Growing up as a new Christian, I learned a lot in a short period of time. Most of which I learned from reading the Bible. Seriously. Just reading it.
But, Bible reading alone is not enough to make a Christian. On the contrary, the proverb is true: most heresies arise from someone “reading the Bible alone in his closet.” Reflecting on that period, I realize that I too developed some theological wrinkles that would later need to be worked out in the context of the leadership of Christ’s church. In short, I had a lot to learn.
Like me, far too many Christians, generally, and American Christians, in particular, assume that wisdom begins with them, here, now, in the 21st century; and that we alone have inherited the key to knowledge when it comes to the sacred truths of Scripture.
Today, I have read through the Bible more times than I can count. Because I had the habit early on of reading through the Bible in a year (Old Testament once, New Testament twice) I know the story pretty well. In spite of this, however, I make a point to consult the ancient commentaries when I preach or teach on almost any passage of the Bible, as a discipline and a check against modern tendencies to arrogance and pride (and my own spiritual myopia).
(Interestingly, it never ceases to amaze me how much we can learn from these ancients interpreters. As a case in point, it is not infrequent to find the Fathers seeing scriptural warnings against the dangers of wealth. All too frequently, modern commentators will miss such warnings.)
Back to my point: most of what I learned as a new Christian I learned from reading the Bible. I started out with a Ryrie Study Bible. That was a great education in and of itself. However, I learned pretty quickly that that godly theologian didn’t always answer, or address, the questions that I felt the text itself was raising. So I kept him on the shelf from that time on: like a friend whom I consulted from time to time, but in my daily reading, sticking simply to reading the unadorned Word.
What I was learning then I couldn’t have put into words. But it was something like this: I had a growing realization that the Bible’s sixty six books seemed to hang together in some kind of grand coherency. Despite the fact that it was written in three languages, over the course of twenty centuries or more, by dozens of different authors, there seemed to be a single, central theme or message. That message came to my heart at that time as follows: God is working out His purposes in the world.
I call this the coherency of Scripture, and many have written about the formal study of the grand story of the Bible, a study sometimes called Biblical theology.
But back to prejudices in reading the Bible. If Dr. Ryrie seemed to reveal some of his own prejudices in his comments on the Sacred Word, by discarding the continuity of the biblical story for one that was more fragmented, others have perhaps swung too far in the “consistent theme” direction, and have failed to see discontinuity, or differences in texture and temperament, in the unfolding story of the Bible.
This “continuity error” is parallel, I believe, to the “discontinuity error” that I first encountered as a new believer. It can be seen in the following four positions held by otherwise godly Christian thinkers:
- paedocommunion, or flattening out the discontinuity between the sacramental ritual of entrance into the covenant; and the ritual by which we personally own the covenant;
- credobaptism, or a flattening out of the discontinuity between the profession of faith in the covenant promises of God and the sovereign inclusion of people in His covenant apart from any personal choice or expression of faith. (This is why Baptists can only ever be inconsistent Calvinists, because they insert “choice” and “will” into the sacraments in ways that God does not)
- some brands of theonomy, which holds to an application of the law of God to all spheres of society, while downplaying the discontinuity between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man
- some brands of biblical theology, which by insisting on an undifferentiated continuity of the history of redemption (i.e., the story of God), exclude practical application of Scripture to the norms and thought patterns and structures of secular society.
So, as my title indicates, it is important to read the Bible as a coherent story–but not too much. We must allow its continuities and its discontinuities to press themselves into those parts of our understanding where we are immature, where we are easily deceived, and where we have cultural and sinful blind spots.
So, let us pray, and work, to the end that God might continue to grant to His Church a love for His Word and a desire to see it understood, taught, and lived out in the ways in which He intended it to be, until He perfects His Church once for all at his return:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood [KJV, “the perfect man”], to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
**Photo credit: The Story of Ovo by Werol at Deviant Art.