Reading the Bible is an indispensable part of deepening your faith in God and growing into the body of Christ. It is a necessary part of your learning. But reading the Bible is not enough. There are other ingredients to strengthening your faith such as practicing what your faith teaches. In other words, reading the Bible is necessary but not sufficient for a strong faith. One of the ingredients to strengthening your faith — in addition to reading the Bible — is reading other books, especially those written by renowned theologians, mystics, and ministers.
However, we live in times in which the discipline of reading for the sake of deepening our faith is becoming less and less important. Nowadays it is an image or a video that holds sway. Many believers who read widely and make reading a life-long habit often focus on the Bible and limit themselves to reading only the Bible, assuming that the Bible is the central text to the Christian faith. It is true that the Bible is central to the Christian faith (though not as much as Jesus is), but if this leads to ignoring other sources within the Christian faith, then this approach may lead to a stale faith or Biblicism. A Biblicist may know a lot of biblical text but may only have an inch deep of understanding.
So I decided to write this blogpost in order to show you that habitually reading only the Bible is not enough to deepen your faith. There are various reasons for that, and some I have listed below. But before we get to that, let’s describe just a bit what I mean by the phrase “deepening your faith” or “strengthening your faith.”
Simply put, a “deepened faith” is a faith that is thoughtful, flexible, and informed by love and justice for all people, including atheists and terrorists. A deepened faith is aware of the complexity of the scripture, has roots in practice, and stays balanced by applying extra-biblical contextual factors to the Bible. It is humble and has a healthy dose of self-criticism. I can go on and on, but the point is that such a faith cannot be formed only by reading the sacred text because it requires a self-conscious relation to the text that can both identify with yet also criticize it in love and in the name of a higher source: God. For this, believers need to read other sources outside of the scripture.
Now let’s return to our original question: why is reading only the Bible not enough to strengthen your faith? Here are my incomplete albeit sufficient reasons that I hope will persuade you to read the Bible side-by-side with Augustine’s Confessions, with a dictionary of the Bible, or with Nostra aetate.
Reading only the Bible may cause confusion.
Reading the Bible for an in-depth understanding especially with the desire to read all of it may confuse a reader. The scripture is a large book with a lot of words, perspectives, and sometimes with lots or even lost assumptions (that it was written based upon) that you won’t even be aware of. This complexity and layers-upon-layers within the biblical text may create confusion.
Confusion is not necessarily bad. You can emerge from this state of mind with a superb understanding of the scripture. But unchecked and prolonged confusion may lead you away from the faith, especially if you are dealing with hard passages with the unexamined, underlying assumptions you bring to the text. The more you focus on reading only the Bible, the more you run the risk of falling into unchecked confusion.
Reading only the Bible may create overfamiliarity that lacks freshness and leads to a stale faith.
This is a huge concern for people who read the Bible so much that they know a great deal of the scripture. This is good. But along the way of learning the text, we become familiar with it so much so that we lose the freshness of our perspective or the knowledge we’re supposed to gain from the text. I can’t claim I know the Bible like a PhD-level scholar, but after reading the scripture several times, occasionally I can detect what text is being read from the Bible. This is not because I memorized the text but because I notice certain patterns, tropes, or linguistic elements that I’m overfamiliar with.
This is not good. When I’m struggling to look beyond the familiar tropes, I have to turn to other sources. Overfamiliarity leads to a stale faith that may give rise to arrogance, and that may kill your faith. Have you seen those people who know the text down to the “iota” but whose hearts lack a yearning for God’s love and justice?
Reading only the Bible may not always lead to an in-depth understanding.
An in-depth understanding is not necessarily the same as a fresh perspective or new knowledge. A deeper understanding of the scripture requires time for our thoughts to mature and lacks the suddenness or the flash-like quality of new insights. I assume that you read the Bible for an in-depth understanding. I do. But can I claim that I learn something deep every time I read the Bible?
No. It is simply unrealistic to read the Bible day in and day out and expect to learn something deep every time because you have to digest the insights you gained from your previous readings in order to build upon them. But reading only the Bible may trap you in a phase where you very rarely or never gain an in-depth understanding because, well, you have no other sources to help you. In contrast, reading other books would increase your chance of gaining an in-depth understanding.
For example, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James would surely help you see how intricate the connection is between faith and practice and why a flat understanding of human faith is wrong.
So it is important to complement your Bible reading with other texts that shed light upon your faith and the Bible. That will deepen your faith and strengthen it.
I hope this post motivates you to read other books connected to your Christian faith. If you think reading this post was worth your time, please share it on social media and don’t forget to comment.