In our Companions in Christ study entitled “Feeding on the Word,” participants were introduced to the difference between informational reading and formational reading of scripture. This idea is presented very effectively in Robert Mulholland’s book,Shaped by the Word.
Informational reading of scripture is a left-brain approach. Mulholland points out that the person who reads scripture this way sees the material as an object, an “it”, something to be analyzed so that he or she can discover “the truth” that is contained there. If taken to the extreme, scripture is perceived as a problem to be solved. Baptists are very good at this. We want to “wrestle” the text to the ground and will it to relinquish its treasures.
Formational reading of scripture is a right-brain activity. As one reads in this way, he or she is allowing the scripture to speak. Scripture is a subject, a “thou” with the potential for multiple levels of meaning based upon the reader’s own experience and receptivity to God. The reader seeks to engage the text as mystery and revelation. Therefore, there are not “right” or “wrong” answers, just the truth that you or I perceive. Methodists and Anglicans are better at this approach. They appreciate a more contemplative and relational methodology.
Mulholland affirms both approaches by pointing out, “We must have a certain level of information about the biblical passage, some sense of the meaning of the text in its original context, some sense of what God was saying to the intended readers before it can become formational.”
I am not sure that I completely agree with Mulholland. There are certainly examples of individuals being transformed by their exposure to scripture and only then learning some of the facts and dealing with critical (as in analytical) issues. There is a transformational power in the teachings of scripture that is not dependent on analysis or contemplation. Those of us who are already believers should embrace both the informational and formational aspects of Bible study but perhaps we should provide space for the Spirit to speak to us through the Word and transform us in the way it did when we first heard the message, bringing us back to our first love. That would be refreshing.