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Blog / How to Encounter God When Reading the Bible: An Interview with Tim Chester

How to Encounter God When Reading the Bible: An Interview with Tim Chester

Tim ChesterDo we approach the Bible believing that the One who spoke and brought the universe into existence, whose voice thundered from Mount Sinai, and whose words healed the sick is the same God who speaks to us today through Scripture? Are we reading the Bible not merely to learn information about God but to hear his voice and encounter his presence?

Bible Gateway interviewed Tim Chester (@timchestercouk) about his book, Bible Matters: Making Sense of Scripture (InterVarsity Press, 2017).

What do you mean that you regularly read the Bible because you have to?

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Tim Chester: It’s important first to say what I don’t mean. I don’t mean we need to read our Bibles because there’s some law that says good Christians read a chapter every day. Reading the Bible doesn’t make us more or less a Christian. We have God’s approval because of the righteousness of Jesus. So why is reading the Bible important? One picture I use is eating. I don’t eat because there’s some law that says I must consume three meals I day. I eat because I get hungry—I need to eat food to live and I love food in all its many different tastes. The same is true of the Bible. I read it reach day because I need God’s word to live and because I love it (or rather because I love him).

What are the ways you describe that God speaks to humans?

Tim Chester: God speaks to us through creation, through history, and ultimately through his Son. The Bible is the Spirit-inspired record of that revelation in Christ. So the Bible—read and preached—is the primary way in which God speaks to us today. And the Bible is the measure by which we understand and test every other form of revelation.

How can the Bible be both a human book and a divine book?

Tim Chester: There’s an element of mystery here. The process was not simply one of dictation. The human authors were not simply writing down what they were told to say in the way Muslim’s claim Mohammad received the Quran. The writers of Old Testament history tell us they drew on other written sources. Luke carefully collected his material. Paul wrote letters full of passion to meet specific needs. Throughout the Bible we see the personality of the human authors in what they wrote. And yet the Bible is clear that every word is inspired by God’s Spirit. The Spirit so worked through the human authors that what they wrote were the words of God. It’s this dual authorship that ensures the Bible really connects with us as readers. It’s a word from God written in human language reflecting human experience. When you think of the huge gulf that exists between the Creator and his creatures, it’s remarkable that God communicates with us so clearly and so intimately.

What portion of the Bible did Jesus have in his day and how did he use it?

Tim Chester: Jesus had what we now call the Old Testament. Of course, he wouldn’t have had a copy on his shelf. There were no printed Bibles, only hand-written scrolls read in the synagogue. But Jesus clearly imbibed what he heard for he often quotes the Old Testament. And he always assumes its authority as God’s word.

At the same time he recognized that he’s the fulfillment of its promises. In the Sermon on the Mount he affirms the Law, but then takes it further—or rather deeper—making it a matter of the heart. On the road to Emmaus he shows how he’s the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This is really important. It’s not just that there are a few messianic prophecies. ‘Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,’ says Luke 24:27, ‘he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’ Notice the word ‘all.’ It’s all about Jesus! In Bible Matters I try to show how that works.

What do you mean the Holy Spirit “activates the Bible”?

Tim Chester: God spoke through the Bible 2,000-plus years ago. But God continues to speak through the Bible. This is so important. Too often we can think of the Bible as a kind of encyclopedia of theology. There’s some truth to that because it’s the key foundation of our thinking. But the Bible is much more than this. It’s a relational Bible through which God speaks—present tense—to us. And it’s the Holy Spirit who makes it living and personal to us today.

It’s amazing: the Spirit who was at work in the authors of the Bible to ensure what they wrote was God’s word is the same Spirit who is at work in the readers of the Bible to ensure what they hear is God’s word.

How is the Bible relational?

Tim Chester: The Bible is not just a repository of information. It’s one of the means God uses to relate to us. He speaks and we listen. I think this is so important. It changes how we view the Bible. It becomes a place of intimacy. It becomes words of love spoken by a Father to reassure his children or by a husband to reassure wife.

One of the reasons people are so obsessed with prophecies and words of knowledge is that we have not rightly emphasised the intimate, relational nature of the Bible. People long to hear a personal message from God that’s specific to them, when in fact that’s what they’re hearing every day as they read their Bibles and every week as they hear it preached.

