Reading Literature for Better Understanding of the Bible
One of the things pastors can do that shouldn’t be underestimated is to read a lot of literature. Have a little book of poetry by your bedside or read some novels. When we do the right kind of reading, it heightens our sensitivities to the literary forms of the Bible. There are a lot of intangible ways it helps, and there’s a nice crossover there.
Connecting Literature of the Bible to People’s Experiences
It’s also important for pastors to always ask themselves the questions, “What kind of literature is this part of the Bible? What do I know about it from reading that kind of literature? What kind of slowing down do I need to do for poetry? What am I looking for in a story?” Then indicating to a congregation, “This is a story and here’s how stories work.” Do a little bit of that kind of teaching. When we do the right kind of reading, it heightens our sensitivities to the literary forms of the Bible.
One of the things that I find really helpful for pastors to do is to connect the literature of the Bible to the literary experiences of the people in their congregation. It helped me a lot as I was reading through the Psalms of Ascent—which are psalms that were composed for pilgrims on their way from various places around Israel up to Jerusalem—is to think of that as the playlist for Israel’s road trip to Jerusalem. When you see that, immediately people know what that’s like; they know songs that are familiar that you associate with a journey, how those songs play into your life and become part of the soundtrack of your experience.
When I thought about the love songs in the Song of Solomon as the lyrics you would find in the liner notes to your favorite album or maybe romantic pop songs, that made them come alive for me. That’s the kind of connection that makes the Bible come alive for a congregation. What they do know about how to read literature can also help them in their understanding of Scripture.
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals.