David Mathis continues his excellent series of short videos on Bible study with this entry on the English Bible. He encourages us to read our English Bibles with confidence; we are not missing out on God’s word if we don’t know Greek or Hebrew.
David Mathis has the best advice I’ve ever heard on how to become a better Bible reader:
Read the Bible.
Seriously. You don’t need a degree or huge theological library. The very best thing you can do is develop the habit of daily Bible reading. Mathis’s short video will encourage you in this practice.
Why should we read the Bible? David Mathis answers the question simply and beautifully: to know Christ. If that answer doesn’t jazz you up, consider what Mathis has to say in this short video.
Check it out!
Crossway’s blog has a provocative article by David Mathis, who argues that practical application can sometimes be a red herring that distracts us from careful Bible study.
So then, is it right to think of “application” as an everyday means of God’s grace? Is this a spiritual discipline to be pursued with every Bible encounter? The answer is yes and no, depending on what we mean by application.
Good teachers have claimed that every encounter with God’s Word should include at least one specific application to our lives—some particular addition, however small, to our daily to-do list. There is a wise intention in this: pressing ourselves not just to be hearers of God’s Word, but doers. But such a simplistic approach to application overlooks the more complex nature of the Christian life—and how true and lasting change happens in a less straightforward way than we may be prone to think.
Mathis goes on to argue that Bible study doesn’t always produce specific additions to our daily to-do list. Often, it should produce astonishment at who God is, and worship. Such astonishment and worship change us on the inside. And we will see specific change on the outside after only long periods of reflective astonishment.
Mathis makes some important points, and I don’t disagree with him. However, terminology can trip us up. Mathis argues against daily “application,” which he considers a red herring, but he narrowly defines “application” to include only detailed behavioral changes. He offers the substitute of astonishment and worship as a better daily practice.
But in the process he almost replaces one kind of application (hands) for another (heart). He argues against overly ethical application (too much focus on the hands), but seems to suggest an overly pietistic application (too much focus on the heart). I humbly suggest both approaches are imbalanced; we should regularly do both. In addition, let’s not forget also to apply the Bible to our heads. Remember the application matrix, which enables us to stretch our application into every category.
So I’m happy to recommend Mathis’s article to you. But when he writes of “the red herring of Bible application,” hear him describing, not application itself, but “the problem with focusing exclusively on hands application.” Don’t ever remove “application” (hands, head, and heart) from your Bible study. And with this clarification, the article is right on target.
Everything on this blog aims to help ordinary people learn to study the Bible. That means we cover a lot of details and mechanics. God’s word is knowable, and we want to help people know what to do when they sit down and open their Bibles.
At Desiring God, however, David Mathis has a timely reminder: that we remember Bible reading is as much art as it is science.
And just like we learn to ride a bike with training wheels, it can help to have someone spell out some simple method of “inductive Bible study” with the dance steps of observation, interpretation, and application. Rudimentary, memorable approaches like this abound in Christian circles serious about the Bible. They are a gift to help us get going, and come to an otherwise dauntingly large Book with some idea of what to do next.
But the point of learning the little bits of science behind it all is to be ready to dance when the music begins to play. And the best of dancing isn’t just taught in classrooms, but caught in practice.
Good Bible reading is no mere science; it is an art. The Bible itself is a special compilation of great artistries. And the best way to learn the art of reading the Bible for yourself is this: Read it for yourself.
Mathis’s article is a wonderful reminder, and it serves as a helpful complement to what you’ll find here at Knowable Word.
At the Desiring God blog, Marshall Segal recently wrote of “The Danger in Our Daily Devotions“:
If we carve out time to be with God in his book, we’ll be rewarded. But the rewards of our meditation — seeing more of God himself — can be surprisingly dangerous. Knowledge can corrupt and distract if we don’t know what to do with it. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). Paul is clear that we can have “all knowledge” (1 Cor 13:2), but not love. And knowledge without love leaves us with “nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).
So how do we accumulate knowledge about God without ending up far from him? How do we keep our daily devotions from being (spiritually) dangerous?
He then reviews a short book by David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell entitled How to Stay Christian in Seminary. Mathis and Parnell offer the following suggestions:
- Stay amazed at grace
- Stay dependent on God
- Stay focused on Jesus
Though the book’s title appears to focus on seminary students, I agree with Segal that these points are “undeniably relevant to anyone studying their Bible, whether for a focused, four-year degree or just in a regular rhythm of personal devotions.”
As you learn to study the Bible, does your study puff you up and so keep you from the Lord? Or does it help you to know God better?
HT: Ryan Higginbottom
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