Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Less sizzle, but quietly significant - Powlison on personal Bible application

David Powlison, in his contribution to the book Understanding Scripture edited by Grudem, Collins, and Schreiner, discusses the problems and pitfalls associated with personal application of bible passages where one is not addressed directly. This advice is very helpful.
Most of the Bible does not speak directly and personally to you. How do you "apply" the stories in Genesis? What about genealogies and census data? Leviticus? The life stories of Esther, Job, Samson, or Paul? The distribution of land and villages in Joshua? The history of Israel's decline through 1 and 2 Kings? The prophetic woes scorching Moab, Philistia, Egypt, and Babylon fulfilled so long ago? The ruminations of Ecclesiastes? The Gospel stories showing Jesus in action? The New Testament's frequent preoccupation with Jew-Gentile relations? The apocalyptic images in the Revelation?

The Bible's stories, histories, and prophecies-even many of the commands, teachings, promises, and prayers-take thoughtful work in order to reapply with current relevance. If you receive them directly-as if they speak directly to you, about you, with your issues i view-you will misunderstand and misapply Scripture ... Those who attempt to take the entire Bible as if it directly applies today end up distorting the Bible. It becomes an omnirelevant magic book teeming with private messages and meanings. God does not intend that his words function in that way.

These passages do apply. But most of the Bible applies differently from the passages tilted toward immediate relevance. What you read applies by extension and analogy, not directly. Less sizzle, but quietly significant. In one sense, such passages apply exactly because they are not about you. Understood rightly, such passages give a changed perspective. They locate you on a bigger stage. They teach you to notice God and other people in their own right. They call you to understand yourself within a story-many stories-bigger than your personal history and immediate concerns. They locate you within a community far wider than your immediate network of relationships. And the remind you that you are always in God's presence, under his eye, and part of his program.

1 comment:

  1. I like that last paragraph. It helps to put my life in perspective yet in a positive way. The scriptures are for me, but not all about me - a great antidote to the temptation of spiritual "navel gazing".

    Valerie Cherry