Seminary ruined me on applying the Bible to my life. I gathered many new tools to dig deeper into Bible study, but my approach has involved the careful donning of sterile gloves before beginning the operation. While it has been a number of years, some of the words of one particular professor still bounce around in my head. For example:
- One of my favorite basic childhood memory verses: “God will supply all your needs…” Philippians 4:19. The professor insisted that Paul spoke those words to a specific people at a specific time. We can only claim this promise if we are giving as generously as the Philippian people were giving.
- One of my favorite verses that encourages me as a parent: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is grown, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. He said that Proverbs is just general sayings, not promises to claim. I knew that already, but suddenly they seemed pointless – life doesn’t seem to follow the rules.
- Verses that fill me with courage and hope -- you know those words in the Old Testament prophets about being strong and courageous and God having a plan and a purpose – “Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” in Joshua 1:9and “for I know the plans I have for you…” in Jeremiah. The professor said those were for specific people at a specific time, and we have to be careful how we apply to ourselves.
Suddenly, nothing in the Bible seemed to apply to me.
In an effort to avoid hermeneutical error, I immersed myself in all the rules of interpretation – assessing the original audience, culture, intent of the author’s words at that point in history and what God is trying to say to us today without wrongly applying it. While focusing on the character and ways of God, I patted myself on the back for avoiding self-centeredness. This was easy anyway – easier to fill my brain with facts than to reflect on them in my heart.
Knowledge is not deeply understanding. The truths and concepts that we understand with our minds must sink into our experiences in order for us to embrace the truth. It’s acceptable and even good to draw connections to our own stories and to think about how we can demonstrate truth in our lives. I don’t want to just have a brain full of knowledge. I want a transformed life, and God wants to use His Word in me to accomplish this.
My sterile, intellectual approach to God’s Word has truly slowed down my transformation process. As of today, I’m peeling off the sterile gloves and putting away my sharpened dissecting scalpels that have left something lacking in my heart because I was so afraid of hermeneutical error. I’m going to still use some valuable tools, but I won’t be afraid of making a mess. It is better to err on the side of over-application instead of avoiding it altogether.