William C. Lincoln has listed a few caricaturish approaches to Bible study for the sake of leading to a more appropriate view of the whole endeavor. Continuing from yesterday’s more extended look at the consultation approach, I’ll give the others here, with some extrapolating and/or dissenting commentary:
Two—the vitamin pill approach: In this approach, the “student” views scripture as preventative medicine—inoculation against future problems. Or maybe he doesn’t really view scripture at all; he just pops the pills! Lincoln likens this approach to the belief in a rabbit’s foot.
Three—the consecutive approach: “A chapter a day keeps Satan away.” Breaking scripture into what often turn out to be meaningless, arbitrary segments (paragraphs would be better) contributes to segmentation and lack of contextual understanding . . . not to mention the naivete of thinking, “Well, if I had just read a chapter every day this week, I would have grown more.”
Four—the repetition approach: “Every Christian should read through the Bible every year.” While Lincoln agrees with this basic premise, I do not. Not only is the adherent of this methodology prone to the same sort of false contentment that comes with the “consecutive approach,” but as Lincoln says, this is not the way to study the Bible. Devotional reading certainly has its place, and many Christians may benefit from meditating as they regularly read chapters or long segments, as suggested by popular Bible reading programs, but if serious study is the goal (and it should be, at least some of the time), moving rapidly through large numbers of words, paragraphs, chapters, and books is not the answer.
For a more extended treatment of one Bible reading plan, see https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/the-essential-100-better-than-nothing/.
Five—the devotional commentary approach: “Learn what the Scripture says by reading what the experts have to say about it.” While I, too, depend on the work of those much more learned, I completely agree that we must take care not to see scripture (only) through the “prejudiced eyes of someone else.” If I trust I writer’s background and communicative abilities, I may refer to him often, but there is no infallible human, and my resources always deserve challenge and question, simply because they are human.
As discussed yesterday, I do not subscribe to the idea that the primary message of scripture is to be viewed personally or privately, so my objection to this “commentary” approach—if it is the sole approach employed, that is—lies more in the sphere of being wary of others’ denominational, philosophical, or theological prejudices than in the sphere of forcing scripture into a mold of having to say something personally to me (the latter is what Lincoln emphasizes).
Colossians, for example, is not written primarily to me. It was written to the Christ-ians in Colossae. And by moving toward understanding that letter more as those first readers would have understood it, I may then legitimately be able to extract certain ideas for application to me in my situation today.
The personal, present-day applications must come last, after exegesis has allowed us to understand an original message in its historical and literary context.