Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cautious And Daring Reading Of Scripture

My Orthodox friend shared this story with me today.  I thought it was worth the reflection:

One day, an Orthodox priest tells a young man, “Reading Scripture privately is spiritually the second most dangerous thing you can do. All sorts of temptations arise, you’ll face many doubts, and the Devil will whisper into your ear all sorts heretical ‘insights’ about the text.  It is an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do.”

Startled, the young man asked the priest, “But what then is the first most dangerous thing you do?”

“Why, not reading the Bible privately, of course.”

This speaks to an important truth that we need to recongize, especially for those of us in the emerging church conversation seeking to better understand God’s Word outside of our traditional understanding.  While we must never stop seeking Him through His written Word, we must do so guided by the fear of God, always aware of our own limits and biases, the reality of the enemy and our need for the larger community of faith, including all those who have gone before us.

How do we do this?  How can we approach Scripture faithfully, yet daringly?  How have you benefited in your journey in respect to Scripture?  Do tell!

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Posted by Jamie Arpin-Ricci in 23:45:11

24 Responses to “Cautious And Daring Reading Of Scripture”

  1. Steve says:

    Great story, thanks!

  2. george says:

    The best teacher in understanding Scripture is the Holy Spirit. That has certainly been my experience

    If we are in a place where we are genuinely seeking to know God and we come with an attitude of wanting to know Him and truly live for Him, He shows us the way through Scripture. His Spirit guides as we interact with His Word and it is then where we come to realize how active His Word truly is and we see the world more and more from His perspective.

    What we should not do is come to His Word with our own world view and then seek to use His Word to promote that world view. Too often then, we only get part of it.

    In my interaction with some in the “emerging church conversation” that’s what I believe is happening. Very much concerned about social gospel, which is great, but then not at all concerned about being right before God in our daily walk, not concerned about issues like sin, righteousness, holiness, godliness, sanctification. No talk at all about those things, only what are we doing to help the poor and suffering. In the end it sounds very much like a works gospel.

    Jamie you said this “This speaks to an important truth that we need to recongize, especially for those of us in the emerging church conversation seeking to better understand God’s Word outside of our traditional understanding.”

    How would you say the emerging church is seeking to do that? I understand what the emerging church is saying about traditional church, but how are you trying to see the Bible outside of the traditional understanding?

  3. George,

    While I complete affirm the need for the Holy Spirit to be involved in our understanding of Scriptures, that still leaves us largely as individuals seek private revelation or understanding.

    I would disagree with you about your generalization of the emerging church conversation. I have many friends who are part of the movement who represent some of the most faithful (both Biblically and in practice) Christians I know. I would suggest that much of modern Evangelicalism is just what you charge emergent of- a view of Scripture shaped by our worldview. It is impossible for us to complete separate our worldview as we approach Scripture. The emerging church acknowledges this, trying to be more careful and intentional to redemptive engage culture.

    Further, to say there is “no talk at all” within the emerging church about such things as sin, righteousness, holiness, godliness”, etc. reveals only one thing- you are not very widely read in the emerging church. These are quite common themes. I do not mean to sound hostile, but you have turned this post largely into a indictment of the emerging church (and frankly, not a very well researched one) instead of engaging the topic at hand.

    As to your questions, I believe many within the emerging church are seeking to understand and engage with Scripture while more intentionally recognizing the influence of culture/worldview on our understanding, therefore seeking to be faithful given this reality. Further, rather than viewing Scripture as mechanistic tool with which to get all our answers or to mine it for every “truth” it holds, the emerging church seeks to see it as a dynamic whole; a mysterious yet powerful record of God’s move through history, a history of which we are a part; to approach it with the humility to know that our view is limited and therefore must be held carefully, not as a weapon of “absolute truth”.

    If you are interested, I wrote a two part piece at this blog in the past that answers this question in more detail than this comment section allows. Thanks for sharing, George.


  4. Steve says:

    It seems to me, that in regards to Scripture, the Emergent Church is bound to make the same mistakes that evangelical church makes.

    The evangelical church is Scripturally shallow. For all of its former claims to be the champions of Scripture, they are no longer.

    When most evangelicals got to church on Sunday, they do not listen to sermons as students, but rather as observers or participants. They read books, but they mostly give them a fast read and then move on.

