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Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind: Preface

Author's Bias: Unknown

As I began this book, I thought often of Carmen. She had heard the gospel at a Christian rally in her dorm, and the message made a lot of sense to her. She was lonely; the Christians were neat people.

She started attending a Bible study that met for an hour, three nights a week, and she eventually trusted Christ as her Savior. She began reading her Bible every day. She liked the "love of God" parts but gradually found that she wasn’t particularly inspired by the "old-fashioned stuff" about sin. And then, here roommates started to get on her case about spending so much time with those "religious nuts." So after a few months, she found excuses not to go to her study group. The excitement just wore off, and the Bible reading times became fewer and fewer. Something about it all began to go dry. Her Bible started gathering dust on her shelf.

Spiritual Ignition Needed

It’s not uncommon; the excitement can wear off. And it doesn’t just happen to the occasional new believer. I’ve found it in the most mature Christians-those periods of time when the Bible seems to hold little attraction. Indeed, it’s been a part of my own experience. Yet I take comfort in knowing that the most exemplary Christians of old, as well, attest to hitting such dry spells with the Word of God. Listen to John Bunyan, for example:

I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under, and yet a another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick.

This book seeks to ignite that dry stick, for the Scriptures are like fire; they enkindle the character of Christ within us if we will just stay close to them and let them do their heartwarming work. Once we experience that kind of igniting of our souls, we won’t be able to stay away for long.

How about you? If you’re interested in a renewed love for His Word, read on! I’ve organized the chapters under four parts:

Part I: The Bible’s Transforming Power. Someone once said: "Other books were given for our information, the Bible was given for our transformation." We begin by speaking of the Bible’s transforming power through two analogies: the Bible is the seed that grows the character of Christ within us; it is also a mirror that reflects what is already there, what needs to be transformed. Both of these images, of course, tell of a genuine encounter with God.

Part II: The Receptive Heart. Truly, the Bible as the Word of God has an inherent power, but it is not a coercive power. That is, the Bible does not work its effects mechanically. We don’t change just because we read it. Our minds may be engaged in the text, but something must happen in our hearts as well. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23), the seed does not miraculously and independently transform itself into a flowering plant. The condition of the soil affects how well the seed takes root. Our hearts must be conducive to the development of deep roots and luxuriant growth. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: "What you bring away from the Bible depends on some extent on what you carry to it."

In this part of the book we begin with a discussion of lenses. What do lenses have to do with a receptive heart? Though it may not be apparent at first, this image does speak of our receptivity to God’s Word, for we bring a perspective to the Bible every time we open its pages. If our perspective is thoroughly skewed or grossly smudged, then what enters our vision-what we "see" and understand with our minds-can hardly pierce into our hearts. So the two metaphors work well together.

Part III: The Understanding Mind. What are the perspectives-the attitudes, concerns, and passions-that characterize a receptive heart? In the first place, a receptive reader focuses on the object of the Word, Jesus Christ Himself. Further, he or she must approach the Bible with trust, for a trust in the Bible is at heart a trust in God Himself. Thus, in Part III, we raise the question of the Bible’s integrity and explore how we can set our minds at ease about its authority and genuineness. We must be convinced that it truly is the Word of God in order to develop our deep passion for its transforming power within us.

Our passion for God Himself directly relates to our desire to know His Word and understand it aright. Just as we want to spend time and talk with a close friend, so we yearn to hear the voice of the One who knows us so well and speaks so directly to our hearts. We want to grow in our experience of listening to God’s Word. And the better we understand the nature of His Word, the more clearly and accurately we will hear God. Therefore, we turn to an exploration of the seven crucial principles for interpreting the Bible.

Part IV: The Literary Cornucopia. Finally, I dedicate the bulk of the book to a survey of the marvelous variety of literary genres that make up the Bible. Like a horn of plenty overflowing with ripe vegetables, the Bible abounds with the fruits of history, law, poetry, prophecy, and other literary forms. We must understand the characteristics of each genre to know how the writers are speaking to us. An apple is not a tomato. An orange tastes different from a pear.

It is truly wonderful to realize that our God, the Creative Genius of the cosmos, has given us such variety and richness in His Word. He has let the personality of the writers flow through. Rather than handing down an antiseptic "Manual of Religious Instruction," He has allowed intensely personal artistry and music to flourish for our satisfaction. As you dig into this flourishing literary bounty, may God grant you an answer to the kind of prayer that covets a flowering of your inner being:

God stir the soil,

Run the ploughshare deep,

Cut the furrows round and round,

Overturn the hard, dry ground,

Spare not strength nor toil,

Even though I weep.

In the loose, fresh mangled earth

Sow new seed.

Free of withered vine and weed

Bring fair flowers to birth.

With Heart and Mind

The title of this book makes it clear that we need a whole-person engagement with the Word of God. When both heart and mind are in full swing, interacting with the Word is an awesome experience because it is a personal encounter with the living God.

My prayer for you as you begin this adventure is that you will not be merely informed but transformed. That is what happens when the Scriptures engage both heart and mind. And what better way to spend the best moments of our days than in fruitful involvement with the Scriptures?

In response to that question, I leave you with John Calvin’s eloquent, one-sentence endorsement of Bible reading:

Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, or any others of that class; I grant you that you will be attracted, delighted, moved, enraptured by them in a surprising manner; but if, after reading them, you turn to the perusal of the sacred volume, whether you are willing or unwilling, it will affect you so powerfully, it will so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strangely on your mind that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost entirely disappear; so that it is easy to perceive something divine in the sacred Scriptures, which far surpasses the highest attainments and ornaments of human industry.

"Sections of Scripture I have read countless times came alive with a new passion and a compelling call as I read this book. If you want to be changed by the Word of God, walk through the familiar with a new perspective offered by a humble, brilliant guide. It will be the journey of a lifetime." Dan B. Allender, Ph.D., director of Wounded Heart Ministries

"Tremper Longman has learned to love the Bible with all his heart and mind, and even more to love its Author. This delightful and compelling work will help others to fall in love with God too." Dr. James Montgomery Boice, senior minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia; and president, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

"If you are ready to find out what living by the Bible is all about, this is the book you’ve been looking for. Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind can revolutionize how we think about the Bible and use it day by day. These are concepts I want our church to learn; they are concepts I use to train my students; they are concepts I teach my kids." John H. Walton, Ph.D., professor of Old Testament, Moody Bible Institute; and coauthor of Survey of the Old Testament

"Longman drive home the truths that the Bible transforms our lives and leads us to Christ. His words will inflame your heart and guide you to read the Bible for all its worth." Bruce K. Waltke, Marshall Sheppard Professor of Old Testament Studies, Regent College

Reading the Bible with Heart & Mind by Tremper Longman III. ©1997. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing. All rights reserved. For copies of the book visit the website of NavPress Publishing (www.navpress.com).


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