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Stay True to the Bible Text

Stay True to the Bible Text

The art of intentional observation

by Lindsay Olesberg  |  posted 12/31/2012

It takes humility before God and other Christians to come to the Bible fully open to challenge or correction. Rather than approaching the Word seeking to justify ourselves, a humble posture assumes that we are ignorant and blind to many of God's truth and values. Daniel Fuller writes, "If one is to see things as they really are in a given passage, his mind must first be turned away from all preconceived ideas and biases as to the meaning of that passage. The way this is done is to become a lover of truth, regardless of the consequences." This will involve holding our convictions in an open hand, allowing the Bible to have its full authority in our lives. Truth must be our goal, even if seeing that truth threatens dearly held convictions.

The murder mystery novelist Agatha Christie's character Hercule Poirot embodies a commitment to truth at all costs. This makes him both invaluable and dangerous. Poirot is able to identify criminals that stymie the police, but in doing so, he inevitably uncovers family secrets and incriminating evidence about the rich and powerful. Christians who, like Poirot, are committed to truth at all costs are likewise both invaluable and dangerous to the church and the world. The Gospels make it clear that religious people and institutions do not always take kindly to those who challenge long-held practices and assumptions. Too often, stability and the status quo win out over truth.

The Art of Seeing

Inductive Bible study requires a commitment to the truth and a teachable, humble posture toward Scripture. Without them, we aren't able to do justice to the first step: observation.

Kuist wrote that observation is "the art of seeing things as they really are," the ability to recognize all the elements in a scene or text. Skillful observers, whether they are bird watchers or sports enthusiasts, have developed the ability to pay attention to a wide range of details. For example, my husband sees a hundred times more than I do in just ten minutes of a football game. He has learned the various plays, strategies, and positions. He loves the complexity of the game. Thus, when Jon watches football on Sunday afternoon, he is able to observe dynamics and movements to which I am oblivious. I, on the other hand, can only recognize when a thrown ball is caught or dropped. The rest of the action on the screen is meaningless to me. After a few minutes of watching, I usually pick up a magazine and tune out the television. Jon is happy to teach me more, but honestly, I'm not that interested in paying close attention. Both Jon's enjoyment and my lack of enjoyment are directly related to the quality of our observing.

As we consider how to observe Scripture fully, I find it helpful to think in terms of "attentiveness." Attentiveness is a posture, a way of carrying yourself in relationship to the world. Attentiveness implies careful observation, awareness, and perception. It involves being emotionally present and engaged, thoroughly conscious of what we are experiencing or reading. Robert Traina, author of a classic work on inductive Bible study, wrote that "to truly observe is to be mentally aware of what one sees. Observation transcends pure physical sight; it involves perception."

Turn Off Your "Automatic Pilot"

Have you ever been driving on the freeway and lost track of time? Your eyes have been open and you have seen enough of your environment to successfully stay between the lines and not rear-end the car in front of you, but you haven't been consciously aware of the act of driving. This often happens to me as my mind wanders to a problem at work or I begin planning tonight's dinner. I might notice mile marker 178 and then the next mile marker I am aware of is 194. Sixteen miles have passed but I haven't been consciously aware of my driving. I've been on "automatic pilot" and have failed to be attentive to my driving. I hate to admit it, but I have this experience when reading the Bible just as often as when I'm driving.

Topics:Bible study, Bible, Interpretation of, Interpretation of Scripture, Study
Date Added:December 31, 2012

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Teresa Benson

January 02, 2013  12:11pm

I love this. In fact, it's why I don't like it when Bibles put headings into the text. It's a human person telling me what to expect (and sometimes what the passage means), and limits my perspective if I let it.

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