I can do all things through a verse taken out of context

How to build a learning culture


13. November 2020In ReflectionsBy Karsten Risseeuw9 Minutes

One day, I was browsing social media and someone showed this picture of a mug with the text “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context”. Of course, the text refers to bible interpretations and people who abuse the bible for own purposes.

This mug hilariously points to a real-life problem in the Christian world, which is, that people abuse the Bible to let it say whatever they think. It is the opposite of letting the Bible speak for itself. The Bible has a story, but one has to listen to the story, to understand the verses in context. By just taking a line out of a context, it might easily get deformed and become misleading.

In the series of Open Book «How to read the Bible?», we try to read carefully and let the Bible speak for itself. This is not something which can be covered in a few evenings. Every evening though can be part of a learning process and thus become part of a learning culture. The goal of a learning culture is to learn together, to encourage each other to think and to become who we are meant to be – both in understanding and in attitude.

Maturity as a goal

Usually, we are not aware of our assumptions about something. Only if we start looking at something carefully, or meet someone with a different view, we can discover that our assumptions probably need some readjustment. Adjustment is not a bad thing, as the Bible or Christian faith is not about being right or wrong, but more about understanding that Gods grace is meant for you and me personally. It also is about relationship, belonging and natural growth. It speaks of growth from childhood to maturity. The need to become mature is something mentioned multiple times (Hebrews 6:1, 1Corinthians 13:9-12, Ephesians 4:13-16).

A learning culture starts where we allow for questions and not pretend to know all the answers. A sure sign of a learning culture is, if we can reply to questions with more questions, thus keeping the talk open and maintain the learning process, while expanding our view and understanding. To learn means to add colors to life and faith.

Implementing a learning culture

Why would it be needed to build a learning culture? Well, being a church is not a purpose in itself. Having faith is great, but unless it leads somewhere, it is not of much value. The church is the vessel, not the content. We are the content. We are called by a unique message, as contained in the Bible. This message is meant to transform our lives, not just to turn us into church-goers.

A learning culture evolves from an understanding of the purpose of community. A learning culture appreciates that we can build together. As a culture it is transformative to everyone partaking in it, just as much as everyone adds to the process.

Join the blessing of shared learning.

How we build our faith is not a coincidence. It is always a choice. We can choose to build it carefully or carelessly abandon it. A learning culture transforms this experience into something alive, into something shared. Join the blessing of shared learning.

The adventurers

One of the effects of learning is, that you start to look beyond your current horizon. That can be quite a challenge. Not everyone likes to see new things. It even can be felt as a threat. A learning culture therefor can only be led by people who are willing to learn. I consider this a function of some people within a larger community. That might be just a small beginning. What I experienced over many years is, that people who see their thinking and hoping transformed, that these people will move on and inspire others. Let’s call them adventurers or travelers, artists or visionaries, or simply “the hungry ones”, the ones who see a need to learn. A learning culture is about planting seeds and letting them grow, watering the sprouts and caring for the larger plants, it’s about growing a crop and living from it.

Learning how to read the Bible

Learning about the Bible is one thing. Learning from the Bible is something else. Growing brains is not the goal, gathering knowledge is not the purpose. The message of God, through Jesus Christ, wants to speak to our hearts. That’s where it starts. Learning how to read the Bible is not a purpose, but a means to a purpose. The Bible can become a powerful tool to form our understanding, our hopes and expectations and thus shape our everyday life.

“For Christ’s love compels us.”
2Corinthians 5:14-21 (NIV)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Galatians 5:6 (NIV)

Some tricky questions

Here are some questions to trigger curiosity. No answers are provided. To each Bible verse, write down what you think it means, then read the verse in its context. Does the text clearly say what you thought it would?

  • My Father’s house
    “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). What does that refer to?
  • Saints
    “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7). Who are saints?
  • Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name
    “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Is this verse about happy Christian fellowship or about something else? (Read 18:15-20).

Your first interpretation, which you write down before reading these verses in their context, has much to do with your background. That is your personal context, from which you see and interpret the world. Our understanding of faith, or our understanding of certain Bible passages, is frequently influenced by our background. To start looking at the Bible independently of your personal context might challenge the horizon you previously had.

A learning culture (in contrast to a teaching culture) will enable more views and a better differentiation. We possibly can learn that not all is about our personal context, but that the Bible has its own story and purpose. We also might recognize that there is no need to take any verse out of its context, as only the context itself is key to a better understanding and a wealth of meaning, for us to discover.