What does the intentionality of the Bible mean for its readers?

Tim Chester: God wrote the Bible to communicate to us and to draw us into a relationship with himself. Think about what that means. If it’s God’s intention to communicate with us, then we can be confident he will.

In other words, God didn’t write in some kind of secret code. The key message of the Bible is plain. That should give us great confidence as we read the Bible.

Sometimes we think of reading the Bible as one-way traffic. We come with the intent of learning something about God and we’re not sure how we’ll get on. But God is also involved when the Bible is read. And God is intent on communicating to us as we read. So we can and should read the Bible with expectation.

Moreover God’s intent is more than simply to communicate. The Bible is a book that gives life, hope, conviction, wisdom, insight, power. It’s one of the key means by which God is at work in his world. And so it must be central to our lives, our churches, and our ministries.

How reliable is the Bible?

Tim Chester: Completely! If God intends to communicate with us, then we can be sure he will succeed. It’s not just that the Bible is an accurate record of God’s revelation in Christ. It is also ‘fit for purpose.’ We can trust it to achieve what God intends: to bring life to the dead, comfort to the weary, challenge to the proud, and so on.

How do you respond to skeptics who say the Bible is full of contradictions?

Tim Chester: There are lots of ways of addressing the specific issues that people have. But I encourage Christians to start by thinking why it is they trust the Bible. Some people may have explored all the manuscript evidence and worked through all the apologetic challenges. If that’s you, then good for you. But most us trust the Bible because we’ve found it to be trustworthy—simple as that. So talk about that with skeptics. Above all, expose people to the Bible itself. Challenge them to read it for themselves. Remember, God wrote it to bring life. Let it do the job.

What do you mean “death and resurrection are how we come to the Bible”?

Tim Chester: To answer this question we need to take a step back and ask what it is that stops us reading the Bible aright. The answer is our sin. In our pride and selfishness we find reasons to justify what we want to do. And we bring this attitude to the Bible, finding ways to avoid its challenge.

So good Bible reading starts with dying to self. We need to set aside our self-will and our self-justification. That requires prayer for the Spirit’s help and it requires reading the Bible in community so our brothers and sisters can challenge us.

The encouraging thing is that the Spirit give us resurrection life. So we can expect to hear God’s voice through the Spirit. The whole Christian life is patterned on the cross and resurrection—dying to self and living the new life we have in Christ. And reading the Bible is not an exception to this pattern.

Why do you love the Bible?

Tim Chester: There are so many ways I could answer that question. But the main one is this: it leads my Savior. In the pages of Scripture I encounter the Lord Jesus. I see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

How do you want readers of your book to be changed?

Tim Chester: My main desire is that readers have a growing sense of living in relationship with the triune God. And that requires seeing the Bible in a fresh way—not simply as a book about God, but as a book in which we meet God. I want people to come to the Bible expecting to hear God’s voice and encounter his presence.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Tim Chester: That’s easy. It’s whatever I’m working on at the moment. I often find that when I preach I do so with the conviction that nothing is more important that the message of the passage we’re looking at. That’s because, as I’ve prepared, the passage has really gripped my heart. So, for the record, that means Isaiah 49 is my favorite passage. But it will be something different next week!

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Tim Chester: Again, that’s easy. It’s my go-to online Bible. It’s great for finding verses you can only half-remember. I use it a lot for copying Bible verses into sermon notes or writing projects. But, if I may, I do want to encourage people to read the Bible in book form as their default. A paper Bible gives you a much better sense of context and the evidence suggests people retain more when they read physical books.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Tim Chester: In October 2017 we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. One of the key drivers and principles of that rediscovery of the gospel was the authority, supremacy, and intimacy of Scripture. There would be no better way to commemorate the Reformation than for us to rediscover for ourselves afresh the authority, supremacy, and intimacy of Scripture in our generation.

Bio: Dr. Tim Chester is the pastor of Grace Church Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, UK, a faculty member of Crosslands Training, and chair of Keswick Ministries. He is the author of over 40 books, including Bible Matters: Making Sense of Scripture, The Glory of the Cross, You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions, and Why the Reformation Still Matters. He is married to Helen and has two daughters.

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Filed under Books, Interviews, Introduction to the Bible