When we think of cross-cultural ministry, we normally think of how we are to translate the Gospel for some foreign tribe in a far-away land. But have you ever considered that you might need to minister cross-culturally to yourself? We grow easily familiar with the Bible and we forget what a radically different, deeply ancient, and culturally foreign text we in fact hold before us. The truths the Bible hold are of course universal and timeless, but equipping ourselves to grasp them correctly is not such a trivial matter.
Thankfully, we live in the peak of the information age and rich supporting resources have never been easier to access. From books to workshops, seminars, societies, schools, online courses, podcasts and YouTube channels, there are so many tools for assisting us to understand the truth and the most beautiful proclamation ever made.
Of course the Holy Spirit is our most precious resource by far. We begin with and maintain an attitude of prayer as we go to the Author of the Book before we go to the Book. The Bible is not men’s truth, but God’s special revelation of Truth. We must always begin by conversing with the Author, asking Him to open the eyes of our heart to see, understand and illuminate His supernatural “love letter” to us.
After prayer, when it comes to studying Scripture, it is imperative for the Christian to ensure that he can deal with it rightly. The many modern translations today present the Bible to us in such natural modern language that we often think we can read it in much the same way as we would a novel stacked on the nightstand. What we find instead is that we read poorly, shallowly, and allow our minds to offer possible interpretations according to our own pet doctrines instead of seeking what the text is actually saying.
The best place to begin is to ensure that you are reading from a good translation. Some translations are interpretations where the main idea of each sentence is reproduced from Hebrew or Greek into English. These types of translations are great for casual reading. I like to read from the New International Version (NIV). Other translations are literal interpretations where one word at a time is reproduced into English. These types of translations are great for study and research. I like to study from the English Standard Version (ESV).
A good translation then pairs best with a good commentary. The commentary should ensure that you understand first the context of the Bible book that you are reading, who its original recipients were, who the author was, what the purpose of the book is, and then what we as modern readers can take from it. Any reading that puts modern day application to your life before any of the other elements will surely cause you to distil the wrong meaning from the text. NT Wright’s For Everyone Bible Study Guides are an excellent companion as well as the highly recommended New Bible Commentary edited by Wenham et. al. I enjoy David Pawson’s Unlocking the Bible as a primer before I start reading any specific Bible book and if you want to watch the original teachings from which the book was transcribed, they are available free on YouTube here.
As you are reading the different Bible books through in their context, you might find a specific topic that you are wondering about. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is an excellent introduction to our Biblical doctrines. For short, powerful answers to difficult questions, I highly recommend the website, gotquestions.org. Some modern authors I consider essential for Christian reading include R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, Gordan Fee, Richard Bauckham, Darrell Bock, and JI Packer.
Even seemingly dead hours can be used to feast on God’s truths. I always look forward to long roadtrips or runs so that I can listen to the wide variety of quality podcasts available. Some of my favourites are Theology Unplugged, White Horse Inn, Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind, Mortification of Spin, and Ask Pastor John (Piper). YouTube too has some binge-worthy offerings with which to fill some empty hours. The Bible Project is a walk-through of the narrative of the Bible book-by-book and theme-by-theme, and beautifully illustrated, while Ryan Reeve’s Early and Medieval Church History will give great context for our ecclesiology.
I extend to you the challenge of diligently using the astounding amount of resources available to us to sincerely equip yourself. In so doing you will first find all that is true, and it will give you foundation. As you go deeper you will then find that the truth is good, and it will give you hope. And as you go deeper still, you will find that the goodness is beautiful, and it will give you joy. Do not stop digging until you have beheld the beautiful, for out of this discovery will come your deepest worship.