I don't know about you, but growing up in church, no one ever taught me how to read the Bible. In Sunday School, I memorized the names of all the books in the Bible and the stories of creation and miracles. Youth group brought emotionally driven sermons on how to flee temptation, sex, and skanky clothing. But issues of doctrine and theology never really surfaced in a concrete way. In college, I attended Bible studies which focused on trying to figure out what every Scripture meant for my life, what benefit I could get from it, etc., but mostly ignoring what it taught about God's character and how it played a part in the overall story of the Bible as a whole. I don't think it was anyone's aim to purposefully skew my knowledge of God and doctrine; it just never got much deeper than that.
When Andrew and I were dating, we began going to Redeemer Fellowship, a new church in the Westport neighborhood of Kansas City. We were challenged in fresh ways regarding our faith, how we viewed God, and the reality of sin in our lives. As we went through membership classes together after we were married, I realized how little I understood Christianity and why we believed what we did.
Fortunately, the past six months has given me loads of time to sink my teeth into the meat of theology, as it were, and challenge myself to ask hard questions of God and the Bible. Gordon-Conwell Seminary has a free online theology course, consisting of several foundational theology classes. The first class on Biblical interpretation happened to use the same book that Redeemer Fellowship recommends for learning to study the Bible - How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Fee & Stuart.
It took me five months to get through the book and lectures together, which is really long, if you know how quickly I normally tear through books. And I can't even begin to tell you how many errors it has corrected in my thinking regarding the Bible. From parables to Revelations, I have a much deeper understanding of how to approach Scripture, interpret it, and figure out what it says to me about God and myself.
One of my favorite sayings from the book is that Scripture can never mean what it never meant. Someone today might assign a meaning to a passage of Scripture that would be completely absurd to the original audience. It can never mean to us, today, what it never meant to the original audience. So reading Scripture always starts with examining what it meant, as far as it is possible, to the original recipients.
I've been thinking about doctrine and talking about it with Andrew. He mentioned that many Christians dislike it because it lacks emotion or passion, that it's too difficult or challenging, or that many charismatic Christians just want an experience of God - which really is just saying, I'd rather feel good than think hard.
But I have had the opposite experience. As my knowledge of God has deepened, my love for him has grown as well. It's similar to the relationship between a man and a woman. So many couples "fall in love", have passionate flings, and are so physically intimate, they feel like they know the other person. But when the emotions calm down, and if they haven't pursued a knowledge of one another based on reality and truth, their relationship will combust. You can't really love someone you don't know. But when two people pursue each other, working to discover their character, personality, and history, their love will grow deeper and stronger over time.
I feel that it is the same with God. So many people have emotional "spiritual" experiences, but when the emotions fade, they don't know really who God is. All they know is that they don't feel anything anymore. So they think God doesn't exist or has abandoned them, and so they abandon God. But challenging ourselves to wrestle with the truths of Scripture and what it reveals about the character of God and our own sinful nature will give a foundation to our beliefs.
I remember a friend from high school who became a Christian in a charismatic church, then later converted to Catholicism in college. When I asked her why, she said, Because the Catholic church actually gives me something to believe and answers to my questions. Her Protestant church wasn't giving her solid truths to believe in that answered her question, Why be a Christian?
Fortunately, there has been a "Gospel renaissance" in the Protestant circles lately, and people are returning to the faith with a renewed passion for a faith grounded in the truths of the Bible. For me, I'm realizing more and more how much I lack in my knowledge of God. But I'm so thankful for resources that help me understand the Bible and to read it for all its worth.
p.s. The Gospel Coalition has been an amazing resource in challenging me in these areas. Check out their blog for daily reminders of God's glory in Christ Jesus!