When it comes to Bible study, our tendency is to immediately get to the “right” answer. Yet for many passages, faithful Christians have diverging views. Here are four ways examining multiple viewpoints will transform your Bible study—making it richer than ever before.
1. You Will Learn How to Think about the Bible
When we examine multiple views, we move beyond merely acquiring information; we learn how to think about that information. Critical thinking is a skill that’s honed through closely examining various views for their merits. And it’s a skill we should bring to our Bible study.
This is one of the principles we had in mind when we designed the NIV Faithlife Study Bible. We asked: How can we fairly represent multiple viewpoints, so that people can draw their own conclusions? This question has completely changed the way I read the Bible and explain it. I believe it will do the same for you.
2. You Will Claim Truth for Yourself
For far too long many of us have relied on others to study our Bibles. We get pre-packaged answers from our radio programs and books. But to really understand the Bible, we must directly wrestle with it.
Someone else cannot summit a mountain for me. I don’t know what Everest is like from watching a movie. I have to feel the cold in my bones. The same is true of Bible study. We cannot claim the Bible as our book without deeply engaging it. We cannot be a people of the Christian faith without wrestling with the difficulties of Scripture. Why not go deep and feed your curiosity?
Likewise, when we understand why people understand the Bible differently, we have an opportunity to decide for ourselves what we think. We can decide which hill we want to stand on—and claim it for our own, because we’ve done the worthwhile work to do so.
3. You Will See Difficulties and Appreciate Scripture for Them
The Bible is a difficult text to interpret. It’s from the ancient world and written in the context of the ancient world. And furthermore, it’s about the most complicated topic of all—the God who created everything. We cannot expect Bible study to be easy. But this is not a reason to turn away from the Bible.
We love complicated movies and novels, because they offer intrigue. The Bible is the same. When you engage with its difficulties—really trying to understand it—you appreciate it all the more. Bible study is far more rewarding.
4. You Will Better Understand Your Maker
God is infinite. Thus, our relationships with him have an infinite possibility for depth. Whenever we enter the depths of Scripture, we should aim to wrestle with the God who made us. This is how we go deeper in our faith.
I now intentionally wrestle with multiple viewpoints, because I want to be sure that I fully understand all that Scripture could mean. I then make an intentional effort to challenge my understanding of God through prayer. I’m not necessarily looking for the “right” answer, but instead the process of transformation. I’m looking for God to change me with his truth. I’m asking God how he wants to use my life to offer love and hope to others.
I’ve found this approach to Bible study to be refreshing. It’s made me more empathetic to other views. It’s helped me dialogue with those I may not necessarily agree with. And it’s helped me be fair to the viewpoints within the Christian tradition. But above all else, it’s drawn me closer to Jesus—and there’s nothing better than that.
John D. Barry is general editor of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible and the CEO of Jesus’ Economy, an innovative non-profit creating jobs and churches in the developing world. At JesusEconomy.org, people create jobs for the impoverished by shopping fair trade. They can also give directly to a cause they’re passionate about, such as creating jobs, planting churches, or meeting basic needs. 100% goes to the developing world. Anyone can join the movement at JesusEconomy.org.
The NIV Faithlife Study Bible (Zondervan, 2017) is filled with innovative graphics, rich commentary, and insights from multiple points of view—all designed to inform readers’ faith and to engage their curiosity, no matter where they are on their faith journey. To learn more, visit www.NIVFaithlifeStudyBible.com.
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