Reading it again, differently

Writer and editor Rose Horowitch has a piece in The Atlantic about revisiting something read and appreciated in the past.

“A former teacher once told me that we reread books not to uncover something new in them but to see how we’ve changed,” said Horowitch.

That is a sentence worth reading a second time as well.

For Horowitch, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was “firmly my favorite book.” A second reading, she surmised, provided more of the book’s intended takeaway.

Professing Christians are not necessarily faithful to the primary and defining role of being followers of Jesus.

Therefore, it’s an act of faithfulness to re-read an inspired, older volume than Tolstoy’s 1878 novel. But, likewise, seeking more of its intended takeaway.

Bible readings are often highly selective searches for validation of one’s prior conclusions with imposed interpretations.

Oddly, those who claim the highest allegiance to the Bible often deny by their beliefs and deeds its consistent threads of faith over fear, hope over despair, compassion over condemnation, justice over grievance, grace over guilt, and love over hatred.

Re-reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus — the culminating figure in the biblical text and the one identified as God incarnate — is the difference maker.

It is he who calls “whoever wishes to be my disciple” to a way of life beyond self-serving ideologies that oddly but often get branded as “Christian” or “biblical.”

In some cases Jesus’ words and example bring comfort. In others, they disrupt the comfortableness of self-absorption, hostility and the failure to deny our own desires on behalf of the common good.

A question I often ask of others and myself is, “When is the last time you read something in the Bible and changed your mind?”

Re-reading the Bible, looking through a Jesus lens for a Jesus perspective, is vastly different from searching for an elusive passage or two to reinforce a preferred ideological conviction that might well be at odds with Jesus’ life and teachings.

When Christianity gets redefined as “believing the Bible” rather than following Jesus, it allows for pushing Jesus aside in order to embrace unloving and unjust attitudes and actions deemed “biblical” or “Christian.”

To do so is to misread and misapply biblical messages in an effort to reduce Jesus and elevate one’s preferred ideology as defining Christian allegiance.

Such an approach changes the definition of Christian rather than changing the hearts and minds of those seeking to follow Jesus.

The Bible is not a source to scour in search of that which can be used to justify a predetermined position — as has been done to devastating effect throughout history.

In doing, those who claim to be Christian end up in stark contrast to the life and teachings of Jesus.

Reading the Bible with Jesus as the lens and the Spirit as the guide is a bit risky.

Yet it can help us to see how we’ve changed since earlier readings — or, more importantly, how we need to change.

John D. Pierce is director of the Jesus Worldview Initiative (, part of Belmont University’s Rev. Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership.