII there was an eruption of widespread skepticism of words. People could no longer take somebody’s word as fact, or believe somebody simply by their stated authority. Individuals wanted to find answers for themselves. Education spread, as well as technology; with these advancements, people could build confidence in their own studies and no longer had to depend fully on the words and traditions of their predecessors. Education and technology continued to progress and eventually gave birth to my generation: very independent, skeptical, and confident people.

Now, despite my somewhat harsh critique of myself and my peers, I find that it is necessary to identify our weaknesses in order to get the most out of our strengths. I do not write in order to disclose all of the faults of my generation, but rather to raise anticipation for a coming transformation. I believe that the weaknesses of this generation, if we are willing, can perhaps ironically play a key role in the development of a generation who reads formatively in a profoundly refreshed way. We know as Christians that when we are weak, He is strong; and I believe He has the power and the creativity to turn our weaknesses into something greater. Never before has the community of Christians in the modern world had this amount of free access to learning tools. One can meander on the internet for a few minutes and discover insights into the historical context of a Biblical passage. My generation is hungry for that kind of information. If my generation can learn to intertwine hunger for learning with spiritual application, I believe the burst of renewed spiritual reading will be astounding! If this generation of believers will crave lectio divina, if when we open our bibles, we will devour the words and savor every bite, and if we will allowed the Word to digest into every cell of our beings, our hunger for information and answers would only propel us forward in our pursuit of God.

It was last summer that I caught my first glimpse of this rising transformation. I was a youth intern for a church in Michigan, and I had not yet read any good books on the way we approach scripture. However, I had noticed some disinterest among the teens in their Bibles. So I decided that I would plan a Wednesday night class around the issue. My goal was to bring awareness to the lack of Bibles in the room, and to coerce the kids into bringing them in the future. My plan partially succeeded; I brought awareness to the issue. But that’s when the Holy Spirit took over, and my lesson plan was hijacked. He took us on an amazing journey that night, as we dove into deep discussion over why the teens were disinterested in their Bibles. The teens began to tell me things with which I could empathize; they told me how it wasn’t enough for them to be told the stories from scripture while never being taught how we have the Bible, where it came from or the historical context of the stories. I wasn’t alarmed; I was ecstatic! I didn’t have a group of apathetic teens; I had a group of hungry scholars who were unaware that their unanswered questions were a part of their journey toward God! We opened our Bibles, and I got out some of my favored tools for my college studies (like my Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary), and we began devouring scripture in a way that connected with this young generation! That night set off a chain reaction, and even today, a year later, I receive e-mails from those students telling me about their latest Biblical discoveries! They’ve developed relationships with The Word and are delighting in lectio divina.

Many of my professors have long understood the direct link between our pursuit of Biblical information and our relationship with our Father. As a Bible student at Lipscomb University, I’ve seen my fellow students wrestle over the frustrating balance between academic motivation and spiritual motivation. They crave the facts and the knowledge, but they also crave Jesus and ministry! Nothing has brought more excitement to our department than when students discover that the two motivators are directly braided into the same rope! It is in our pursuit of Christ that we can find satisfaction in the scholarly reading of God’s word! We as Christians are encouraged in scripture to seek out answers, never apart from our pursuit of Christ, but in coalition. It is our relationship with Christ that helps us work through the uncongenial and mysterious parts of scripture.

While it is difficult to expose the weaknesses of myself and many of my generation, it brings me joy to meditate on our bright future. We’re budding theologians learning how to handle a new era with new resources. With refreshed approaches to spiritual reading, it is my hope that our pursuit of Christ will take priority for this generation, so that every ounce of research is out of hunger for formation from His Word, the words we CAN trust.New Wineskins

Amy McLaughlinAmy McLaughlin is currently a student at Lipscomb University and plans to graduate in spring 2011 with a major in Bible and a minor in English. Her home is in Atlanta, Georgia where she spends most of her time with her family and home church North Atlanta Church of Christ.

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