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Contextual Healing May 5, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Bible.
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I like to read. I’m reading over five books right now, not counting the comic books I usually read before bed. One is a book on Christian Apologetics, another is a book on how to teach youth Christian Apologetics, another is a book on stupid things people in relationships do, another is one on a theological view called Open Theism (I’m re-reading this one), and the last one is a fictional classic called The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I’m learning a lot from all of them and I’m sure that their authors are happy that I’m reading them (except for Lewis, I guess it’d be kinda hard for him to be happy I’m reading his on account of him being dead). In fact, as a wannabe writer myself, I can tell you the only time I’ve ever been unhappy with someone reading my writing is when I hear someone take something I’ve written out of context. Taking something out of context can totally pervert an author’s intended point, sometimes it can even totally reverse an author’s point. I recently read an article by a secular news website that called into question one pastor’s request that the members of his church have sex everyday for one week.The article mentioned how this was contrary to the Bible’s stance on sexual purity and they interviewed other evangelical’s opinions on this pastor’s radical request which of course was met with great disdain from the evangelical community. I tended to agree with most of the opinions I saw, until I decided to listen to┬áthe pastor’s sermon for myself. Within the sermon’s context, I discovered that this pastor requested (challenged) the MARRIED couples to have sex everyday for one week and asked the singles not to have sex until marriage. The whole point of the pastor’s message was that sex was created specifically for married people. The news site took the message completely out of context, totally reversing the pastor’s point.

Knowing that taking things out of context can lead to misinterpretations is why we must be very careful to read the Bible in context. In her great book on Bible study, How to Study Your Bible Kay Arthur says, “context is determined or identified…by carefully observing what is repeated in the text and seeing how it all relates.” There are whole churches, denominations, and theologies that exist because someone took something out of the Bible without observing how it related to everything else in the Bible. We must pay close attention not to do the same. Here are some ways that help me from not taking the Bible out of context:

1. Don’t skip around. The best way to read the Bible is by prayerfully choosing a book that you want to study and start in the first chapter and read all the way through. It’s also good to read entire sections of the Bible like this (The Gospels: start in Matthew read all the way through John; or books written by the same author: Start with John then 1, 2, 3 John, then Revelation or Luke then Acts, etc.)

2. Avoid the “Magic 8-ball” style. Several bad choices have been made by closing your eyes, asking a question, then opening the Bible and pointing at your “answer.”

3. Don’t rush through. Some people will speed through their reading just to say they did their reading for the day or to say that they’ve read the whole book or something. The problem with speedreading the Bible is that if you remember anything you’ve read at all you’re likely to overlook something important. It’s okay to spend a large amount of time on a small section as long as it’s soaking in. At one time, I spent almost a month on one chapter alone ( Romans 8 ) and felt like God showed me something new everyday, and I still feel like I barely scratched the surface!

4. When reading Christian books, keep a Bible handy and check any Bible references to see how they are used to illustrate the author’s point. You’ll be shocked at how some Christian authors will “stretch” a verse (take it out of context) to make it fit their point. (We call doing this a “prooftext”).

Following these ideas haven’t completely cured me from taking a verse out of context or misinterpreting the occasional verse, but they certainly have helped. I’m sure they’ll help you too.

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