By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
Well over a decade ago my husband answered the call into full-time ministry. When we met, he was a cute—although unemployed—seminary student. He didn’t grow up in a Christian home and was relatively new to his faith.
The beginning of our relationship was packed full of deep conversations surrounding the personhood of Christ, salvation and what he liked to call “Christian vernacular,” or the special insider-only language that Christians often spoke. As a new Christian, it was incredibly important that the language he used was clear, easy to understand, and rooted in Biblical tenants.
Early on, I remember—somewhat arrogantly—saying something to him along the lines of, “when you’ve been a Christian as long as I have, you’ll understand this concept a bit more.” Wow, if I could go back in time and give myself a bit of a reckoning I would. Years later, his insistence on clear and understandable language set firm on a foundation of Biblical literacy finally made absolute sense to me.
I hadn’t realized that aspects of my own culture, family dynamics and education had influenced the way I viewed the Bible and along with it my own personal theology. My husband, on the other hand, was striving to first be influenced by Biblical theology, and then for that theology to influence his relationship with culture, family, education and so on.
At the time, it felt backwards, but all these years later, understanding the importance of Biblical theology and literacy is not lost on me. I realized that I had some seriously false views of the Bible, the personhood of Christ and what a true Christ-led life looked like.
If you’ve caught yourself in a similar position, perhaps needing to correct some long-held assumptions or presuppositions you hold or have held to be true here are two great reasons why Biblical literacy matters and one reason why it doesn’t.
Reason 1: A Correct View of the Bible Can Be a Road Map for Life
In his second letter to Timothy the apostle Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” —2 Timothy 3:16-17
I would like to believe that most people are inherently good. We set out to do good, create good and overall live good lives. Yet, the Bible paints a very different picture. Scriptures like 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us,” point to our sin-nature rather than our propensity to do good and be good.
Even in the most righteous of people, Biblical figures and figures in today’s society, we see a struggle between a desire to live a good life and act in a manner of high-integrity pressed up against struggles of pride, lust, ego, personal-gain and so much more.
As a parent, I’ve even witness what we call “sin nature” play out in my own children. When an opportunity to tell the truth arises sometimes even the most innocent and pure-hearted of children lie. This struggle is one that we’ll fight against as long as we draw-breath, and yet leaning into a correct view of the bible can help us along this arduous journey.
Understanding what the Bible says about sin, humanity, and ultimately God’s abundant and lavish grace can be the baseline or road map for our daily lives. If we really take to heart the true teachings of the gospel then perhaps we will be slow to anger and quick to forgiveness. Perhaps our actions will begin to emulate the examples of Christ.
There is literally only one person on earth who ever lived a truly “good” life, and that person is Jesus Christ alone. We don’t hold a candle to his existence, and yet have an opportunity to pursue a life like his. Without the road map—a true comprehension and acceptance of the gospel—we’re going to end up lost every single time.
Think about it this way, every year I take a road trip with my kids, my GPS directs me on the best and safest route to my destination. Sometimes the GPS will take me in an unexpected direction. Instinctively I want to take the reins and travel the route that I’m familiar with.
Typically, what I don’t know, but my GPS does, is that there is an accident up ahead or a roadblock, or something that might cause disruption in my journey. A correct view of the Bible is much like this. We may think we have the answers to life’s questions and problems, but God see’s what’s up around the curve and offers us a road map through his word.
As it goes with all maps, we need to ensure that we’re reading it right.
Reason 2: Knowing What the Bible Doesn’t Say
Have you ever heard a fellow Christ-follower say something that felt close to true but not fully true? I’ve experienced this and done this myself.
Little statements like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” or “What goes around comes around,” or a personal favorite, “God will give you the desires of your heart,” have become almost regular idioms among Christians and sometimes even none Christians-alike.
While some of these statements are adaptations of Biblical truths they are not actually whole truths. The statement, “God will give you the desires of your heart,” is taken from Psalm 37:4 but the heart behind this small line within a much larger psalm is that our hearts are to be aligned with the desires of God. When our hearts align with God’s heart then His desires become our own.
God is not a genie in a bottle just waiting to grant our three wishes. When we reduce Him to that image we’re going to end up deeply confused and perhaps even disappointed.
Beyond common Christian expressions, there is a deeper need to understand what has been left out of Biblical teachings. For example, recently I wrote an article about Christian Modesty. For some circles and denominations within Christianity, the “rules” swirling around modesty aren’t as cut and dry as some Christians would like.
Often, I want all the answers, I want everything to be explicitly laid out for me. Regardless, having an overall understanding of God’s heart for humanity and a big picture view of the heart of law over the letter of the law is vital to our growth as Christians.
This growth and development cannot be fully achieved without really digging into our Bibles and developing a complete view of the text.
Knowing what the Bible does and doesn't say certainly was a crucial help to Jesus when he was being tempted in the desert by Satan. In Luke 4:9-12, it says:
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Jesus knew the Bible well enough to know that even though Satan himself was quoting Scripture too, that Satan was misuing Scripture to bend to his own agenda. Because Jesus knew the heart of God, the big picture, and the Word, he was able to fight back against Satan's lies.
It is one thing to read our Bibles, and another thing to study the word with the intent of complete comprehension. We must be aware, that as we study, sometimes we’re bringing those false theologies and cultural theologies to the table.
The deeper we get into study the more we need to release those concepts and press into a true and whole understanding of the Bible.
But--The Point of Biblical Literacy Is Not to Puff Us Up with Knowledge
The other day I caught myself back in a position of arrogance. Someone said something to me that wasn’t fully scriptural or Biblical. Almost instinctively I wanted to correct the false view that this person had of the Bible.
Perhaps I would have been in the right to so freely offer up a correction, but suddenly I found myself restraining. I realized that this individual is new to the faith, and as such, learning about the tenants of Christianity for the first time.
Who on earth am I to expect that a new Christian is going to have a full and complete view of the Bible. Goodness gracious, every day I’m learning more and more about God through his word. The more I learn, the more that I realize just how little I know.
And that’s okay. God’s grace is sufficient for me, why wasn’t my grace sufficient for this individual?
As I strive to become more Biblically literate I realize that with that knowledge can also come a temptation to become puffed up and arrogant.
1 Corinthians 8:1 reminds me that “… We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” The response I wanted to offer up, or rather the correction I wanted to give, did not come from a place of love. While, yes, absolutely as I build a relationship with this person I do hope that we’ll an opportunity to discuss the topic again, I now realize that my correction would not have come from a place of love or kindness and would probably have been lost of this person.
Rather than forcefully offering up a correction perhaps a better route would have been to ask questions and then actually listen. It’s easier to help correct or build a foundation of Biblical literacy when we actually have relational equity with the people we desire to help grow.
My teachers, pastors and spiritual directors are patient with me while I learn, so perhaps I can also learn to be patient with others.
I am thoroughly convinced of the need to grow in our Biblical literacy. When we sit down to read our Bibles we should also bring our intellect to the table. By sitting with the word and engaging with it critically and with a mind of curiosity we will grow not only in our relationship with Christ but also in our confidence in what He says.
Our Christian walk is not meant to be one of passive consumerism, but rather an active and alive relationship with our sovereign God. Understanding this is a vital part of our spiritual growth—or spiritual formation.
As you dive into growing in your Biblical literacy perhaps pick up a study Bible or additional commentary of whatever book your reading. If you are left with questions, take those questions to your pastors or small group leaders. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, this too is a part of healthy growth.
Photo Credit: ©Ben White/Unsplash
Rachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant. She serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: www.rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.