Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Tim Conder & Daniel Rhodes's new book, Free for All: Rediscovering the Bible in Community, (Baker Books, 2009).

There can be a limit to how much you can gain from reading and interpreting the Bible on your own. But when you do so in community with people, you might discover much more within the pages of God's Word.

Here's how the Holy Spirit can help you can interpret the Bible as part of a community of believers:  

Look through new lenses.  The various "interpretive lenses" (biases) that each person has shape the way they interpret the Bible.  Be aware of your own biases that lead you to emphasize certain conclusions and assertions, while discounting or ignoring other possibilities.  Some of these may include the lenses of: 

  • "Systemic theology" (your organized system of belief) which may lead you to try to fit Scripture into your existing beliefs rather than letting Scripture shape your beliefs), 
  • "Science and the scientific method," which may lead you to try to force all Scripture to fit the criteria of scientific facts and rejecting that which goes beyond that into the realm of faith
  • "Rights and causes," which may lead you to read Scripture to affirm and ordain your way of life and the causes you stand for - making God all about what you want, without noticing His call to you to change, 
  • "Success and growth," which may lead you to assume that your faith should lead to greater wealth and push you to manipulate Scripture to justify a materialistic lifestyle, 
  • "Nationalism and sentimentality," which may lead you to trivialize Scripture's scope by reducing its cosmic and transcendent message to one that supports national ideas (such as: "America is God's favored nation") or sentimental concepts (such as "People used to fear God in the good old days"), 
  • "Moralism and heroism," which may lead you to reduce Scripture to simply a collection of moral principles and heroic characters rather than noticing God's redemptive work in the midst of great human failure, and 
  • "Tribal loyalty," which may lead you to place limits on Scripture to try to make it align only with your particular church denomination's perspective 

When you read and discuss the Bible within a community of other people, you can break out of your biases and look through new lenses at Scripture's meaning.

Let the words come off the page and shape your life.  Keep in mind that God's Word is alive and dynamic, not dead and stagnant.  It has the power to change you as you read, discuss, interpret, and apply it with others.  Approach the Bible as canon by remembering that its stories don't fit neatly together and therefore must be studied well.  Respect its catholicity by remembering that many generations of people have read and interpreted it throughout history, and your culture and context differs from theirs.  Learn how to practice and embody Scripture's messages in your own community well.

Pursue reconciliation with others.  You need to reconcile relationships with other people in your community so you all can be free to interpret the Bible together well.  Be willing to forgive and serve each other while relying on God's love working through you daily.  Then you won't have unnecessary barriers standing in the way of discovering Scripture's meaning together.

Let Scripture take on a voice of its own as you listen together.  Discussing what meanings of you hears in Scripture as you listen to it in community helps expand and deepen your interpretation.  The Bible passage can become a prayer for all of you, connecting you with each other and God.