Saturday, May 03, 2008

formed or informed

For the first 2/3rds of my life I mostly read the scriptures informationally. The last third I've mostly read the scriptures formationally. Both are helpful, but they are different. The difference has to do with how we read the Bible and why we read it. Either we read the Bible informationally to learn, or we read it formationally to be changed. M. Robert Mulholland characterizes the different approaches like this:

In informaional (I) reading we...
In formational (f) reading we...

(I) Cover as much text as possible
(F) Cover what we need to

(I) Read line by line
(F) Read for depth, maybe only a phrase or two

(I) Have a goal of mastering the text
(F) Have a goal of being mastered by the text

(I) Treat the text as an object
(F) Treat ourselves as the object of the text

(I) Read analytically
(F) Read receptively

(I) Solve problems
(F) Are open to mystery

Mulholland obviously tilts the scale in favor of reading formationally, which I'd have to agree with. But I want to learn too, and I've got more than a few problems I wouldn't mind solving. So I'm not going to abandon reading informationally, but I suspect I'll probbaly keep spending most of my time in the Bible reading it to be formed.

10 comments:

Bill said...

Hey man,
How are you, I am in the same boat. I have been thinking about how Jesus called himself the Bread that comes down from heaven. He is comparing himself to what Israel found on the ground outside their tents. It was called manna. Which just means What is it? Jesus was saying that he was the question that lead to everlasting life. I think the way on is this way. You cannot apreciate the answer without asking the question. I hope you are good Rob.

Truth Matters said...

Mulholland utilizes a false dichotomy here (common to the po-mo tendencies), and also does not do justice to a true "workman", who "rightly handl[es] the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

Let me suggest the following, as 'obedient reading':

(O) Cover the text carefully, not skipping things we don't like, agree with, or find hard to understand.

(Aside: "cover what we need to"?? Holy heresy, Batman! That's an invitation to disaster, let me assure you. Who decides what we "need" to cover? I think of Paul strongly reminding the Ephesian elders that he "did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." Acts 20:27)

(O) Read intentionally and carefully, looking for three things: a - the truth that was being taught then, taking into account historical background and context, b - the eternal truth that is being taught always in the passage, and c - consider how we are to respond now in obedience.

(O) Have a goal of understanding the text as clearly as possible, utilizing resources like lexicons, dictionaries, commentaries and the like. (And not dismissing them, simply because they dare to try to resolve the po-mo's beloved 'mystery'.) The goal is to be a workman approved by God, "rightly handling the word of truth".

(O) Treat the text as God's revealed word to us, not as an object... or an object lesson.

(O) Read analytically and receptively.

(O) Discern God's revealed will, while recognizing that some things are hidden and known only to God. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed (and that's a lot) belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29)

(Another aside: this 'open to mystery' theme is prevalent in the post-modern, emergent/ing church movement. God's word, when correctly handled, is nowhere near as mysterious as they would have us believe. But that's another post.)

Rob Yackley said...

I'm pretty sure postmoderns don't have a monopoly on false dichotomies, though I too find lots of them in postmodern writing. (I'm going to take a wild guess here and assume you're not postmodern, but didn't even you just create a false dichotomy by offering a 3rd way to read scripture that falsely implied that obedience was not inherent in the other forms of reading thereby making your "obedient reading" superior?)

That being said, I really like the principles you unpacked and I certainly think obedience should always be our response to God's Word. I'd add accessing the Spirit to your list of resources to lean on in the pursuit of understanding, and I too think understanding is a beautiful thing. But after traveling to 40+ countries and hearing new and different understandings from men and women who also attempt "to rightly handle the word of truth," I've found that, at least for me, truth is a bit more mysterious than I would like to think it is, but no less worthy to be pursued.

Truth Matters said...

True - postmoderns aren't the only ones to abuse false dichotomies; I'll freely admit that... I should have made that clear, but it wasn't on the table. Of course, po-mos do commonly utilize that form of rhetoric - so it's easy to call it when I see it.

Good guess re: me being non po-mo - how'd ya know? ;)

I see your point re: the apparent false dichotomy setup by my label - though, in this case, I can honestly say it was innocent... I was simply trying to come up with one word that would describe a Biblically-faithful method of reading and studying God's word. The implication that other methods would, by definition, be disobedient, was not intentional.

I'm glad you appreciate the principles I described - of course, I was trying to base them all on what God has told us to do with His word (in His word).

Checking with the Spirit is vital - I ought to have included it on my list, but I was too busy using the existing structure as a take-off point and thinking in dichotomies... :)

While I'm certainly not claiming that the word of truth can be known exhaustively, it can certainly be known adequately... it's not as 'mysterious' as we wish it were. Though I am not as well-traveled as you, I believe it may be fair to say that the reason many cultures (ours is certainly NO exception) find so much 'mystery' in God's word is because they want to find 'mystery'. Doing so allows for so much more wiggle-room when it comes to obedience.

Bill said...

Ok, I think that getting back to what the had we need to get to the know in part and prophesy in part, that is talked about in 1 Cor 13. I think we see here the known and the mysterious that can be known. I think to paul prophesy here is not the telling of the future but a futher looking in to the Spirit of Christ. I think that we see this modeled in 1 Cor 14 where he says 2 or at the most three prophets should minister, and if someone ther gets a revelation the one speaking should let them talk(summary). I believe that the whole council of God can be understood in the scripture but will be revealed by the Spirit. I think that we are in trouble when we look at the written word as the full counsil of God whe the new testement says that "We have an anointing that teaches us all things." Forgive me if this is not quite in context but your last post somehow ended up in my mailbox, and I found the conversation interesting.

Bill said...

I hope you can wade through the typo's. Yikes!

Rob Yackley said...

I'm with ya Bill. Lots of people seem to use the words "scripture" and "God's Word" interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. The person of Jesus is the most obvious example that the "Word" should not be defined simply as the "scriptures." Jesus is called "the Word made flesh," not the "Word made written." God's Word is certainly in scripture, and I believe the Bible really is the objective standard to which we submit subjective experience. But God's "Word" also comes to us through creation, through community, and through the indwelling Spirit who is also the one who helps us get "the Word" out of the Book!

Bill said...

If the Bible makes such a big deal of the living Word wouldn't that be the objective standard?

Anonymous said...

If the Bible makes such a big deal of the living Word wouldn't that be the objective standard?

Rob Yackley said...

Great question. For people living around 27-30 AD the living Word most certainly would have been the objective standard. But for those of us in the 21 century whose understanding of the living Word is primarily derived from the written word, it seems like the scripture is our objective standard.