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Scot McKnight calls for us to recognize the pattern of discernment when we read the Bible. He writes, “The pattern of discernment is simply this: as we read the Bible and locate each item in its place in the Story, as we listen to God speak to us in our world through God’s ancient Word, we discern–through God’s Spirit and in the context of our community of faith–a pattern of how to live in our world.”

McKnight is not describing personal discernment, but communal. How does the local church, as a community, read the Scriptures? There will be great diversity in this. “Turkish Christians will not discern the same pattern that Southern Californian Christians will discern. Russian Baptists will live out the gospel in ways that differ from Brazilian charismatics.” We’ve been rather tolerant of these different readings on the missionary fields, but less so within our own country. Finally, McKnight offers that discernment will be very messy. We’d like clear cut answers. Answers that are applicable to all in the same way. But that is not what we get when we recognize that the Bible is story (narrative) and calls for us to draw (discern) our own conclusions about how we are called to live out the message of Christ in our world.

Sometimes social progress, historical development, legal development, and theological development inform our discernment and help us to read the text faithfully.

Yesterday I listed several commands from Leviticus 19. Some we keep. Some we sort of keep. Some we just ignore. How do we decide? McKnight writes, “The quick answer to this question is that while God’s holiness doesn’t change, his will for his people does. This, then, leads to one of my favorite questions: How do we know which of those commandments change and which ones don’t? How do we choose? Who gets to choose?”

The answer? This calls for discernment. The church must decide. Individual Christians must decide. But, how do we decide? Is anything up for grabs? McKnight offers some guidance in this area. We’ll examine those tomorrow.

How do we apply the Bible to our lives? How do we decide which things to do and which are okay to omit? None of us do everything commanded in the Bible. McKnight lists commands from Leviticus 19. Consider which of these we should observe today and which are not necessary.

  • Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (19:2).
  • You must observe my Sabbaths, I am the Lord your God (19:3).
  • When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God (19:9-10).
  • Do not go about spreading slander among your people (19:16).
  • Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (19:19).
  • Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it (19:26).
  • Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard (19:27).
  • Do not . . . put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord (19:28).
  • Stand up in the presence of the aged (19:32).
  • Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord (19:37).

How do you make sense of these commands. Other than #1 and #4 we don’t really follow these commands literally. Sometimes we say, “That’s from the Old Testament.” Or “Those are ceremonial commands. We only follow the moral codes.” Right in the middle of this chapter is Leviticus 19:18. Jesus quoted this as the second most important command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So, how do we decide? How do we know what to keep and what not to keep? How do we choose? Think about this today and tomorrow I’ll share some more from McKnight.

Traci and I (and others from our congregation) were able to hear Dr. McKnight this year at the Zoe Conference in Nashville. Traci hadn’t planned to go until she saw this chapter. She reasoned, “If a professor can recognize that at least part of what he writes might be boring, he must be okay to listen to.”

Last time we observed how McKnight described listening as an act of love. But this listening is more than hearing; it is hearing and acting.

McKnight writes, “Here is a sad fact: many of those who teach us how to read the Bible teach us how to gather information and find the right path from A to B. They teach us about words and paragraphs and book outlines, and they point us to sources and resources for understanding the historical context. Each of these is important. But what Bible study books don’t focus on is church and personal transformation. Any method of Bible study that doesn’t lead to transformation abandons the missional path of God and leaves us stranded.”

Many of us have been in those Bible classes. I still remember on senior adult class I observed that continued to use fill-in-the-blank books for their study time Sunday morning. But we don’t read the Bible as if we’re preparing for a Bible bowl. Instead, McKnight discusses outcome-based education.

“Outcome-based education means we ask this question as we prepare and teach: ‘What do we want our students to be and to be able to do at the end of this course, this major, and this degree?’ We no longer ask just what we want students to know–measured normally by exams and papers–but we want to know what students are able to do with what they know.”

So, why do we read the Bible? What do we want to be and be able to do after reading? How do we listen to God through the Word so that we join in with God’s mission? Again, McKnight offers that our Bible reading should lead us to love God and others more. If our reading is not increasing our love, then we’re missing the point.

While we begin at one level, it is important for us to move to a deeper level in reading the Bible. McKnight writes, “Having the right view of the Bible is knowing and believing, but we need to move to the next step: engaging the God of that Bible.” Knowing and believing is just the first level. If we stop there, our faith is incomplete. The purpose of reading the Bible is not just to know more, but to meet God.

In this reading, we are called to listen. Listening is an act of love. Again, from McKnight, “Our relationship to the God of the Bible is to listen to God so we can love him more deeply and love others more completely.” We grow and develop through our listening. We are changed through our encounter with God.

How do you read the Bible? What is your relationship to it? What is your relationship to God through the Bible? McKnight describes two approaches. The first is the “authority approach.”

“God revealed himself in the Bible. To make sure the Bible’s authors got things right, God’s Spirit was at work inspiring what they wrote. Because God, who is always true, produced the Bible, it is inerrant (without error). As God’s true Word, therefore, it is our final authority, and our response to the Bible must be one of submission.”

It’s not that this reading is “wrong,” but there seems to be something missing. As a second approach, McKnight describes a “relational approach.” Instead of “authority” and “submission” characterizing this reading, words like “delight,” “sweet,” “precious,” characterize this reading (much like the Psalmist).

“A relational approach believes our relationship to the Bible is transformed into a relationship with the God who speaks to us in and through the Bible.”

Last time we briefly introduces McKnight’s concept of the wiki-stories, those individual contributions that make up the larger story. Let’s back up just a moment to look at the Bible as story.

McKnight writes, “We say the Bible is Story because if we read it from beginning to end, we discover that it has three features: it has a plot (creation to consummation), it has characters (God–Father, Son, and Spirit–and God’s people and the world and creation around them), and it also has many authors who together tell the story.”

McKnight outlines the major turning points for the story and the corresponding themes.

Plot                                                              Theme
Creating Eikons (Gen 1-2)                        Oneness
Cracked Eikons (Gen 3-11)                       Otherness
Covenant Community (Gen 12 – Mal)    Otherness expands
Christ, the Perfect Eikon,                         One in Christ
redeems (Matt- Rev 20)
Consummation (Rev 21-22)                     Perfectly One
The individual authors (the wiki-stories) contribute their part of the story to advance or explain the plot. Humans were created as eikons (images, or likenesses of God). We rebelled and that eikon as damaged. God reached out and sought relationship (covenant) with his people. It was not enough. God came in the form of a human, Jesus, to show us the true form of humanity (again eikons), which will be brought to God’s ultimate end (consummation).