How can we read and interpret Scripture well?

I write a quarterly column for Preach magazine, in which I explore a significant word or phrase in the Bible and the ideas that it expresses. I have written for them on:

the phrase ‘Word of God’
the theme of ‘Mission’
the meaning of ‘Apocalypse‘
the ministry of ‘Healing’,
the question of ‘Welcome’,
the biblical understanding of ‘Justice’,
what the Bible means by the term ‘church’
what the Bible says about grief and grieving.
Louisa Lockwood, who is editor the magazine, invited me for a conversation about the column I write, and what I think is important in relation to our reading of the Bible. The video is only 13 minutes long, linked below, and these are the key things that we cover.

0.40 Introduction: the name of my blog, and how it relates to the idea that Christian faith does all add up and make sense

3.31 Why I find writing the Word of God column interesting. Scripture is a bit like the mathematical figure of a fractal, in which the whole picture can be found in each detail.

4.35 Part of our problem is that we find it very difficult to slow down and read carefully. We live in a world saturated with words, so we are focussed on skimming and reading quickly. The ancient world was very different, and much more used to reading slowly and carefully.

5. 27 This is a good reason to learn biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) or simply to read the Bible in another language that you know.

6.00 We have lost confidence that words actually mean things, rather than being vehicles for us as readers to impose our own meaning on them. This is critical to our belief that God can actually speak to us.

7.08 Another danger is to detach words from their wider context—we need to read the wider narrative and see how particular details, parts and ideas fit with a wider picture.

8.06 Theological interpretation of scripture is what is needed—look at what Scripture actually says, but then understanding God’s theological intention to form his people so they can faithfully worship him and live out his life in the world by the power of the Spirit.

9.44 The Spirit continues to speak to us—but this meaning is tethered to the words of Scripture. Reading the Bible is like going on a cross-cultural journey to hear what God said to his people in the past and through that to hear what God is saying to us today.

10.40 Scripture is not merely an object to be dissected, but is an act of communication to heard and understood. We therefore need the same kind of personal skills and empathy to read Scripture as we need to understand another person. 

Can we combine compassion and truth in response to transgender?

Andrew Bunt, who is Assistant Pastor at King’s Church, Hastings and Bexhill, has written a fascinating and helpful Grove Booklet on welcoming and supporting transgender people in the Grove Pastoral series, under the title People not Pronouns: Reflections on Transgender Experience. I asked him about the background to writing the booklet, and the interesting approach that he took to this important pastoral question. 

IP: You start the booklet with a very honest account of your own confusion about your sex and gender identity. Do you see this confusion as unusual or quite common? Do you think that it is on the increase now because of current debates about sex and gender?

AB: It’s hard to know how common such confusion is, but I expect it might be more common than we think. Many children experience some level of confusion about their sex or gender identity. That can just be part of the journey of coming to understand the reality that we all have sexed bodies and that men and women are different. Or it can, as it was for me, be a more profound confusion or discomfort with one’s sex identity and sense of self. But for the vast majority of children, this confusion naturally abates as they grow up.

Since talking about the topic of sex and gender, I have met many people who relate to my later experiences of not really feeling they make the cut as a ‘real man’ or ‘real woman’. I think that sort of experience might be quite common.

Right now, we are of course also seeing a huge number of teenagers identifying as trans and reporting discomfort with their sex and gender identity. This does seem to be a new phenomenon, likely influenced, at least in part, by the prominence of the discussion in our society.

IP: You argue that Christians should be active in the debates around gender identity. What do you think makes so many hesitant to get involved?

AB: We all know that debates around gender identity are volatile. We see this in the reactions to statements made by people in the public eye—for example, J K  Rowling—and the debates around matters such as transgender sportspeople. In view of this, a level of hesitancy is probably inevitable.

I think many people are also aware of the complexity of the debates. We recognise that the conversation is about a complex topic that touches on biology, psychology, philosophy, language, and medicine. Many of us just feel very aware of our lack of expertise on these matters. We might also be conscious of our lack of personal experience of the topic. And these are good reasons to think about whether, or perhaps particularly how, we should get involved.

But I still think Christians should be active in these debates. The conversation is volatile and complex because it’s about real life and real people. It’s because of this that we should get involved. We should care about people’s well-being, care about safeguarding young people, and care about people knowing how best to live to experience their best life. Our hesitancy should make us stop and think about how we engage well and in a helpful way, but we should still engage.

What does charismatic renewal bring to the Church?

Christopher Landau is being commissioned as the new Director of ReSource, formerly known as Anglican Renewal Ministries, on Wednesday 8th September. I asked him about the organisation, his own experiences, and renewal in the Church today. IP: What is ReSource? Where did the organisation come from, and what has been its role recently? CL: One … Continue Reading

Did the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 teach Jesus not to be racist?

The gospel lectionary reading for Trinity 14 in Year B is Mark 7.24-37, which includes the episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman that often brings readers up short, containing as it does what appears to be a rather shocking insult. Jesus is seeking to withdraw from public attention, needing some time for rest … Continue Reading

Can the Church ever reach young people again?

Amongst the rather depressing statistics about decline in attendance at Church of England services, one that stands out is the plummeting of engagement with young people. Jimmy Dale is the Church of England’s National Youth Evangelism Officer, and I had the chance to ask him about the current situation—how we got here, and whether anything … Continue Reading

Where is good and evil in Afghanistan?

Tom Bowring writes: I fall into writing this piece from a place of unwilling necessity following a period of reflective silence. If you were to ask my wife, she’d tell you I never talk about Afghanistan and, as psychologists do, go on to suggest this is as much about personal growth and transition as it … Continue Reading