"Do not read the Bible like the theologians do!"
That statement in the sermon made me sit up. My first reaction was that perhaps I heard the preacher wrongly. But I did not. The person sitting next to me confirmed what was said over the pulpit.
This happened when I was attending a Sunday Service in a fairly large and well-known church in the Klang Valley some months ago. In this particular sermon, one of the pastors of this church was making a point concerning the importance of having a regular personal devotion if one wishes to grow towards maturity as a believer. One could hardly disagree with this. But in the midst of making his point, the pastor remarked, "But remember when you read the Bible in your personal devotion, do not read the Bible like the theologians do."
It is not very often that I reacted rather negatively to a Sunday sermon. Even if I do disagree with the preacher, more often than not, it has to do with issues of interpretation of scripture. After all, many of my own "si fu" (Gregory Beale, Walter Kaiser, William Mounce, Moises Silva, and Bruce Winter, amongst others) have thought me that as a budding NT scholar, I should practise charity when it comes to differing opinions concerning the interpretation of scripture. While we do exercise caution in interpreting the scripture, we must also acknowledge that we do not have all the full knowledge and wisdom to make a dogmatic statement, especially in interpreting the difficult passages in the Bible.
But this time, it was very different. I must confess I was stunned! Perhaps the preacher, who does not have any theological education, was trying to share a joke in the sermon. Perhaps he was trying to caution the congregation that, more often than not, theologians would argue on so many peripheral issues in the text, and yet they can never come to an agreement, and this is an area that should be avoided. Perhaps the preacher was trying to emphasise that one must not merely treat the Bible as a piece of literature subjected to scholarly research and scrutiny under the intellectual microscope. Perhaps he was reacting to the concern that some biblical scholars are investigating the scripture simply for some intellectual stimulation. Perhaps he was exhorting the congregation that we must allow the scripture to speak not only to the head but to the heart as well. Perhaps it was just a slip of tongue.
While I may not know the intention of the preacher for making this statement, I could not help but to wonder why theologians/biblical scholars have often received bad press in many sermons, particularly among the independent charismatic churches? This is not the first time that I hear such remark being made over the pulpit.
I thought that instead of arguing over the issue of whether one should or should not read the bible like the theologians do, perhaps it would be good for me to reflect and ask myself these questions as a budding NT scholar: As a follower of Christ, do I read the Bible differently from the "non-theologians"? In my teaching and preaching, have I failed to instruct the congregation concerning the truth of God? Have I failed to demonstrate that the scripture is relevant for all of us even in our present day? Or have I only caught up in the academic pursuit of biblical studies to the neglect of applying the scripture in my own personal life and professional life as a lecturer in a seminary?
Or, if I am not a theologian/biblical scholar and if I do not reflect or think through issues theologically, what difference would this make in my discipline of reading the scripture? What treasures would I not be able to mine? What theological insights would I not discover? What truths would I not understand? If I do not allow the scriptures to guide and instruct me in my understanding of ethical, moral and contemporary issues, what significant impact would this have in my appropriation of biblical truths in various aspects of my Christian life? What application of biblical truth in my Christian journey would I misappropriate?
I may not have all the answers to the above questions. But this I know. After all, isn't it Karl Barth, when asked about his Christian faith, responded by saying, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so"? I think this is a very sober reminder from a great theologian to all of us about how we understand and read the Bible - whether we are theologian or not!