Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reading at depth

Over the last several weeks I've been struck how often I read the Bible at a totally surface level. It's sort of like tasting one item from a gourmet meal, eating it (glazed carrots, maybe) in isolation and saying, "Yeah, I like glazed carrots." Here's an example of what I mean.

I know that when I get back to work, one of my first duties will be to prepare a sermon for November 27th on the text near the end of Ephesians that deals with the Armor of God. I've read and studied and heard that text for decades. It's one of the favorite texts of those who concern themselves with spiritual warfare. We love to quote the part about how our warfare is not against flesh and blood, and we use this text as a dire reminder that we are operating in the spiritual world against unseen powers and principalities. For those who remember the book, it's a lot like the invisible world Frank Peretti unveiled in his book This Present Darkness a few decades ago.

That's all well and good. But on this sabbatical, I've taken the opportunity a few times to read through Ephesians start to finish, and I've listened to other teachers -- notably Chuck Swindoll and N.T. Wright and some others -- work through the text of Ephesians. What has reared up and smacked me in the face in this process is that the "spiritual warfare" text in Ephesians 6:10 and following is totally enmeshed with the rest of the text of Ephesians. Every chapter of this book alludes to the spiritual powers and their mischief (as a colleague of mine likes to call it). There is a parallel text in Ephesians 3 where Paul states that the purpose of the church is to reveal God's mysterious plan to the powers and authorities. Yet instead of seeing how the entire Christ-following life -- from being seated with him in the heavenly realms (chapter 1), to being saved by his grace as an act of his artistry (chapter 2), to being united in his church as a new temple to be his presence in the world (chapter 3) to being called to unity and diversity as we grow toward maturity in Jesus (chapter 4) to living lives of holiness in imitation of God's compassionate love for us -- all these things are spiritual warfare, intimately engaging us with the world of principalities and powers. Yet when we want to talk about spiritual warfare we open up to Ephesians 6 and read the part about the armor of God and call it good.

How much of the Bible have I missed because I read prooftexts rather than reading at some depth, reading for the interconnectedness, reading the whole argument rather than one or two verses?

It's tragic.

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