    Paul said to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. How many evangelicals can say that is true in their life. Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD. Do evangelicals do that? The Bereans were noble because they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Where today is this daily eagerness and examination?

    It is refreshing that the Emergent Church is leading a renewed interest in Scripture, yet one is hard pressed to find those within the rank and file within the movement who are devoting their time and energy and passion to knowing the Good Book from cover to cover. There is a great passion for application and rightly so, yet without the right information one often does not know the right application, regardless of how zealous they are about their application.

    There was a time that the evangelical church stressed a “high view” of Scripture. But when that stress waned the church became shallow. My fear is that the Emergent Church will follow the evangelical church and forget the virtue and necessity of a “high view” of Scripture, and thus became shallow.

    Evangelicals have lots of passion for their way of doing church and being spiritual, and so does the Emergent Church, yet is either group producing people true students of the Book.

    I may not being saying this as best as I could, so don’t throw things too quickly at me.


  5. Steve,

    I think the emerging church, like any expression or tradition of the faith, is prone to the same potential failings, as you say. On this we agree.

    I would probably stress that there are several within (or parallel with) the emerging conversation, however, that are delving into Scripture with the passion and integrity you suggest I think that there are some whose preconceived idea of what this should look like would not acknowledge some such examples.

    Therefore, I disagree with your generalization of the emerging churches engagement of Scripture. It is true in some circles, but as a rule, I think it is not the case. I would suggest that even the Evangelical church is largely doing better than you suggest.

    For me, the problem lies more with praxis (reflection/implication/application)- or lack thereof- that both expressions need to model. Just my view. Thanks for weighing in.


  6. societyvs says:

    “How do we do this? How can we approach Scripture faithfully, yet daringly? How have you benefited in your journey in respect to Scripture? Do tell!” (EV)

    I think we have to be honest to the scripture and the intent of the writer. Here is what I do: I read a whole book or a whole letter and figure out the intent of the gospel/letter writer and the points they are trying to convey. I avoid the mistake of trying to make a letter or gospel say what a doctrine may have said by picking pieces of a letter/gospel without the whole context. This way when I speak I am not taking the word of God out of context and putting things in the letter writers mouth that isn’t from within the stated letter/book. It’s quite the careful process but I have found it to work thus far.

    I have also found new meanings to the scripture by doing so (keeping things in context). I have found what’s an important focus (ex: dealing with the poverty around us) and what’s not a big focus (ex: the whole gay issue). It helps me to stay grounded knowing what Paul or Luke is saying about their experiences or related stories they have been given. I also recognize that communities would have not had this whole book together at one time and basically lived off those letters of gospels – so each of them can stand alone (since they did at one time). That’s how I read it.

  7. societyvs,

    I think you highlight an important point. We too often approach Scripture with a casual mentality, trying to fit it into our lives rather than giving it the time and respect it deserves. Thanks for the reminder.


  8. george says:

    You make some great points Steve.

    Jamie the discussions I am speaking of are mostly with those in the inner city Canadian scene. I have my impressions about them based on those discussions.

    That’s where my interest lies, with inner city issues and how do we respond as Christians.

    Maybe you could point me to an emergent or emerging church in the inner city in Canada that God is using powerfully to change lives. That’s what I’m trying to find, ministries where it is obvious that God is at work and where people are coming to know the Lord.

    What I know from other ministries and churches that God is using powerfully is that there is always a high view of Scripture and a real fear of the Lord. I don’t get a sense of that from those I have had discussions with in the emerging church in our Canadian scene.

    So you being much more read and in tune with the emerging conversation, if you could point me to an emerging church in the Canadian inner city where people are getting transformed and saved and finding eternal life, I’d love to know about them. Thank you.

  9. George,

    I agree that the inner city lacks more involvement from the church of any type. I would say, though, that as important as this is, it isn’t enough to evaluate the general quality of either tradition.

    That being said, I know many emergent Christians working in inner cities, either through so called “para-church” organization or as part of established, Evangelical churches. But again, what do you mean by “people coming to know the Lord”? Are you talking about “salvation decisions”? If so, while important, I think that is a poor measure indeed. If not, feel free to clarify.

