Over the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on an occasional comment I’ve heard from evangelical people. I indicated that it comes from different angles, with different attitudes. Sometimes it’s a complaint or something of a lament.
Talking with people after an evening class in a local church, I’ve heard the wistful comment, “Wow, I’ve been in an evangelical church my whole life and never heard this before . . .”
I once received an email from a student after discussing several aspects of the incarnation in class. She wrote with gratitude but shocked me with her closing comment. She said she felt badly about not knowing her Savior better—that she wasn’t more conversant with what the Bible said about Jesus’ humanity.
I wrote her that we please God when we are diligent students, which implies that we are always learning and that it’s okay (and normal) that there are things we don’t know!
Again, I think this indicates something warped about how evangelicals regard the Bible.
I wonder if much of our evangelical rhetoric about our role in culture and an evangelical posture toward the world perverts our posture toward the Bible.
We’re told to “get equipped” to get out there and “make an impact,” to be prepared to change the world. We need to get trained so we can be maximally effective.
And what does this involve? Well, we need to get all the Bible knowledge we can, master the information, know all the facts, and be prepared to respond to various challenges with all the right answers.
When I’ve been asked about developing a plan to get to know the Bible, I can tell that it’s often coming from an anxiety to master the Bible efficiently and effectively.
This sort of impulse, and its accompanying rhetoric, can make us very anxious and uneasy when we find out there’s something we don’t know, or when we encounter unfamiliar material in the Bible. We may feel guilty for not knowing what we should know. In fact, I recently heard the comment as a lament or almost as a plea, as if learning something new was unfair. “Look, I really am making the effort, you know! I’m really trying!”
Such folks need to relax.
My advice is to get to know the Bible over time—like, over decades. There aren’t five easy steps to Bible knowledge. I’ve told students in the past to measure their knowledge of the Bible in 5-year increments. And when I’ve said that, I could hear sighs of relief.
Remember that the aim of getting to know Scripture is not to be equipped to get out there and have “impact.”
The purpose of knowing the Bible is to develop Scripture-shaped minds so that we get to know and love God more faithfully, being transformed so that we love and serve others more creatively. The goal of Bible knowledge is the cultivation of virtue. And this is something that only happens over time.
And the learning process itself transforms us, so we shouldn’t think that at some point we’ll be finished, “fully equipped” to get out there and put our knowledge to effective use.
Evangelicals are at our best when we’re humble students before the text, not necessarily when we’re out there giving well-prepared answers to common objections.
We sit before the Bible, then, as students-for-life, always learning, always searching. And we honor God when we humbly learn and resolve to embody what Scripture says creatively and joyfully.