The Evangelical Experience: Personal/Devotional Use of the Bible

Continuing The Evangelical Experience series, this quotation is from Chapter 5, which details how Evangelicals use the Bible, both in academic and personal settings.  The following is a discussion of how the Bible is used devotionally.  

"The vast majority of Evangelicals are not professional exegetes or scholars. They are regular people, living regular lives, who use the Bible to try to understand God, and how He wants them to live, a little bit better. Therefore, in Evangelicalism, the Bible is most commonly used devotionally.

Devotional use of Scripture is profoundly personal; it is between the reader and God. When a believer sits down to read the Bible devotionally, they are using the Bible as a tool to hear God. For instance, the believer may read a chapter out of the Gospel of John in which Jesus says 'I lay down my life for my sheep.' They may then, in silence, listen for what God is saying to them in this verse. Maybe they hear God, with their inward ear, comfort their spirit by telling them that they are loved so much that Jesus laid down his life. Or maybe the believer hears God instruct them in specific ways that they, like Jesus, should be laying down their life for others. In this devotional style of reading the Bible, historical context, authorship, literary criticism, and authorial intent don’t matter. What matters is that the believer is encouraged, comforted, or strengthened by God – that they 'hear God' through the pages of Scripture. Every part of the Bible, then, is instantly relevant to the believer’s life. The passage could be about an obscure battle between Israel and the Amalekites and still find relevance in the believer’s mind. Maybe they hear God using that Scripture to counsel them on what elements of their life they need to 'do battle with.' 

You need no background in biblical studies, foreign languages, translations, etc. to use the Bible in this way. You just read it and listen for God’s guidance. In the Catholic tradition, this may be called lectio divina, or sacred reading. When an Evangelical says they have a relationship with God, this is usually the primary way that this relationship is fostered. 

This personal, or devotional, method of reading Scripture is the primary way the Bible is used by members of an Evangelical church. When doing a Bible study, the historical context and trying to understand the literary structure or wider theological implications of a book are important, but are not primary. The most important element of the Bible study is how the reader is guided by God through the words of Scripture."

For more on The Evangelical Experience, see My Books