The tendency seems to be quite widespread. In personal conversations, in popular books, and from Sunday pulpits, there’s a habit of reading Scripture as if the Bible is a collection of good advice to make our lives work better.
Texts are mined to provide “four steps to . . . ” or “what to do when you are facing this problem.” The Scriptures are treated as if they were a collection of God’s best wisdom for managing life so we can live happier and healthier.
It would be wrong to insist that there are no portions of Scripture that provide practical wisdom for life; there are some passages that are intended to do just that. But it might be misguided to approach the bulk of Scripture as if that was the Spirit’s inspired design.
When Jesus was speaking to some religious people of His day, He observed that they searched the Scriptures because they thought that “in them you have eternal life” (John 5:39). It seems that Jesus is addressing this common problem–we scour the Scriptures for the purpose of finding principles and keys for “eternal life.” He went on to explain that the true end point of searching Scripture is fundamentally different: The Scriptures point to and testify about Him. The right end point of the Biblical revelation is to move us toward a person, not merely teach us some principles (John 5:40).
When we read Scripture as if it was essential a collection of good advice, we can end up misreading texts–thus, missing what God may want to say to us.
With the focus on discovering principles to make our lives work, we can end up reading every passage as if it was fundamentally about “What should I do?” This “doing” focus can drive us toward a mechanical, follow-the-rules approach to life rather than a grace-rooted understanding of life with God.
But, perhaps more importantly, the good advice approach to reading Scripture overlooks the very thing Jesus highlights: The book is fundamentally about a person. And that person is not me!
The essential message of the Gospel is that we don’t need rules and principles–in fact, we can’t keep the rules and principles that are found in the Law–but we need a Savior. We need Someone to transform us, to rescue us, to change us through His gracious work and by His Spirit.
To the degree that we over-privilege finding good advice and principles for life in the pages of Scripture, to that degree we remain habituated to seeing life as if I was at the center of life and if making my life work was God’s intention for me. But there is something far much better in store for us in the Scriptures:
“You search the Scriptures . . . they testify about Me . . . come to Me so that you may have life.” ~Jesus (John 5:39-40)