Yes, I know I just used a big word: anachronism. The word simply means trying to fit something from the past into the present, or vice versa. For example, chances are that submitting a job resume that was produced on a 1940 Cyrillic Royal typewriter probably will not land you a position in a Fortune 500 company. That would be anachronistic. When it comes to church ministry, we certainly need to be aware of not being so tied to past forms that we are irrelevant and unable to deal with present opportunities. The concept, however, works the other way round, too. Churches and ministers may unknowingly settle for anachronistic readings of Holy Scripture. That is, rather than trying to understand the Bible’s stories, characters, and teachings on its own terms, too many individuals dislodge Scripture from its historical moorings in order to make it relevant for today. As a result, with the aim of trying to personally apply the Bible to present day problems, whole portions of God’s Word are ignored and never read. If God intended for us to approach the Bible this way, he would have given us scripture memory packs from heaven. It is believed that all we need do is simply read and memorize an isolated verse and be blessed.
The Bible is very much a collection of books that are immediately helpful for every believer in God for every age. Yet, when we only approach the text of Scripture in order to be instantly relevant and useful, we actually undermine the integrity and history of God’s Word. The Bible is not a random collection of verses to be ransacked by present-minded people for the sole purpose of finding personal fulfillment and inspiration to get through the day. The Bible is an unfolding drama of redemption that moves its way through history with people tied to their particular time and place. So, an evangelical anachronism asks present day questions of the biblical text before ever answering the crucial questions that the text itself raises for us.
To be able to see the characters of the Bible in their own time, surrounded by their own historical context, to be attentive to both their wisdom and their blindness, to recognize the extent to which they were caught up in situations beyond their control that demanded faith, and to realize that they themselves were on a journey of knowing God – to know all this about the past and to be able to relate to it without any anachronistic distortion to our present realities is what it means to have a biblical sense. Yes, Holy Scripture is relevant and applicable to our present day situations. But unless we gain a certain biblical sense about the Bible itself, we will only get a twisted understanding of how to use it for our life and ministry today. What this means in making sense of particular bible verses is that we must first understand the shape and flow and overarching argument of the biblical writer so that we can begin to develop a working understanding of that verse.
Some may mistakenly think that what I am advocating is that only the learned trained minister or theologian can make sense of the Bible. No, instead what I am advocating is that we become eminently familiar with God’s Holy Word. There is no substitute for actually reading the Bible for oneself, over and over and over again. And we need to read through whole sections and books of the Bible – more than once. If we are to have a solid biblical sense of the Bible, we will need to completely immerse ourselves in its contents daily. The spiritual discipline of plain old bible reading needs to top the list of things we do on a regular routine basis. We are to swim in God’s revelation to us, to plunge in headlong and come out dripping with his grace and truth. If we are too busy for this most basic of spiritual disciplines, then we need to repent of our sinful busyness and discover anew the forgiveness of Jesus Christ contained in, well, the Bible.
Don’t settle for anachronistic approaches to the Holy Bible. Take it on its own terms and enjoy discovering its depth and richness. Then you will truly know what it is to be blessed.