What’s your instinctive reaction to this text?
I’ve been wondering for a while if I’ve managed to train myself to switch off my ability to react emotionally when I read Scripture or hear it read. The thought disturbs me.
I pray. I open a Bible passage to prepare a sermon. As I read I immediately find myself doing the necessary work of analytical dissection: ‘what are the logical connections?’ ‘what’s the climax of the story?’. I go to a Bible study as a member and the first question we’re asked is not, ‘what’s your reaction to what Paul’s saying here?’ Instead I’m usually required to perform some analytical dissection: ‘list all the truths about salvation that Paul sets out in vs.1-5.’
Why do we do this? There’s a noble aim. We don’t want to encourage people in the habit of carelessly drawing out of a passage ‘what it means to me’, without faithful reading. Rightly so.
But I wonder if a baby is being thrown out with the bathwater here. Someone hearing Jesus’ teaching on anger being equivalent to murder in Matthew 6.21-22 might instantly react by thinking, “Well, a holy man like Jesus could do that, but I sure can’t!”. That’s a reaction that, perhaps unknowingly, points directly towards one of the profound truths of that passage set in its full biblical-theological context. Indeed, the better the person knows Christ and the Scriptures the more their instinctive reactions will have been schooled to work regularly like that (regardless of whether or not they’ve attended some formal training-course).
‘What is your instinctive reaction to this text?’ is a bad place to aim for, of course. But if we want God’s Word truly to bite into people’s lives it may be a better place to start than we’ve sometimes trained ourselves to think.
Tim Ward, Crosslands Faculty Member