Avoiding the Text? Reflections On Reading in Community

nrsv bible

My wife and I recently joined a new small group at our church and I we’re both pretty excited about. Over the past 8 years or so I can’t really think of a small group that I was a part of but wasn’t leading in some capacity, so this is the first group where we can enjoy a non-leadership role for awhile. Another reason why this small group appeals to us is because it’s a Bible study, that’s right, and old school Bible study. We’re going to be reading and discussing Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and reading the book “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire,” a book I keep hearing really great things about, and sounds like it’s right up my ally!

Anyways, Rob, the leader asked as our icebreaker,

What presuppositions do you approach the Biblical text with?

What a great question to begin a yearlong Bible study with, and an even better question for the many of us who have grown up in the church and have found ourselves avoiding the text.

I’ve been reading the bible since I was around 15, and studying it within an academic setting since I was 18. Having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in bible and theology has been an incredible experience for me. Learning the art of reading and interpreting Scripture as a disciple and apprentice is something I’ve taken very seriously. But this form of study has also had some drawbacks, and this is where at least one of my presuppositions lay.

This past Thursday I was reminded that for quite awhile I’ve been avoiding the fullness of the biblical text. In these years I’ve approaching the text primarily as something to be studied, exegeted, dissected and read as something dangerous and hard to understand (I mean dangerous in the sense of what it does in the hands of the poor interpretations and readings). But from all this study, if I am honest with myself, I’ve grown weary of the Scriptures and find it harder and harder to read them at all, let alone in a spiritually reflective manner.

This summer I told some friends that I wanted to return to the reading of Scripture as a spiritual practice. I need to re-learn how to read it as a text that isn’t just for academic study, but one that is alive with God’s Spirit and story. I haven’t done well in this initial attempt to revive my spiritual reading. So I’ve taken a second step towards this practice and joining a community committed to not avoiding the text, but rather putting ourselves in its ways. I’ve also joined with our church in reading through Exodus, the text being preached through till Christmas. The Scriptures are the texts of life for the Christian community, yet often we as individuals find it difficult to approach them. I have been reminded that reading them within community is how they are meant to be read and experienced. This is how I’ve struggled and am trying to find my way again.

So then I ask you:

What presuppositions do you approach the Biblical text with?

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

8 thoughts on “Avoiding the Text? Reflections On Reading in Community”

  1. Sounds like PMC has done some small group reshaping. Glad to hear that one of the small groups will actually read Scripture together. Sounds like a good time. Wish I was there to participate. You should check out Scot McKnight’s series on his blog re: Colossians Remixed. He’s up to at least post #14 (http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2898).

  2. hey Chris, yeah I think they have redone some things, should be good. Thanks for the link to McKnight’s blog, I will definitely check that out. When I was thinking about reading in community, I kept thinking about you and your work on Ephesians as well. Hope you guys are doing great!

  3. Yes, I episodically go through the same struggle with the desire to study the text. Part of the reason is the academic thing, but another part is coming to faith in a church context where we encouraged to approach the Bible as a book that would “speak to us.” I still believe that conceptually it does, over time and occasionally in precise moments. But, on a day to day basis, the reading is sometimes less fruitful and less obviously “telling.” My challenge is to live with that and let the story and message evolve in its own time.

  4. @Chris – thanks for the suggestions, I’ll look into them. I hadn’t heard of either.

    @Fernando – I know exactly what you mean. It’s hard to shake the “what’s this have to do with my life today” lens while reading Scripture, and then when it doesn’t meet up to that it feels like there’s something wrong with you as the reader.

    I like how you put it: “My challenge is to live with that and let the story and message evolve in its own time.”

    That’s why I’m thinking of it as putting myself in the way of the text as opposed to avoiding it, sort of see what happens in its own time.

  5. I approach the text with the impression that it is descriptive of people’s history with God, not prescriptive of our relationship with God. And I try to read and then hear what the Holy Spirit says to me about what I read, not just my own first reaction to it, good or horrifying though it may be.

    Glad to hear that you are following up on this – I hope Emily is also making some time for silence.

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