At this point in my life I have more books than ever, but read far less than I have in the past 9 years or so. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it. It is the standard lament of every student after they are “out of the loop” of academia. Currently, I have one class left to take at ye old Gordon-Conwell Seminary in order to graduate with an M.Div. after 5 years. So far, that is 2 years longer than planned due to migration into married life 2 years ago, requiring migration into the full time workforce. This has severely decreased my academic productivity, and perhaps jeopardized my academic future. Weird how life can take sharp turns into seemingly dark alleys. In God’s smiling providence, however, I could have not asked for a better circumstance in my life to percolate my desire to understand Scripture. I think this is due in part to being away from “biblical studies” and the safe harbor of others’ thoughts on the Bible in commentaries and monographs; and even not reading my Bible as much. Yeah, that”s right, even reading my Bible less. How can this possibly help? Good question. I think 2 factors are involved: focus and freedom.
With regards to focus, I have been able to continually shift attention from the trees to the forest, to “see the microcosm in macro vision” (line from Depeche Mode song “Macro”). Taking a few steps back from analyzing topics and subtopics of thought into the greater panorama has facilitated my ability to ask more questions. This isn’t just with biblical studies either, this has been with many things in life. There is a great need for both macro exegesis and micro exegesis and an oscillating focus between the two for all areas of life. In particular for me, stepping back from the Bible and assessing the great methods (e.g. discourse analysis) and structures (i.e. historical-redemptive biblical theology) I have come to love has helped me to read the whole Bible in my head. I know that sounds funky, but hear me out. The Bible is a large collection of writings spanning 2000 years of people, nations, backgrounds, and events while employing at least a dozen different genres from about 40 different personalities. Familiarity with this kind of material takes lots of time, which is a major reason to read it consistently. For me, 4 years of a Biblical Studies degree and 3-5 years of a Master of Divinity degree have fostered a generous amount of familiarity. Now, it is impossible to read the whole Bible in an hour or even a day because there are simply too many words and too much information. But when one gains a certain degree of familiarity with the Bible (or anything for that matter), it is really an indication that a mental table of contents or index (or even concordance if you wish) has formed in their mind. Thus, when another person mentions a book of the Bible, or a character, or event, or topic, one can recall or mentally recapitulate whatever is mentioned. The contents of this index are varied for us all and are shaped by the methods and structures we were taught or employ. The more we read the Bible, the sharper and more comprehensive this index becomes (hopefully). This index is what we walk away from the Bible with and can allow us to “read” the Bible in our minds. We can “read” the Bible this way very quickly because of the miracle of instantly thumbing through our index. Thus, I think since I have had time away from “index-building” (or micro exegesis), I’ve had more time to review the index (running it through the logic filter) and ask more questions of it (macro exegesis). I have found this very refreshing and of greater value when I jump back into both my Bible and my books.
With regards to freedom, I have no obligations or demands on me to study which has allowed me to think freely; read less and think more. I still find myself drawn to certain people’s works like Meredith Kline, Gerhard Forde, N.T. Wright, and John Piper, but for the most part I’m trying to work out things on my own and in a small community of close friends. Granted, these friends are on the same page and entertain even the most ridiculous ideas I might have, but I have the freedom to be wrong. I taste much freedom also knowing that I need others. Boy does that take pressure off in the “theological project”.
I think much of what I am talking about has coalesced beautifully with our little home group/church on Tuesdays. It’s been an immense blessing to have a teaching outlet and an on-going discussion with wonderful saints that are relatively flexible and available.