Jun

10

2013

Tullian Tchividjian|9:37 am CT

Reading The Bible Narcissistically

We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the Point–like the two on the road to Emmaus. As Luke 24 shows, it’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize large portions of the Bible–even listen to “expository” preachers who are committed to preaching “verse by verse, line by line, precept by precept”–while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.”

Contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. That’s not a typo. The Bible is a record of the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail, they make huge mistakes, they get afraid, their selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with his rescue; our sin with his salvation; our failure with his favor; our guilt with his grace; our badness with his goodness.

So, if we read the Bible asking first, “What would Jesus do?” instead of asking “What has Jesus done” we’ll miss the good news that alone can set us free.

As I’ve said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our unchristian living.

26 Comments

  1. I lived with me at the center for years. Now that I am reading the Bible with Jesus, my Redeemer, as the Center, life is not the same. Putting Him in His proper place is helping me stay in mine! Thanks Pastor T.

  2. Carolyn Smith

    I thought I was crazy, deficient and hopeless, because my personal study time in the Bible was not “telling” me what it was “telling” others about their rewards in righteousness. As a cradle Episcopalian newly reborn, I am quite novice in Bible reading. It has been disquieting to sit in on studies at a famous Dallas megachurch that seem to be quaisi self help sessions based on personal revelations of worldly promises. I don’t get anything like that from time in the Word. I see Jesus’ story, God’s magnificent plan of redemption for Creation, but quite frankly when I read it is all about Him not me. Perhaps my faith is not stale and dry as has been suggested to me.

  3. Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

    ‘Reading The Bible Narcissistically’

    Umm Hmm…

    Uhhh, I remember reading it in days gone by such, that I suddenly found out my birthday seemed to be recorded in the Book of Haggai (Hg 2:18). :oops: Neglecting the different (Hebrew) calendar, I was so very happy, at least, only for a while…and my lucky world kept spinning round :)

    I assume that reading His Word with the question “What would Jesus do?” on our mind won’t help us to getting closer to Christ. Also, Jesus never asked, “What would my Father do?” Instead He said,

    “[...] Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (Jn 5:19)

    We ought to fix our eyes on our Lord,

    “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)

    Like in all things, we need His helping hand that guides us every moment of our life.

    “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Is 58:11)

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

    Reading the Bible is a wonderful thing, but meeting Him in the Spirit through prayer is way better, since there we can meet Christ personally, and “see” Him doing what we ought to do likewise. If we want to find Him, we must seek Him exactly at the right place, for it is written,

    “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jn 5:39-40)

    PS
    When you need Him like the desert that needs the rain and when everytime missing His word is driving you insane, then – reading the Bible can not be in vain. ;)

  4. Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

    Correction:

    “…won’t help us getting closer to Christ.”

    Question: Why is it no longer possible for me to correct my mistakes directly as soon as I have posted my comments?

  5. I’ve read the word for years and it always seems to point to Jesus. I would then go to church or be around other believers and all I heard was how God will bless your character, goodness and obedience….so get busy. It was frustrating.
    If you want to fix your life, read a self-help book. If you want a new life, go to Jesus.

  6. Rom.10:3-7 seems to relate to Tullian’s thoughts: “The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people.” Amen to Tullian’s continued labor to dispel the false hopes in righteousness by ‘our’ self-effort. As Tullian stated elsewhere, “When John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether you love Jesus or not, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact.”
    Rom.10
    3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

  7. Since I have begun listening to the Pilgrim Radio and I have discovered Tullian, along with many other great pastors and started understanding what the Bible was in fact all about, I had to ask myself where I had actually been all these years. Why had I never caught a clue about the Bible being about Jesus and not about me? Why are so many churches preaching a corrupted gospel? Taking the Bible and literally throwing it down and stepping on it?

    I am so thankful to God for leading me to those pastors that He has out here as lights in a dark, dark world. I was at the brink of suicide (for the 3rd time) when I was spinning the dial of a small clock radio and the only station that came through was the Pilgrim. Tullian was one of the first pastors that I had heard “preach” and it completely blew me away. I look forward to hearing his sermons and reading his blog posts. This one especially hits the nail squarely on the head and I love that.

    God does use him in a very special way, at least in my life He did.

    Thanks Tullian and stay connected to God, He is working wonders through you.

  8. amen. Let the truth continue to resound-by grace we have been saved through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2: 8-9

    Let us praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. Ps 148:13

    that for Him we,a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory; we,the first to hope in Christ be to the praise of His glory, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God; and that the proof of our faith, being more precious than gold, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; Jer 13:11b Eph 1:12,14 b; Phil 1: 11 1 Pet 1:7

    though we have not seen Him, we love Him, and though we do not see Him now, but believe in Him, we greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 1 Pet 1:8

  9. [...] God’s Word does not return void, we should be careful in the way we approach reading it.  Tullian Tchividjian has a brief article on how not to read the Bible.  It may make the WWJD? a little [...]

  10. Secure in Christ

    Amen!! Amen!! again Amen!! Tullian may the Lord continue to use you brother. The Lord is with you. We are praying for you! Keep the Gospel going just like that! God bless!

  11. Great post, Tullian!

  12. Chris Schwenk

    This reminds me of a word I heard coined by (I’m not sure who).

    “narcigesis” [nahr-si-jee-sis]

    noun, plural, “narcigeses” [-seez]

    Interjecting yourself into every Bible passage or reading the Bible as if it’s all about you.

