Do you remember the Etch-a-Sketch? That prehistoric, low-tech flat screen instrument you could draw on by turning two knobs and making black lines on a gray screen? Remember how you could “delete” the image by turning it upside down and shaking it vigorously? That’s similar to what we often must do with our minds in order to see something new in a familiar Scripture passage.
Jesus’ teaching method often took the form “You have heard how it was said, but I tell you…” He invited His listeners to erase a well-worn way of thinking to see something new or different. There are many reasons why sincere Christians may have an incomplete or even incorrect understanding of some well-known passages of Scripture. The passage may have become disconnected from its biblical or historical context. A reader may not be aware of his own cultural, social or theological biases that limit or channel his insights. In some cases an unquestioned dominant interpretation gets passed along like an urban legend.A reader has heard the passage so often she has reduced it to one main point and cannot see anything new.
Whatever the reasons may be, many Christians are locked in to those fixed interpretations and applications. And they don’t even realize it. In the new Fresh Eyes series from David C. Cook, I reveal fresh biblical insights in familiar passages, but even more importantly I describe 31 Fresh Eyes techniques I used — always depending on revelation from God’s Spirit — to make those discoveries, so anyone can do it too.
Many people are already familiar with a handful of Bible study techniques, like cross-referencing, using a concordance, doing word studies, checking commentaries for historical and cultural data. Think of them as coming to Scripture with a magnifying glass. Skilled use of those techniques will often result in seeing passages with fresh eyes. However, in these books I also employ and describe other reflection techniques that are not in that classic category. Some of those techniques fall into a category I call “Virtual Reality Goggles.”
The new world of virtual reality technology is more than a novelty for video gamers. It allows surgeons to practice new skills, pilots to simulate emergency scenarios, engineers to construct models of everything from skyscrapers to biochemicals, and ordinary folks like us to “walk through” our future home before the foundation is even poured. It helps us ponder what things would be like before they exist.
In the same way, there is great value in looking at Scripture through the lens of virtual reality. Isn’t that what we often do? The Bible never talks about a world with cars and television and fast-food restaurants, so we have to imagine how biblical principles and practices work in a world the Bible does not depict. Our minds create scenarios (virtual reality) and “sample” various options of how we might think and act according to biblical standards and principles under those circumstances. And when we do that (isn’t that part of what it means to meditate on God’s Word?) the Holy Spirit often meets us to shine light on a course of action we have not yet seen except in our mind’s eye.
It’s also helpful to imagine different scenarios within the biblical text itself. What if you had been in the boat when Jesus invited His disciples to walk on the water? Would Jesus have been able to feed the multitude if the young boy had brought Jesus only three loaves and one fish? Although the rich young ruler went away sad after Jesus’ command to sell everything and give to the poor, does that mean he never did it? Jesus told Peter and the disciples to forgive people’s offenses 77 times. Is forgiving the third time easier or harder than forgiving the thirtieth time? All of these require speculation of course, and you mustn’t turn speculation into fact. But the Lord often uses our musings as we think beyond the text, stay within the boundaries of biblical truth, and listen for His voice.
The point is we all need fresh eyes on God’s Word. It is living and powerful, but often our enthusiasm fades, because we don’t get anything new out of it. That’s what the Fresh Eyes series offers: something new. Designed for personal study or small group interaction, each chapter leaves readers excited, “I never saw this passage that way before!” But even better, these study and reflection techniques help readers make Spirit-assisted discoveries on their own. When that happens, the lessons are indelible. Not at all like the grainy gray lines on an Etch-a-Sketch.
Doug Newton is the co-founder and director of the National Prayer Ministry of the Free Methodist Church – USA. The author of 12 books, he served for 30 years as a senior pastor and for 15 years as editor of Light + Life magazine. Newton and his wife, Margie, live in Greenville, Illinois.1