    Your closing paragraph is somewhat frustrating, as you seem to narrow your search to criteria that, I believe (and I think the emerging church in general might believe) are the wrong criteria to begin with. The emerging church seeks to change some of the emphasis in the established church that we felt needn’t be so central, so to ask for qualifying examples that, at times, reflect those very dynamic, is unfair. Therefore, I can’t point you to examples of what you are looking for.


  10. george says:

    ” But again, what do you mean by “people coming to know the Lord”? Are you talking about “salvation decisions”? If so, while important, I think that is a poor measure indeed. If not, feel free to clarify.”

    Answer. John 17: 3 And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “salvation decisions” Jamie but what I am talking about is people actually getting saved, coming to know God in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m talking about people coming to know that they are sinners in need of a Savior, like you are and like I am. I’m talking about people turning from their sin and embracing Jesus Christ as the basis for their forgiveness. I’m talking about people being brought out of darkness and into His marvelous light. I’m talking about people like drug addicts and alcoholics and schizophrenics and all the rest we find in the inner city coming to know that they have become a child of God, bringing with that the incredible assurance of eternal life.

    Jesus Christ came to seek and to save those who are lost and He calls us to do the same in His name.

    I hope that clears it up and I ask again is there an emerging church in Canada somewhere that God is using to bring salvation to others and particularly to those who are suffering?

    Along my journey so far in the inner city and in particular in Toronto, I see many churches and para church organizations that have gotten real good at helping people with practical needs and that is great. What is so clearly missing though is helping people come to know the Savior pointing people to the One who can set them free and give them peace. (In reality what is happening is that those who are being reached with practical needs, are enabled by that, to remain exactly where they are. Its a shame really.)

    There are exceptions and that’s what I’m looking for. Do you know of an emerging church in the inner city in Canada somewhere where God is so clearly at work transforming inner city people?

  11. George,

    You are probably not going to like my answer, but I think your definition of salvation, while including important aspects, is quite insufficient. It is an individualist definition, failing to account for the salvific work of the Gospel on communities, system, etc.

    I would also take exception with the mentality that serving peoples felt needs enables them to ignore their “spiritual” needs. I can only assume you are not suggesting that by keeping people in need that they will be more receptive to the Gospel. I also hope you aren’t suggesting that meeting peoples physical/felt needs is somehow less spiritual than “preaching” the Gospel.

    While we are small with few “success stories”, our ministry here in Winnipeg is very much about incarnating and proclaiming a Gospel of wholistic salvation to the inner cities. Of course, we are “parachurch”, so perhaps that is not what you are looking for.

    All this being said, and as I thought I said last time, I know many ministries and churches who are doing this, if not always as a primary focus. However, I am not sure any of them would fit into being an “emerging church”, though many are deeply influenced in that direction. I am not trying to be evasive, I just don’t want to represent others here under titles they may or may not be happy with. I would encourage you to contact for specifics about location throughout Canada who might fit your criteria.

    Ultimately, I still feel as though you are asking for example of emerging churches who are doing ministry in such a way and by definitions that would be inconsistent (in part) with what it means to be emergent. Thus the nature of my reply.


  12. george says:

    “You are probably not going to like my answer, but I think your definition of salvation, while including important aspects, is quite insufficient. It is an individualist definition, failing to account for the salvific work of the Gospel on communities, system, etc.”

    Don’t quite understand that paragraph Jamie. I’m saved, got saved in 2001. All God’s doing. I know I have eternal life. I know God and desire to make Him known. Because of that I can’t imagine reaching out to the suffering of the world without telling them about how they too can come to know God and receive eternal life. It is appointed for every man to die and then comes the judgment. Those who have the Son have life those who do not have the Son do not have life. Is there anything more important than pointing people to Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself didn’t think so as he commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples. Before he ascended into heaven that was His command to us. It was not an option it was a command.

    I trust you are saved. If you are, I’m sure you agree that is what you treasure most in your life, the fact that you know you are a child of God and that no matter what happens, you know you will be with Him for all eternity. Is that not the number one thing you would then like to see come to those to whom you minister, eternal life? How will they know if they are not told.

    So again, as I look at different ministries I’m looking for evidence of Almighty God using that ministry to bring about transformation in peoples lives. People coming to know Him in relationship. If that’s happening in your ministry, wonderful, praise God.

