October 28, 2020

iMonk 101: Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs: How Rightly Approaching the Bible Shapes the Entire Christian Life

Here’s one of my favorite major essays on Biblical interpretation. Lots of important ideas here that I’ve put together in my own approach to scripture. Yes, it’s a long one, but I think it will be worth the time for those interested in the subject.

Learning to read the Bible in a way that puts the focus where it is supposed to go- on the Lord Jesus Christ, our Mediator- is an important step in Christian growth. So many of evangelical problems come from simple mistakes in reading the Bible as a collection of verses, rather than as a collection of books.

Read: Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs: How Rightly Approaching the Bible Shapes the Entire Christian Life.


  1. I’m going to head back to the Law/Gospel paradigm for this one (sorry I.M.,but I can’t help it).

    So many problems in the Church stem from an inability to, or an ignorance of the need to separate God’s demands from His promises when we read scripture.

    Luther said that, “only those that can rightly separate Law from Gospel are worthy to be caled theologians.”

    It’s not easy to do. But if we don’t do it we end up with a schizophrenic view of the Christian Faith. (a little bit of me… or is it all God…or both?)

    Well, it can’t be both. If it’s both, then why the cross? It’s one or the other.

    Unfortunately, (and for most,unwittingly) too many have decided to land on the first side of that paradigm…the Law. For just one drop of Law in a glass of Promises spoils the whole drink.

    – Steve

  2. In this subset of Stupid People Tricks:

    Magick Book-ism, where the Bible becomes a Grimoire of disconnected verbal-component Chapter/Verse proof-text spells. Just pronounce the verbal component/verse enough times (in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe) and Aslan jumps right through your hoop.

    Bibliomancy or “Bible-dipping”, where you open the Book at random and take the first random verse you come to as your advice/future/fortunetelling. (Who needs horoscopes or channeled entities from Atlantis?) You know the three-step for that, don’t you?

    1) “Judas went and hanged himself.”
    2) “Go thou and do likewise.”
    3) “What thou doest, doest quickly.”

    After experiencing the Stupid People Tricks, makes you wish that three-step would come up more often…

  3. It is amazing at how this approach to scripture rarely gets taught, even to those “trained” in ministry. I was blessed in college to be a part of a student ministry called Student Mobilization, where they taught a book study and doing so inductively. Now that I am in YWAM I have been impressed with their School of Biblical Studies. It takes students through the bible a minimum of 5 times in 9 months, using a book by book inductive approach.

    Thank you for reposting this and for your ministry. Keep pressing on.

  4. I would very much agree with your approach espoused in your essay. It’s too easy to lose track of the ‘big picture’ when you have a macro view.
    Picking up on Bryan’s comment… I wonder if this is a difference in the style of education. It seems to me that in the US, a seminary approach is the norm. I have no experience of this and speak from a point of ignorance, but I wonder if such an approach leads to being taught what a denomination wants you to know. If this isn’t the case, then I’m happy to be corrected.
    In Scotland, the main denomination (Church of Scotland) have just gone through a pretty major review of education and have tentatively opened the door to seminary education as a way into ministry. It’s always been opposed in the past in preference to a university education as this has always been seen as providing a broader and more critical approach. What I’ve found (I’m currently in 3rd year, of 4) is that anyone who comes with an ‘agenda’ or the ‘right way’ to read scripture (particularly the pickers-and-choosers of verses to prove a point) will get ground down and spat out. This isn’t because the lecturer necessarily disagrees, but is aware that there is a need to hold in mind that bigger picture and it’s not something that any one approach can hope to fully grasp.

  5. I was reading the article, and thought it seemed very familiar. Then I found my name listed in the comment thread, and duh, I read this article the first time back in 2005. Then it made me think: after reading this same essay 3 years ago, agreeing with it, and commenting on it, have I done the grocery list thing myself since then? Knowing how to read, interpret and use the Bible correctly is one thing; having the discipline to always stick to it is another. Knowing the rules may not keep one from cheating.

  6. Bob Sacamento says

    I’m late to the party again. Still reading this long but so far excellent essay. It hit me just a few years ago that we evangelicals treat the Bible as a “bag of verses.” We have a doctrinal question, we ask our pastor/teacher/group leader — “What about people who never hear the gospel?” or something like that. He reaches in and grabs a “relevant” verse and tells us the answer to our question. We say, “What else does the Bible say?” “Well, is the Word of God going to contradict itself?” “Well, … no, I guess not.” “So this is the answer, right?” “Mmmm, well …. I guess it must be.” So sad.