One sure-fire way of avoiding doofusry is to read the book/letter of Romans straight through. But I think that there are at least 7 reasons why doofusry is a magnetic force that pulls us away from reading Romans the right way:
- Many of us don’t read more deeply than a Facebook status. Twitter understands this. News headlines understand this. We are doofuses and we don't read more than a few words at a time.
- If we do read a bit, we don’t usually read the Bible. JK Rowling understood this. Christian publishing companies understand this. I personally, sadly, exhibit this.
- If we do read the Bible, we rarely read it in the way it was written. My guess is that usually we read the Bible in order to try to get some sort of ‘golden nugget’ from it; Some sort of quick-fix-spiritual-high-of-learning-or-insight-or-promise. The Bible certainly can give us this kind of immediate, life-changing treasure, but it wasn’t written to be a self-help Google search tool. All of the Bible was written to actually be read for deep, life-and-history-and-relationship-transformation… not to be merely queried for self-filtered knowledge.
- If we do read Romans, we don't like what we read. Someone who actually reads through Romans will find it half encouraging, half convicting, and half offensive. Yep – three halves. That’s because Romans contains more of these three components than most books ever written. Because of this, it just seems too full for our attention… there is more than we can digest in one read… and the more we read the more we know and there is more we have to un-know. We grow in understanding that there is much more for us to understand… about God, about our motivations, about our desires, about our nature, about our networks. There is just so much that is good, so much that is challenging, and so much that is hard-to-swallow— As a result we can find Romans too big or scary to swim. The depths are too deep, too dark, and too marvelous, and too full of the powers of Creation.
- We only like to pick out the parts we like (eg. Romans 5:3; 8:1; 8:31-39; 12:2; etc.) and overlook the parts we don’t like (ef. Romans 1:18; all of chapter 2; 6:15; 8:13; 9:31; 12:9,12; 14:1 etc). It’s a bit like picking ripe fruit from a market and rejecting the entire production process from seed to nurture to harvest. Fruit comes from context. But we’ve treated Romans as if we were biased, selfish consumers.
- We forget the human element of this book/letter. Paul wrote this book to real people (see Chapter 16) at a real time (55-57 AD) in a real place (Rome). There are dramatic, intense stories to each of the dozens of individuals named in this book/letter. The final chapter of Romans is one of my favorite in all the Bible because it proves the words of salvation authentic and tangible.
- Finally, our attention spans are just too weak-minded for a book like Romans. Romans is really one solid argument all the way through (although some wouldn’t include the last chapter… I would: Chapter 16 gives a living dynamic to the reflection of 1-15.) It could be said that our society is too immediate, too localized, too short-sighted, too self-interested to appreciate that there is something huge going on in the grand scale of the world that impacts the little surroundings in which we find ourselves. But perhaps there is hope for us: Because in our shrinking world, where vast information is readily available at our fingertips, we should be quite capable of considering the macro themes of cosmic events that transform the micro circumstances of our lives. This is a way of understanding life as evidenced by Paul in the book/letter of Romans. One way to look at it: While exploring the reef, it is wise to consider the ocean, and vice versa. Ocean informs reef and reef informs ocean.
- So, to remove a verse (eg. Romans 8:28) from the context of the whole argument is to miss much of the depth and exquisite truth of this book/letter. Paul never meant for this book to be a collection of proverbs or pithy quotations. Paul saw this as a solid whole, an argument sharing God’s plan of salvation in history for all of creation. Romans is an argument that flows together, feeds itself, networks itself, supports itself, and informs itself. A part of Romans is not separate from the whole of Romans and the whole is not separate from a part.
My intention this summer is to work slowly through the book/letter of Romans… I pray daily. I invite you to join me at any point along the journey. As we swim through its words, however, we do not want to lose sight of the whole message. As we focus small, we think large. And we let each influence the other.
So the first goal is to first read the whole book of Romans. Straight through as best we can. If we run into questions or difficulty or awkwardness or familiarity or encouragement, we can pause, take note, and then just keep going until the end. Tomorrow we can start diving in the reef. Today we look across the ocean in wonderment. (Feel free to add comments in response.)
Graphic Borrowed From: http://secretfunspot.blogspot.com/2009/04/april-of-fools-fake-puke.html
Hi Geoff! Congrats on your wedding, by the way! Hope Mr and Mrs Petrie are doing really well!! Yeah— I can have a tendency to treat the Bible like a status update… looking for a quick spiritual fix… when instead I need to allow myself more soak-in-it opportunities…
This article is incredibly deep. While reading this I instantly realized that I often scroll down my twitter and facebook walls/feeds and do my best to soak in other people’s deep spiritual status’s instead of digging into the Word and letting God derive whatever nugget he wants me to walk away with. I suppose I wrestle with the question of where is the line between devotionals being a stumbling block to times of solitude with the Lord and being a help. Not to knock all devotionals because i know its mainly my perception of it but I find that with devotionals i’m tempted to just read one or two Oswald Chambers columns and call it good.
Good stuff on this article Dr. C. Keep em comin.
Thanks for the comment, Julie. So glad you were able to do that! Hope to hear more of your thoughts as we go through Romans. Thanks!
Read Romans 1.5 times today. Gained a whole new perspective reading it all at once – thanks for the challenge to do it. Looking forward to following the study – some great stuff in there, and some hard stuff too. Whole chapters felt like they were written to address my issues today – I love it when that happens!