Should Christians Only Read The Bible?

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone9 Comments

Is the Bible the Only Book That Matters?

There are many schools of thought, I think, when it comes to how to facilitate spiritual growth. In a meeting I recently had, I heard an impassioned plea for church to “get back to the Bible” as the sole source of reading. In these convos, the saying usually goes, “all you need is the word of God.” If nothing else, that’s one heck of a sound byte.

Since then, I’ve spoken with a young pre-teen in a spontaneous conversation about faith and what it means to “spend quiet time with God” and she told me she doesn’t read the Bible much. Spending time with God, in her view, involved mostly prayer and some work out of a devotional.

Here you see the difference in approach from two very different generations. One may even say these are representatives of two extremes. And before you totally discount the pre-teen’s view, a version of this thinking is present in people of all ages… most notably among the new generation of Sharers (bloggers, Googlers, Facebookers, Tweeters, etc…) One sees the voices of the masses as noise to the central message, distractions from the “real meat” of God’s word.  The other can’t understand God’s Word (at least the part in print) without some translating medium to help along.

The “Bible Only” Approach

I must admit I’m not entirely on board with the ‘bible-only’ approach to spiritual development or “discipleship” as many choose to label it. But I would also submit that most people who think they are on board with it might find they aren’t after further examination. It certainly sounds great to say that “the Bible has all the answers” and that, “you don’t need anything else but God’s Word,” but they are just sound bytes for the most part.

The reality is that the Word of God was meant to be taught. To be exposited. To be translated into language the world can receive and apply to their lives. This is the very reason God gave us the talents and gifts he has given us. It’s the reason we are compelled to speak, write, paint, act, sing, and otherwise express the meaning of God in our life and the truth of God’s love and grace. Is there really a difference between hearing a preacher expound on God’s Word every Sunday and reading those same words on a blog, or in a book or song? Are those “bible-only” people willing to accept that, to truly abide by the code they are pushing, it would mean Scripture-only sermons and services? I don’ think there is.

Jesus and the Word

So what does Jesus say about the matter?  Not much from I can tell… at least not verbally. But reading through the gospels we can see that Jesus did not simply walk around with an the Torah, teaching from it as if that alone defined evangelism or discipleship.

Instead, Jesus — the Word embodied (John 1:14) in flesh– was the walking, living, breathing scripture and scroll. The world experienced The Word, not just read or heard it, through the witness of Jesus’ life. And when he did speak, he told more stories and parables than he did share Torah scripture. He shared more meals and held more conversations with the marginalized than He did preach sermons. When meeting with the Samaritan women at the well, Jesus didn’t over quote scripture. He conversed with her in the language and terms she could identify with. And in doing so, he ignited a fire and passion in her that spread throughout the town (John4).

His example should not lead us to over-stuff our conversations, sermons, and Bible studies with Biblical scripture. That was what the Pharisees were so, so good at. Jesus built a ministry on relatability. His model for discipleship extended far beyond the confines of scriptural text, even though the life he lived (which spoke much louder) was based on those texts. Scripture was part of the ministry, even core to the ministry, but there was more to it.

Spiritual development tactics must retain the same mixture of biblical teaching, topical study, and social engagement. Hard subjects like pornography, masturbation, homosexuality, abuse, addiction, and countless others are not addressed directly with scripture. At least not past the point that they are things God frowns on. The way to deal with these subjects must include candid conversation mediums that invite and protect emotional, intellectual and spiritual transparency so that real spiritual healing and growth can begin.

Such a combination will allow that pre-teen who doesn’t read the Bible ( and those like her) to find a path to God and his Word in meaningful ways. Books, art, movies, and other such mediums should all be available to facilitate such a life centered on God’s Word. Had Jesus written a book, it would have probably been chock full of personal stories about the way God interacts, teaches, leads and loves his people.  Oh wait, he has written a book.

Let’s be careful about blocking the variety with which God employs his Word, and release the “great sounding” sound byte, Sunday School answers that sometimes do more harm than good.

How would you define “discipleship” and how much does the Bible fit into it?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
9 comments
lazurm
lazurm

So, do you think it best to read only the Bible and texts that explain it, all while talking to the learned about its lessons...to the exclusion of anything not related to the Bible (science books for instance)?

