2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

This article is inspired by a recent sermon I heard on the last half of James 1.

I grew up under the influence of what strikes me now as a somewhat simplistic view of the Bible. Week after week my pastor or Sunday school teacher would open the Bible, read it, and then ask, “How can we put into practice this week what we have just read?” For example, if we heard a sermon on greed, we were challenged to root out whatever greed we might find in our own lives. Same with jealousy, covetousness, idolatry or whatever other areas the Scripture might shine its light. We came to Scripture to find out what we were supposed to do, how we were supposed to think and how we were supposed to live. Just like a mirror, the purpose of looking at Scripture was one of self-evaluation.  

Then I went to seminary.

Slowly my approach to Scripture became less of a posture of obedience and more a posture of discovery. I wanted to know what the Bible said from a more objective viewpoint. In light of post-modernism and other factors, I realized that not everyone agrees about what the Bible even says. I went on to learn that scholar X believes the text says one thing and Scholar Y believes Scholar X has wobbly interpretive skills. Then scholar Z comes along in a patronizing voice and  charts the famous moderate or “middle path”. Somewhere along the line, my interaction with Scripture became less one of submission and more one of discovery. “What does this text mean?” had somehow trumped “How can I make changes to bring myself in line with this text?” 

Scripture was becoming a Mandala.  

Mandalas have their roots in Buddhism and are circular works of art that celebrate a unity within diversity. There are many images scattered within the circle but there is a central core from which all the various other images in the circle relate somehow – almost like a kaleidoscope. However, it is the posture toward a Mandela that I wish to emphasize. The wide range of meanings ebb and flow in the mind of the student until one central core begins to emerge and the student sees what the Mandala reveals.  But the student does not see the same thing every time and there is therefore never one established meaning. In summary, one looks at a Mandela to try to learn or discover something, not to obey.

Listening to the sermon on James 1, I was found myself nostalgic for the days when Bible interpretation was simple. Have I become so educated that I can no longer use the Bible as a mirror? Now I understand the value of study and paying close attention to what the text means (or may mean). I have some pretty strong views on doctrine and biblical interpretation. Scripture itself challenges us to “rightly divide the word of truth”. Even during the early church there were disputes about what constituted “the gospel” (see Galatians). So it is important to constantly be asking what a text means. But can I still approach scripture with a submissive attitude, asking the Bible to interpret me as I interpret it? A mirror after all, is a tool of evaluation. We use it to assess how we look with the purpose of doing something in response. Doing something in response to what one reads in Scripture is a central part of what I believe it means to be missional. May those of us engaged in seminary education never lose sight of our posture of humble submission as we approach God’s Word.  After all, isn’t obedience God’s love language? “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

 

Bryan Maier is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Counseling program at Biblical Seminary. He maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates

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