    Its not about us of course, its all about God and what He has done. It is finished Jesus said, His work is done. Now He wants to use us to get the message out, that there can be new life found in Him. His Spirit will use that message to reveal Himself to people but He counts on us to tell them. It makes no sense to feed people but not tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ, the only One who can set them free. How will they know if we don’t tell them and point them to Him.

    Why is it that God does not seem to be powerfully at work in an inner city in Canada.

    I know all about Resonate and the different blogs.

    If you are interested in checking out a ministry that is so clearly being used by God in the inner city check out the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. Read the book Fresh Wind Fresh Fire by the founding pastor Jim Cymbala.

    Having a desire to make God known in the inner city, his ministry has been an inspiration to me. You know what you find there? A love for God and His Word and submission to it. The whole thing, not just the parts we want to hear. They live and breathe God’s Word in that place and God seems to use that. Heroin addicts and meth addicts and crack addicts and hookers and pimps and dealers and homeless and you name it all getting saved and changed and new life and serving God and praising God for all He has done. Its all about God.

    How about Winnipeg?

  13. theoldbill says:

    this is gonna sound pretty self-serving – but I’ve been in ministry for 25 years and i have never seen anything like what is happening in the Central Park area of Wpg – this is an area that is now predominately African – mostly refugee = but what is emerging is also atypical of ‘emergent’ – a significant and deep connection between Muslim and Christian – passionately, deeply Muslim and passionately, deeply Christian. It’s pure grace and entirely God driven, I don’t have a clue really how it started, or how it’s grown, or where it’s heading. Not sure if it fits anything of what you’re seeking. It is for me ‘emergent/ing’ because of its spontaneous character, but perhaps not because I don’t know if it is happening anywhere else at the same time.

  14. Steve says:

    Oh, you’re right I am making some biggo generalizations. And I know there are some very Scripturally rich people in the Emergent Church and who are evangelicals.

    Yet, the average person, the common person, the couple, the teen, the middle aged who come to each Sunday are not ones to take the time really study, to really grow deep on multiple Scriptural areas, and to know Scripture so well that they can be like Old Testament saints and meditate on the Good Book through the watches of the night.

    The Emergent Church grew, in part, out of a shallowness of the evangelical church. Unless the Emergent Church stresses depth, another group of common church goers will come out of the Energent Church, rejecting it and criticising it, and in earnest try to restart a cultural love for the Jesus of the Bible that can only be known through seriously studying him.

    p.s. Congratulations on your award and the recognition!

  15. george says:

    “a significant and deep connection between Muslim and Christian – passionately, deeply Muslim and passionately, deeply Christian. It’s pure grace and entirely God driven,”

    How does God drive a connection between deeply passionate Muslims and deeply passionate Christians? Is He using the Christians to win over the Muslims to Christ? I hope so.

  16. george says:

    Jamie how do you proclaim a “Gospel of holistic salvation” and could you define that?

  17. George,

    I have to apologize. Obviously I am failing to communicate what I am trying to communicate. I think our understanding of “being saved” parallels, but is somewhat different. I am not sure I am able to answer all of your questions, as we seem to be bumped heads with respect to our presuppositions about the meaning of aspects of our faith. Sorry I am not better at communicating it.

    It seems you are familiar with many of the examples I would suggest, and yet seem dissatisfied with them. As those are the best answers I can give you, I am not sure we are getting anywhere. If you want to know what I mean about Gospel of holistic salvation, read my series “What Is The Gospel?”, as I would only be repeating myself in length in the comment section.


  18. Bill,

    Thanks for weighing in. You know how much I respect what you guys are doing there, even though we disagree on some aspects. I would suspect that George would most certainly take exception. Alas. Thanks!


  19. Steve,

    Fair enough. I think we are generally on the same page on most of what you are sharing. Thanks for the congrats.


  20. george says:

    Ok I might do that sometime. I was just wondering if it was along the same lines as “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”

  21. George,

    Of course I hold to that, but I believe the meaning of it is far more complex than an individual assenting to the reality of and submission to Christ as Lord. That is part of it, but belief is far more involved both in meaning and practice, namely in communal expression. I hope you enjoy the series.


  22. Steve says:

    You’re welcome. May God use you!

  23. Steve,

    May He bless you as well.