Reading Scripture Again for the First Time—the Cure for Evangelical and American Ills

When Josiah, king of Judah, was age 26 one of his administrators informed him that the high priest while rummaging through clutter in the Temple stumbled across “the book of the Law.” Some scholars believe this was the book of Deuteronomy while others think it may have been the entire first five books of Scripture.

They brought this book to Josiah and read it to him. After listening to its message he was highly distressed and said, “… Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2Kings 22:13)

Josiah’s response might be attributed in part to his youthful inclination to take this Scripture at face value, consequently believing its message of God’s judgment on Israel. If he had been a few decades older and had been subject to rabbinical tutoring he may have learned how to explain away all of those passages incompatible with the current culture.

Our situation today in many ways parallels this story. Evangelicals have lost significant parts of Scripture. Of course, we are inundated with copies of Scripture in all forms and translations. However, we tend to focus on those passages that fit comfortably with our evangelical culture to the exclusion of a very significant segment of Scripture that does not. On this blog I did a four-part series a short while ago about sections of Scripture evangelicals tend to avoid, which turned out to be most of it.

Here is the question. If American evangelicals, who claim commitment to Scripture, would read through the Bible as if they were reading it for the first time, without imposing on it theological templates learned in Sunday school classes or seminaries, what would they conclude to be its message to us? My sense is that they would see God, the Christian life, and our relationship with Him from a substantially different perspective than do most evangelicals today.

For example, evangelicals are fixated almost exclusively on the themes of God’s love and grace. However, if they read through Scripture with fresh eyes they would discover another dimension of the character of God often and strongly conveyed but hardly ever mentioned by evangelicals today. For example, Nahum 1:2 states:

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.”

Contemporary scholars might assert that this Old Testament passage refers to the enemies of God but that the New Testament tells us that we are His friends and objects of His love. In response, those reading the Bible for the first time may ask how that perspective fits with passages such as James 4:4, apparently written to Christians.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

This disconnect between Scripture and the worldview of contemporary evangelicals might also be observed in a video of a sermon by Paul Washer to a youth convention. At the outset he stresses that his message is out of sync with current evangelical beliefs, and the sermon supports that assertion. Yet, this sermon in its entirety is biblical. I would urge you to listen to it because it is excellent and convicting but also demonstrates how out of touch contemporary evangelical teaching is with much of Scripture.

Imagine if every pastor and layperson read through Scripture without bringing to it all the preconceived baggage that they have accumulated across the years, especially those aspects attempting to squeeze it into the mold of contemporary culture, but instead, like a young Josiah, taking God’s message to us at face value. I believe we would find ourselves saying along with Josiah, “… Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” American evangelicals desperately need to read through the Bible again for the first time. Doing so would lead to revival in the church and the consequent cure for most of our nation’s problems.

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