Reading The Bible
Just Don't Overlook Jesus
As surprising as it might seem, it is entirely possible to read the Bible and still miss Jesus. What I mean is that people can read the Bible and yet somehow miss what the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is really about.
This is the issue I address in the opening chapter of my book Gospel Portraits: Reading Scripture as Participants in the Mission of God. Besides matters like the so-called prosperity gospel and legalism, I offer some examples of people who cherry-pick the Bible to justify ideologies that are incoherent with the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.1 I also cite several examples of English Bible editions whose summaries manage to describe what the particular edition is about without ever mentioning Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.2
If people can read the Bible and somehow miss Jesus, is it any wonder why following Jesus is such a challenge?
One of the problems is that for far too many people, the Bible is read through the framework of other stories. As often happens, the Bible becomes a fragmented text, as opposed to a coherent narrative, that gets absorbed into whatever alternative stories shape the life of the reader.3 So part of the solution is recovering a narrative reading of scripture, which has become increasingly popular over the last forty or so years. So this approach is hardly new with me. In fact, I first heard about a narrative reading of scripture during one of my preaching classes as a seminary student at Harding School of Theology.
But… And this is important. Even with a narrative reading of scripture, it’s possible to still miss the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. This is why I bring up the story about the healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-26:
Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him. Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”
The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”
Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly. Then Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village!”4
With this story, Mark is telling us something about the disciples of Jesus then. And perhaps it says something about us, as disciples, today.
At this point in the story, as Mark is telling the gospel, the disciples see like the blind man when he can only see people that look like walking trees. He can see but he can’t. That is, his vision is flawed and still incapable of allowing him to see what is necessary for healthy living. His eyesight is still in need of restoration. Likewise, disciples, both then and now, can have a vision that is incapable of the necessary sight for living as God’s kingdom people and are yet in need of a restored vision.
We are called to follow Jesus as participants in the kingdom of God. Our primary way of understanding what this means and how we live this life is by reading the Bible. To that end, my prayer is that my book Gospel Portraits can be used by God to help restore a 20/20 vision for the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
I am using the language of “the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God” intentionally because I argue in my book that we should read the Bible as a narrative that is Christ-centered and Kingdom-oriented (see ch. 4).
The three editions I cite are The American Patriot’s Bible (NKJV), Every Man’s Bible (NIV), and the NKJV Spirit-Filled Life Bible (pp. 9-10).
Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014, 14.
The Common English Bible, copyright 2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.