From ‘Knowing’ to ‘Making Meaning’

You might remember from a previous blog post that I am in the middle of preparing to be the speaker of Camp Friedenswald’s Junior High Winter Retreat on the topic of “What do we do with the Bible?”  It is a topic I chose because it is something I still wrestle with, especially as I think about how scripture connects with the notion of “Christian formation.”  It is my contention that many Christians, especially those who identify closer to the progressive or liberal end of the theological spectrum, have a much clearer idea of how NOT to read the Bible than how to actually utilize scripture in a life of Christian formation. 

As I think about what I want to share with the junior high students in January, I am confronted with the question of what kind of goals and outcomes I hope they walk away with.  Adding something else to some hypothetical list of things we think we should be doing in order to be good or holy enough feels like such an easy trap to walk into, so I’ve been trying to steer clear of anything that veers toward shame-inducing notions that we all just need to read the Bible more.

So, if it’s not necessarily about reaching some ill-defined “more” when it comes to the Bible, what do we do with the Bible?

In the book Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, Andrew Root writes, “The success of a Bible study as a reading group isn’t in what young people know at the end, but in how they have read, how they have made meaning in their reading.”  He goes on to argue that we too often get stuck on the notion of learning about the Bible and neglect the role of scripture as a witness to a God who acts and continues to act in the world.  Reading the Bible, then, becomes primarily a practice of learning to recognize the action(s) of God and making meaning (building a life) in response to these acts.

This movement from “knowing” to “making meaning” is a notion that has been an undercurrent in my understanding of how scripture fits into Christian formation, but for some reason this particular articulation of that idea is breathing new life into the way I think about the Bible.   There certainly is value in knowing about the Bible and learning to read it with historical, cultural, political, and religious contexts in mind, but these things too often become the point rather than tools that help us discern the actions of God and make meaning in response. 

This paradigm shift doesn’t quite answer all the questions, and I’m still figuring out how to articulate this without making it seem like the point really is just “more” Bible reading.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about ways you incorporate scripture into a life of Christian formation.