Obviously True Statement for Christians: It is good to read the Bible.
Obvious Corresponding Question We Virtually Never Ask: Why?
The lack of any but the most simplistic of answers to that question costs us tremendously. Even though the question is rarely asked, if we think about the answers that are implied in what we’ve been taught about the Bible, we probably come up with some responses which are the religious equivalents of a parent's, "because I told you so." (I've used that line with my kids, and if you have too, you know how ineffective and mutually unsatisfying it is––and if we're honest, "ineffective and mutually unsatisfying" may describe much of our experience with the Bible.)
Why is it good to read the Bible? Even if the question has never occurred to us, we already have an answer to it hidden somewhere in our minds, and that answer inevitably shapes the ways we read it. I see a few different ways this could go:
One strong possibility is that our answer shapes the way we don't read it. If the answer in our minds is anything along the lines of God or our religious leaders saying “because I told you so,” (the gentler-sounding religious translation of which might be something like a simple, “because it’s God’s Word”), we’ll end up thinking that reading the Bible is good and important while also rarely ever reading it. That tension itself will cause us to find ways to try to get by while living in a prolonged spiritual numbness.
Another possibility is, although we would find a different way to phrase it, we are reading to be right. In this case, “right” may mean well-informed, but it more likely means somewhat-informed, with particular attention to the issues which matter to our chosen (or inherited) corner among the wide Christian family. In other words, we often read for information––and we filter that information to support what we already believe. One option is that this could lead to us becoming masters of biblical information, amassing it so that we can use it to defend our version of the faith. Or, perhaps we read often but we do so through our favorite teachers/preachers/Bible study guides/etc.
In any of the above scenarios, the Bible becomes a buffer between us and God. Much of Dr. Mulholland’s teaching focuses on an alternative: the Bible as a place of transforming encounter with God.
I can type that and think that it sounds nice, but the next time I open the scriptures, it would be wise of me to have some pause and wrestle with it. Do I really want that? Amassing information feels so much safer. As Mulholland continues: "We are often not looking for a transforming encounter with God. We are more often seeking some tidbits of information that will enhance our self-protective understanding of the Christian faith without challenging or confronting the way we live in the world.”*
While there are techniques we can learn to help us read the Bible in ways conducive to this kind of encounter with God, Dr. Mulholland was adamant that it isn’t about learning a technique. We can twist anything into being a buffer. Ultimately, it comes back to the question, “Why am I opening this book today?” And if Mulholland is correct and a "transforming encounter with God" is an offer on the table, why would I settle for anything less?