Christian Character and Reading Through the Bible

I have my wife to thank for providing me with this lengthy quote, taken from the book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, by NT Wright.

“The practice of reading scripture, studying scripture, acting scripture, singing scripture–generally soaking oneself in scripture as an individual and a community–has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as central to the formation of Christian character.

It is important to stress at this point (lest the whole scheme collapse into triviality) that this has only secondarily to do with the fact that scripture gives particular instructions on particular topics. That is important, of course; but it is far more important that the sheer activity of reading scripture, in the conscious desire to be shaped and formed within the purposes of God, is itself an act of faith, hope and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome. To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did (6.10), no matter where our exile may have taken us.

…the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming; not just in the sense that the more you do it the more you are likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form the habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And the “your” here is primarily plural, however important the singular is as well.

This isn’t to say there aren’t hard bits in the Bible–both passages that are difficult to understand and passages that we understand only too well but find shocking or disturbing (for example, celebrating the killing of Edomite babies at the end of Psalm 137). Avoid the easy solutions to these: that these bits weren’t “inspired,” or that the whole Bile is wicked nonsense, or that Jesus simply abolished the bits we disapprove of. Live with the tensions. Goodness knows there are plenty of similar tensions in our own lives, our own world. Let the troubling words jangle against one another. Take the opportunity to practice some patience (there may yet be more meaning here than I can see at the moment) and humility (God may well have things to say through this for which I’m not yet ready). In fact, humility is one of the key lessons which comes through reading the Bible over many years; there are some bits we find easy and other bits we find hard, but not everybody agrees as to which is which.

… perhaps it’s another sign of maturity when our sense that scripture is made up of some bits we know and love, and other bits we tolerate while waiting for our favorites to come around once more, is suddenly overtaken by a sense of the whole thing— wide, multicolored and unspeakably powerful. We had, perhaps, been wandering around in light mist, visiting favorite villages and hamlets, and then, as the mist gradually cleared, we discovered that everything we had loved was enhanced as it was glimpsed within a massive landscape, previously unsuspected, full of hills and valleys and unimagined glory.”

N.T. Wright, After you Believe, 261-264

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