Reading the Bible Deep AND Wide

All my bible readers out there, don’t you love it when you find a powerful passage that you can chew on for weeks?  Or how about when you find a verse that is jam packed with a bunch of goodies for you to chew on for a hot minute? We love a good passage or verse that we can dissect and dig into.  In fact, many have grown accustomed to digging real deep into passages. We can read, study, and meditate on the same passage for over months at a time, shoveling out all kinds of bible bits for us to eat.

I think the practice of digging deep into biblical text is a great thing, but it can be dangerous in and of itself.  Our culture loves to take an individual verse and chew on it, but hardly are we challenged to see how the verse fits in context with the passage, and how the passage fits in context with the biblical book, and how the biblical book fits in context with the entire biblical narrative.

May I suggest that we need to read both deep and wide. I believe we actually should read the bible not only in quality, but in quanity too. Discover and read the gospel of Luke in just one or two sittings and see what it was that Luke was trying to say about Jesus. What was the unique portrait of Jesus that Luke paints for us, and what are the specific themes of his gospel? What happens when we begin to read teh bible as a great meta-narrative, as the greatest story ever told, and then allow everything we read to fall in context with that great story.  Is the story taking place before or after the fall? Is it before or after Christ? And does it matter and change its implications for our lives?

Freestyle with me folks, has your Christian community encouraged you to read both deep and wide?

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

3 thoughts on “Reading the Bible Deep AND Wide

  1. Pastor,
    I’ve have something that has bothered me for most of my life and truthfully, I only just realized what causes it.
    Your post here has touched it somewhat.
    I always thought that people who go on retreats and seminars or read and study the scriptures did so to better themselves in a good and healthy way.
    But I was wrong…
    Some people do so for other reasons. Two of which are:

    #1- Use it to inforce their ability and resolve to be sociopathic and generally hurtful to others (I give you the churchgoing slaveholders and abortionists)

    #2- Use it to enforce and perfect their ability to be a better victim.

  2. I believe that my church taught me to read the Bible both deep and wide. In fact, they taught the congregation to read so deep and wide that there were often disagreements within the church as to what a passage, book or overarching message meant. And this, in my opinion, is a very good thing! I think reading the Bible deep and wide, considering it in a multitude of contexts, forces the reader to confront the complexity that is life and the Biblical narrative. Reading in such a way, with an open and honest heart and mind, of course, strengthens the individual and the church community, even as it causes disagreement and debate.

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