JohnPaulParks
JohnPaulParks

The best proof that reading only the Bible does not work is that we have dozens of so-called "Bible Churches," with wildly divergent teachings, and each of them claiming to follow the Bible.  And guess what?  They all do.  It is a matter of picking and choosing the verses you like and ignoring the rest.

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@JohnPaulParks For many places in the bible, there are multiple truths that can pulled out of a single passage. I've personally experienced this as I've grown and re-read many of the passages. That said, I'm sure that's not exactly what you mean. You are referring to the denominational divisions of the church, and their use of the Bible to justify their different beliefs. 


I personally believe there to be only one true way. That is, either God exists or he doesn't. Either he loves us, or he doesn't. (and on, and on...) So I believer there to be ONE true interpretation and many misreading and misinterpretations. But the clutter does not devalue the content. At the end of the day, the only way we really know about who God is and what he wants from us comes from the Word of God, even at its most basic level. And for that, it is invaluable. The rest is a very worthwhile journey.

JohnPaulParks
JohnPaulParks

@antwuanm @JohnPaulParks  Which is why I agree with your statement, that we must not only read the Bible, but consult other sources as well.  Few of the "interpretation" questions are new or novel.  They have been debated for centuries.  Each person ultimately must decide which he or she thinks is correct and have faith in God beyond that.

BlessingCounter
BlessingCounter

Antwuan, This is a important topic, and I think you gave it an excellent well-balanced approach. I definitely agree . . . we need good teachers to help guide us as we apply the Bible. My only concern is we can sometimes get so dependent on interpretation and opinions that we fail to open it ourselves. If we only listen to people and , it's too easy to get swept along by false doctrines or keep wandering until we find someone to teaches only what we want to hear. 

 

So, thank you for stressing both. My goal is to read the Bible everyday, and read and listen to great teachers. 

 

Blessings, Deb

VPMC
VPMC

I think you've got it right! I read the Bible every single day and have been through it at least 20 times. Each time I read through it, I used a different "highlighting" technique. I started with yellow, then red, then blue. You get the idea. I now have a technicolor Bible which proves that God will reveal more and more if we stay with his Word. But it doesn't have to be exclusive. God gave us His Word in the Bible. But He also put us in this world with a myriad of other sources of information that can enhance our understanding and even test us. As long as we recognize that these other sources such as books, videos, commentaries, people like you, ministers, dictionaries, etc., all have something to add and information to provide but are NOT the infallible Word of God, we should be OK. We need to weigh the information and perhaps test it against what the Bible says. As long as they agree, we should be on the right track. Just one man's opinion :-)  

James
James

I agree that you can't just walk into a Christian book store, purchase the Bible of your choice (often the NIV translation), and expect to open, read, and completely understand the original intent and context of the authors of the many books it contains, particularly God's intent. That's why we *study* the Bible. For those of us who don't fluently read ancient Greek and Hebrew, we're going to need some help in comparing what we have in English to what, in all likelihood, the oldest existing manuscripts are telling us (no one has the originals). Then there's the historical and cultural contexts to consider. What Jesus is saying to his disciples in English, may have been understood quite differently in its original language (most likely Aramaic), original national framework, original cultural framework, and the religious understanding that existed during the late Second Temple period. It's complicated. We need more than the Bible to understand the Bible and even then, we'll spend all of our lives trying to glean that little extra bit of understanding that escaped us before. All that said, if we only understood that we are to love God with all of our being and we are to do good to others, even people we don't like, we probably have a pretty good idea of the core of what we need to understand. Hillel the Elder, a very famous Torah scholar who lived about a generation before Jesus (Jesus would certainly have known about him), when confronted with a non-Jew who wanted to convert to Judaism and demanded that Hillel teach him all there was to know about the Torah while the would be convert was standing on one foot (try standing on one foot and you'll see that you can't keep your balance too long), replied: "What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!" Hillel gave the man the essence of the Bible and, according to midrash, the man did convert to Judaism, started living his life according to that one,  simple instruction and, in studying the Torah "commentary," eventually understood the details of this overarching message of God.