How To Enrich Your Bible Reading
Many Christians read the entire Bible each year. Many more begin reading through the Bible each year. For the majority of these people, it becomes an activity to check off their devotional to-do list. They don't seem to glean what they are told they should glean from Scripture. For certain, it is better to develop a habit of reading Scripture than not, but far superior is the ability to glean from each passage the proper meaning and application. The question is, how do you do that?
I have often heard disdain for theology, or, more particularly, the word theology itself. Perhaps it sounds too elitist, but ask anyone who they think Christ is (or any other biblical question), and their answer is theology. Theology is the study of God in the study of Scripture. In the study of God, we study Scriptural truths such as the Godhead, God’s creation of man, the fall of man, God's moral law, God's redemption of man, and God's future eternal plan. In studying theology, there are two beneficial methods that, I think, give Christians the ability to understand Scripture at a deeper level. They are systematic theology and biblical theology.
Systematic theology takes each topic of Scripture (God, man, salvation, creation, sin, the church, angels, demons, heaven, hell, etc.) and thoroughly examines the entirety of Scripture to understand the topic holistically. It considers the order of a topic from foundational to practical. It deals with the distinctions of each topic and produces categories to understand distinctions. It tells you everything the Bible says about the topic.
The practical benefit of systematic theology when reading Scripture deals more with the words of Scripture. When you come across a word such as sanctified, systematic theology helps you determine whether the word in the context indicates God setting a sinner apart from sin to holiness, or the process of becoming holy (spiritual maturity). Further, you will know where sanctification fits in the order of the Christian life; that it comes after our justification. Each subject will find a new depth in your study (and reading) of Scripture.
Biblical theology takes a different approach to Scripture than systematic theology. Instead of topics, biblical theology zooms out, focusing on the large story picture of the Bible (the metanarrative). It connects the entire Bible in one story of redemption, beginning with the creation of man and man's fall, working through Old Testament law, the sacrificial system, the priesthood, judges, kings, and prophets to the gospel narrative of Christ and to His return. Biblical theology connects the doctrines of the New Testament to the stories of the Old Testament in such a way that all study of Scripture culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The main practical benefit of biblical theology is a holistic understanding of the Old Testament, particularly, and the connection of the Old Testament to the New Testament. In biblical theology, life is given to the long lists of genealogies and laws. The stories of the Old Testament also have greater meaning than simply an example to follow. Although the stories are relatable, the point of them is to point to the truth of the larger picture. With this perspective, our focus shifts from the players in the stories to the God orchestrating each event, working redemption through it all.
Systematic theology and biblical theology will help you plant your feet firmly in the whole of Scripture. Many teachers take verses out of context, pulling meanings from them that sound biblical, and teach it as Bible doctrine—even when the whole scope of Scripture disagrees with them. Perhaps you have heard of the method used to spot counterfeits by people who deal with money; that they study the real bills rather than the fake. So it is with biblical doctrine; to spot those who wrongly use Scripture, you must study Scripture well.
The final benefit of study theology systematically and biblically is the time it takes. Perhaps you think your schedule won’t allow for biblical study. For that, I say the benefits of theology far outweigh the benefits of entertainment. It also seems counterintuitive to our 'microwave age' to slow down to study properly, but it will produce a calm assurance of the Bible you've never had before.
In John's first epistle, he classifies Christians into three categories: children, young men, and fathers (1 John 2:12-14). Each category represents a stage of maturity in the Christian life. The children's "sins are forgiven," and they "know the Father." The young men "are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." The fathers "know Him who has been from the beginning." To get from simply knowing the Father to know Him who has been from the beginning, one must have the word of God abide in them. They must work through the complexities of Scripture and discern right and wrong by diligently studying Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15) to move from the naïve simplicity of knowing the Father to the calm assurance of knowing God deeply and personally.