Thanks for all the responses to the survey on Why Don’t You Bring Your Bibles on Sunday? It’s good to see so many people reading the Bible. Several of you questioned the importance of reading your Bible during a sermon, especially if we have PowerPoint. Here are a few reasons why I think it is important to read along:
It allows the Bible to make up your mind about meaning, not you make up your own mind about the meaning. Having a Bible in front of you (electronic or hardcopy), allows you to read and refer to the passage as a complete thought. Reading it in complete allows you to compare the reasoning of the preacher to the reasoning of Scripture. We can follow the argument of Scripture, not just the argument of the preacher. Instead of making up your mind about the Bible, let the Bible make up your mind about the Bible.
Follow the argument of Scripture, not just the argument of the preacher.
Consider the example of the Bereans who thought about Paul’s teachings by “examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). They respectfully compared Paul to the OT. Paul himself taught the Roman churches to be “convinced in their own mind” before God regarding interpretation and application of Scripture (Rom 14:5). By reading Scripture during a sermon, we can follow the biblical admonition to be persuaded through our own study, not merely relying on second-hand interpretation, as good as it may be.
It allows you to read the Bible in context. Reading the Bible in context is critical. Preachers often preach out of context and distort the meaning of the text. Sometimes this results in right doctrine from the wrong texts, other times it results in wrong doctrine from right texts.
When we read in context we get to see the Bible, not in bits and pieces, but as an awe-inspiring whole.
Context is king; it dictates meaning of a verse or passage. For instance, if you took my sentence “Context is king” out of context, you could argue that I was saying literary context is more important than Jesus, and thus, the Bible should be our king, not Christ. That’s not what I meant at all, and the reason you know this is from the surrounding context. When we read in context we get to see the Bible, not in bits and pieces, but as an awe-inspiring whole. This whole, grand, cohesive story convinces, moves, instructs, and blesses us.
It helps you avoid confusing the medium for the message. The medium we access Scripture from varies—oral sermons and stories, printed books, electronic screens, searchable databases, video projection. The mere fact that the technological achievements of the printing press and electronic projection weren’t available in the 1st century, and that Scripture was largely read aloud among those churches, doesn’t tell us that we should or should not use books or powerpoint. However, if that medium affects our interpretation of the message, then we should rethink the medium.
Reading in PowerPoint prevents us from seeing the Bible in complete thoughts that hang together as a grand story.
Marshal McLuhan is famous for coining the saying: “the medium is the message”. Here is an interesting example of the medium dictating the message. When I was reading the Bible this morning, I thought to myself “How can I communicate this in a tweet?” For a moment, I tried to distill a very deep theological concept into a 160 character phrase. The limited character string medium of Twitter was forcing me to shave off important bits of theology just so I could communicate a brief, pithy statement. Not only is this silly, it can distort the message. The medium becomes the message by affecting what we say, how we say it, and how it is understood!
One concern with relying on Scripture projection on Sundays is that it limits our reading to bits and pieces, isolated from context. Apart from having Bibles ourselves, we’re unable to read the passage as a whole. We forsake the critical insight that comes from seeing the Bible as complete thoughts that hang together in context. The medium of PowerPoint requires a truncated message, a constant flow of appearing and disappearing Scriptures at the preacher’s whim. By not bringing some form of the Bible on Sundays, we can be subtly believe a set of unintended messages:
- You don’t need to read your Bible
- The way you read the Bible doesn’t matter (isolated or in context).
- Take the preacher’s word over God’s Word.
My ultimate aim in the survey and in this post is not to make people bring Bibles to Sunday Gatherings or City Groups (though I think it is wise). A separate post would easily be written on the value of listening to sermons well, and with an open heart to hear from God’s Spirit. My aim is that we would all read our Bibles regularly and well, so that we can clearly understand our faith, consistently see the futility of our idolatry in the presence of Christ, and embrace the train of graces that come to us through a proper understanding of the Bible. So bring your Bibles (and more importantly read them), not to be religious but to be reasonable, not to become doctrinaire but to be devotional, not to be archaic but to be awe-inspired.