United Brethren has retired.

Why do we read the scriptures?

A comment made by Phillip Barlow over here has gotten me to thinkin'. Here it is in all of its glory:

Despite what they may think they are doing, most people of faith are not actually trying to discover the sense of scripture as it was penned, but rather using scripture devotionally, to gain and maintain a sense of the divine.

I would like to add to this quote another from a more formidable source (at least for LDS folk (no offence to Prof. Barlow intended)):

It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance. (Pres. Benson, Sat. Morning Session, Nov. 1986 Conference)

Now I know that Pres. Benson speaks here of a serious study, but that can be taken several different ways (including the devotional one spoken of by Prof. Barlow). My stake is emphasizing what our stake president calls "Scriptural Literacy" (Hello Orem East!) and it certainly seems to be along the lines of what Prof. Barlow describes as devotional. I would also call here to attention Pres. Hinckley's frequent references to himself as being no scriptorian.

So, why a devotional reading? As Prof. Barlow seems to hint, such readings are not tied to the intended meaning of what is actually read, but rather to the act of worship involved in the reading. That seems to me to coincide more closely with what Pres. Benson speaks about here regarding the act of scripture reading and how it leads to an increase of spiritual power. Pres. Benson seems to clearly not be discussing an increase in knowledge here, but rather an increased spirituality.

Amongst other things, this has led me to question how I approach my reading of the scriptures. Due to the background I have, I have come to approach the scriptures differently based on the task at hand. When looking at the Bible for clues to the past, I wear my secular hat. When engaging in my daily scripture study, I wear my spiritual hat. I have been unconciously doing that. Barlow and Benson have just given me the language to explain why.

So, how do I combine my devotional approach with my secular approach? Is it even possible? If it was, would it be a good thing? Since the goals of the two approaches are fairly different, I wonder if it would be. They can certainly inform one another, but I am uncertain that mixing the two directly would create something that was necessarily stronger.

So, I am putting the question to you (as a group of people who also seem to be looking for the balance between the two approaches): what is the ultimate purpose of the recommended daily scripture reading plan? Are we to make it devotional, informational, or some combination thereof? Alternate purposes can certainly be proposed, but I really do feel like the important bits fall along this dichotomy. Anyhoo, what do you think?

(ps. T&Sers, I don't know how to pingback or trackback (to be honest, I am not certain what those mean) so no offence is intended when I fail to do these things)).

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Anonymous Anonymous said ... (March 08, 2005 11:02 AM) 

I find it near impossible now to take my secular/researcher hat off when reading the scriptures.
I can shift into Institute mode and look for things from a "how would I teach this ?" perspective, but I can't seem to get back to purely devotional reading.
Ben S.


Blogger HP said ... (March 08, 2005 11:36 AM) 

Do you miss devotional reading? Was it purer or more deluded?

To keep up the distinction, I have to approach daily scripture reading almost as a sacrament. Not that it is terribly ritualized, but I have to set that time apart (make it "holy") for the whole devotional thing to work out. In the afore-mentioned stake, we are being encouraged to have a "sweet hour" of "secret prayer".


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (March 08, 2005 11:50 AM) 

I find myself unable to read without asking historical/critical questions, which would not have occurred to me before. It's why my wife and I don't do any scripture reading/study together.

When I read the notes I took during devotional reading on my mission, I usually have two contrasting impressions. "Wow, I was getting lots of spiritual insights" (ie. application, personal meaning.) "Boy, I sure didn't know how to read my scriptures. I completely misread all kinds of things."

I don't have a set time to read devotionally. I should try it.

Ben S.


Blogger chris g said ... (March 08, 2005 1:04 PM) 

I find trying to get the perspective of the author and situation is a good way for me to open my mind. I find this change of perspective increases my spirituality. Perhaps the reason for this is that is so engrossing.


Anonymous J. Stapley said ... (March 13, 2005 1:15 AM) 

(I tried posting a while back, but it was jammed)

I think that, as Benson outlines, there is a feeling in the church that the scriptures have one purpose: to act as a catalyst for revelation. Sure they do have a lot of other interesting aspects, but revelation/devotion is paramount.

And it is good to me. Being a modernist, the scriptures don't fit in with my enculturation. To truly understand them would require that I actually learn some languages and work real hard...and who wants to do that? :)

Institutionally it is better if everyone is approaching the scriptures devotionally, because there is less controversy. But as Ben already pointed out, this leads to some pretty whacked out interpretation of scripture. [sarcasm]So how about we have a few scholars to interpret everything for us and we can simply buy their book to use in conjunction with our devotion[/sarcasm]


Blogger HP said ... (March 13, 2005 7:32 PM) 

I am fascinated by this divide. I find that although I am by nature a devotional reader (in spite of training to the contrary), I wonder a lot about what I am missing. I have the feeling that a bit more of a secular approach might make me take the process a bit more seriously than I do now. Obviously, what is needed here is a balance between the devotional and the secular, but I am finding it elusive.

ps. Hebrew is easy! You could learn it in no time, J.


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