Over on the Syneidon forums Helen Ingram asks:
“does anyone strongly believe that faith is a valuable, or even necessary, tool for bible study? Are those with little or no faith (a category into which I personally belong) disadvantaged someway in their bible studies? Equally, does anyone feel that their faith is a hindrance to their study of the bible? Does it hold you back from asking questions that contradict your own particular beliefs”
This is a valuable question and one that everyone who studies religion must grapple with. I am always surprised at the number of people who study religion as merely an academic pursuit. Some claim that this gives them a more objective take on things because they are able to ask questions without their own particular beliefs interfering. However, as recent philosophical developments have made clear, all people have a perspective and there cannot be a “view from nowhere.” Therefore, I think Helen has asked a valuable question that believing Christians need to answer. Are Christians beholden to their own particular beliefs or do they allow the biblical text to challenge them to the very core? Do we engage in exegesis or eisegesis? In other words, do we seek to understand what the text is saying to us or do we seek to prove what we already believe to be true by appealing to the text? Most people clearly see the speck in others’ eyes when it comes to answering this question; i.e. Evangelicals will point to Mormons or Jehovah’s witnesses who will point right back. Atheists will point at Christians who will point at secular humanists. Everyone claiming to be able to clearly see the truth.
Personally, I find that the more I study the Bible, the more I understand my faith. Conversely, the more I understand my Faith, the easier it is to study the Bible. The word faith in Greek is pistis and it does not mean “blind faith” the way some seem to think. The word can be used in regard to loaning someone money; their credit record gives you the assurance, the faith, that they will repay the debt and therefore you are willing to loan them money. See Liddell, Scott, Jones, 1408 for more information. The point being, that although pistis became a Christian technical term its basic meaning is that you are confident of something because of its inherent trustworthiness (based on the evidence). I find that as I study the Bible the evidence becomes clearer and I am continually surprised at the connections that occur between what is revealed in the various books of the Old and New Testament. The Bible comes to be seen as something “living and active” when you approach it with this frame or mind. I also believe that Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Bible with regard to our own personal life. This may or may not have an impact on our academic pursuits but it certainly compels believing Christians to seek to study their Bibles.