    Use:

    I wish Steven Furtick would actually exegete the text for once so we know what it actually means instead of always making the text about him; I’m tired of the narcigesis.

  13. [...] Narcystyczne czytanie Biblii (ang) [...]

  14. Good stuff!

  15. [...] Tullian Tchividjian: [...]

  16. This is an excellent piece of writing. Only 400 words (including the title) that get to the point and hammer it home. But this piece of writing is more: it is a clear statement of the focus of the Bible. Take Luke 9. There are eight passages in this chapter and reading this way one cannot help but notice how the authority and identity of Jesus are inextricably woven through these passages.

  17. interesting you mention Luke 9, Michael, related to this post, as it implies so much ‘what would Jesus do’

    Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him” …and He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. Luke 9 35,23-24

    Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

    If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. John 13:14-15

    we have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 1 Pet 2:21

    Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Eph 5:1-2

  18. There is a VAST difference between reading the Bible through a narcissistic “all about me” lens and reading it through a “Christ In Me” lens. If we would only see, by faith, that we are now dead to ourselves but alive in Christ, by His Spirit living/moving/working/teaching within us . . . then the power of the Living Word will graciously transform us, not into strict little code keepers, but into Christ’s heavenly image. Filled with love for God and others.

    Sadly, most Christians do not understand themselves as crucified with Christ and His resurrection-life now living in them. Waling in the Spirit means nothing to most Christians. Instead, they seek conformity to the letter in their own futile efforts at moral self-improvement.

    The Christian life is not about self-improvement. It’s about death to self and Christ’s resurrection life becoming my own. Blessed union to the Vine produces fruit. Christian life is Christ’s life at work in me.

  19. [...] Tullian Tchividjian warns against reading the Bible as if it about life lessons to be learned from moral exemplars. Rather than heroes, the Bible is full of those who needed to be rescued in spite of themselves. And its lesson is that we need to be (and can be) rescued too. We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the Point–like the two on the road to Emmaus. As Luke 24 shows, it’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, and memorize large portions of the Bible, while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.” Contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. That’s not a typo. The Bible is a record of the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail, they make huge mistakes, they get afraid, their selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with his rescue; our sin with his salvation; our failure with his favor; our guilt with his grace; our badness with his goodness. So, if we read the Bible asking first, “What would Jesus do?” instead of asking “What has Jesus done” we’ll miss the good news that alone can set us free. As I’ve said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our unchristian living. [...]

  20. The focus of the Bible is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To only say Jesus is short sighted.

  21. [...] Tullian Tchividjian, “Reading The Bible Narcissistically,” The Gospel Coalition (6.10.2013). FacebookTwitterDiggEmailPrintLinkedInGoogle +1Like [...]

  22. This is great. And really well said man! Thanks for sharing this!

  23. I respect Pastor Tchividjian’s ministry and I understand the danger of the Bible being used as a “self-help manual”, but this particular article omits an important truth. Yes, the Bible is about “the work of the Redeemer, not the work of the redeemed,” but the work of the Redeemer includes not only God’s saving us (the worst) by grace through the sacrifice of his Son, but also God’s transforming us through the power of His Holy Spirit. He uses Scripture as He makes changes in our hearts that we could never make ourselves, not to fulfill our narcissistic desires, but to make us His instruments for His purposes and for His glory. He meets us in our brokenness, but doesn’t leave us there. To ignore that aspect of the Redeemer’s work because we don’t want to make it “about us” diminishes our understanding of God and diminishes our usefulness to Him. It also robs God of the praise He deserves for His loving and merciful willingness not only to save, but also to transform and restore even the worst of us. Ephesians 2:8-9 is followed by verse 10.

  24. I would love to be able to share this with Pastor Tullian:

    My husband and I have been avid listeners to Tullian for a little over a year. His battle cry of “It is Finished!” has rung so true in our hearts and in our minds. We were attending a PCA church in Arkansas for a little over 5 years.
    This was true for us until about 3 months ago when the Lord so swiftly and clearly led us right into the Catholic Church. Now, believe me, that was NOT anywhere NEAR anything in the scope of our minds. In fact, I was an ex-catholic and an anti-Catholic!!! But, to not give you our entire journey, I will skip forward to a talk I was listening to by Scott Hahn. I am sure you have heard of Scott Hahn as he was also an anti-Catholic, PCA pastor and seminary teacher. He has been in the Catholic Church for about 20 years now, I believe and is doing some amazing teaching to Catholic clergy and lay people. Anyway, the teaching was about the 4th cup. I was stopped in my tracks when I heard him use the phrase, “It is finished” and proposed that it might not be what he had held on to as a Protestant. So what is the “It” Jesus is referring to? I encourage you to please listen to this sermon. It will just give you something to chew on and pray over.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzaiwqsDAm8

    I pray that this does in fact reach Pastor Tullian, whom I hold high regards for. His sermons fed my soul for a time. For sure. The Lord used Him and His gospel centered sermons to teach me the depths of God’s grace and love and mercy. And now, I can understand that in light of Christ’s teachings through the Catholic Church and how these two denominations focus all on God’s grace.

    In Christ’s Grace ALone

  25. 30 years fulltime ministry in South Africa. in a large pentecostal denomination. Love the dispensational theology, but start to more and more appreciate the covenanat theology.I love Tullian’s messages – his teaching..watching his videos on his site every week. Hearing Christ in him means more to me than words can say. Thanks my dear brother.

  26. […] Adapted and Quoted from The Gospel Coalition | Tullian Tchividjian | Reading the Stories and Missing the Story | Reading the Bible Narcissistically […]

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