In Secondary School the book God’s Generals was very popular among all those on “fire for God.” I was one of those people. One of the people I really admired in the book was Smith Wigglesworth. It was said the “Apostle of Faith” read no other book other than Bible. That statement captured my heart, to intimately know God and nothing else. It was an ideal I aspired to.
When I entered university and started to study the scriptures more rigorously I found myself doing the opposite. I started learning a lot of things outside the Bible. What got me hooked was Christian apologetics. Apologetics is a multidisciplinary field so it brings you into contact with a lot of extra-biblical materials and resources. It was not just what other Christians. Listening to a message from Ravi Zacharias you are more likely to hear non-Christians being quoted than Christians. Fields like philosophy, history, science and theology all came to bear on my understanding of the Bible. A friend of mine about a year ago embarked on a similar quest, even though he definitely did not take the same route I did. He told me he was learning more about science than his years in school had taught him while studying the Bible.
The Bible is a sacred text but it did not drop out of heaven several millennia ago. The Bible thoroughly interacted with the times and the culture that birthed it. Whenever we read the biblical text we are being transported to a very strange land and time where people see the world completely differently from us. To assist us in this adventure we need guides who will help us navigate through this alien environment. Scholarship does this for. It helps us understand the Bible in its own terms, according to its own times. This of course involves various disciplines that makes the Bible accessible to us. The journey to Scripture-land does not end there. When we come back to our own time we need to figure out its contemporary relevance. There too scholarship helps us figure out the relationship between the ancient text and the modern church and society at large.
The Bible like all other works of literature does not exist in a cultural vacuum. Neither do we live in a cultural vacuum. The Bible is a complex book produced in a complex time still being read by complex people. The Bible was not aloof from its environment. As we read and learn to live out the word of God we also begin to engage with the intricacies of the world around us.
Now I have largely moved away from popular Christian literature to more academically oriented material. Generally speaking academic work is held to more stringent standards than popular work. I have discovered (and keep on discovering) a wealth of academic material on diverse areas that makes the Bible easier to understand. Sometimes through my research new challenges and questions are brought up I have to address. All the while I realise I am learning how to think Christianly and not just unintelligently quote it.
It’s a shame Smith never bothered exploring what extra-biblical material had to offer. The Bible is an important book, arguably the most important in the world, yet it is not the only one out there. It does and never has existed in literary isolation. The scriptures are never afraid to engage material and events outside of itself, neither should we.