Hearers, Listeners, Doers: A Relational Approach to Bible Reading

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Chapter 6: From Paper to Person & Chapter 7: God Speaks, We Listen

Why do we read the Bible?  Are we after information, or is the goal of Bible reading much deeper than that?  McKnight takes up that question in this chapter.

There is a colossal threat to the desire to reading the Bible well: reading it dispassionately as if it were only a history book or textbook.  Reading the Bible like a novel would be a bit better but that still falls short of what God intended.  The problem with these approaches is that it fosters a relationship with the Bible, not the God of the Bible.  McKnight claims there is an even more important question to ask than just “How should I read the Bible?”  He encourages us to dig deeper and ask one further question: “What is my relationship to the God of the Bible?”

What we really need is a “relational approach to the Bible” that allows for an emotional component to Bible reading that other more objective approaches don’t.  This approach keeps the Bible a vehicle to God or a means to an end, not the end itself.  A relational approach reminds us that we are listening to God (through the Bible) not just the Bible itself.   Our author offers this good summary of the approach he is advocating:

Let me put this now one final way: God gave the Bible not so we can know it but so we could know and love God through it (p.91).

For too many, Bible reading is simply about the head.  We are trying to hear the words of the Bible so that we can develop the right view.  The Bible is all about information.  People stuck at this point are most concerned with what people believe and whether it is right.

This approach to Bible reading is anything but “relational.”  Instead, the better goal for Bible reading is to “listen.”  We show our love for a person by listening to them: “listening and loving are intimately connected” (p.96).  The two greatest commandments are to love God and love others, but we grow in our love for God and others by listening to God and others.

Did you know that the word “listen” or “hear” is found more than 1,500 times in the Bible?  Klyne Snodgrass, a friend and colleague, studied each of these references and came to this realization: “The biggest complaint in Scripture is that people do not listen to God.  Theirs is a freely chosen deafness.”  Choosing not to listen contradicts the Shema: “Hear, O Israel . . . Love the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  Klyne then reached this insightful conclusion: “The greatest command is to love God; the prior command [to loving God] is to hear.”  Love of God and love of others can happen only when we have ears to listen to God speak. (p.98)

Listening to God in the Bible is much deeper than hearing for ideas.  Throughout this chapter, McKnight talks of three, progressively deeper levels of listening, the deepest of which we are really trying to attain in Bible reading.

At the first level, we open our ears so as to attend to the words of the Bible and know the will of God.  Next, we allow those words to absorb into our hearts emotionally, becoming a part of what we believe and fundamentally are.  But most important of all is to let the words of the Bible shape our actions as we engage the world we live in with our hands.  It is not enough to simply hear the word, we have to do it too (James 1:22-23).

For those of us who may have studied the Bible as an academic topic in college, these are an especially refreshing couple of chapters.  Many of us were taught to read the Bible objectively and dispassionately.  Emotion just clouds your reason.  There is a place for that kind of Bible study, but when one reads confessionally as a believer and follower of God, Bible reading needs to engage all we are and lead ultimately to an obedient life.