Formational vs. Informational Bible Reading

I just finished reading Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (a book I highly recommend), and I want to share some very helpful insights he shares in chapter 20, “Abiding in Jesus,” about reading the Bible in a life-changing way.

image1He says, “One of the most common disciplines that shapes our lives according to the Jesus Creed [Loving God & Loving people] is to spend regular time in the presence of Jesus by reading the Bible and listening to his teachings.”[1]

McKnight references M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.’s book Shaped by the Word [2]. “He calls attention to the distinction between ‘informational’ and ‘formational’ reading of the Bible. The difference has to do with how we read the Bible and why we read the Bible. Either we read the Bible informally (to learn more) or we read the Bible formationally (to be changed).”[3]

Here are some comparisons between informational and formational reading of the Bible.

In Informational reading we: In Formational reading we:
Cover as much as possible Cover what we need to
Read line after line Read for depth, perhaps only a word
Have a goal of mastering the text Have a goal of being mastered by the text
Treat the text as an “object” Treat ourselves as the object of the text
Read analytically Read receptively
Solve problems Are open to mystery

[4]

512uotQXkRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As a former undergraduate religious studies major and current seminary student, I have been (as McKnight suggests) trained as an “informational” reader. I recognize the importance of reading the Bible informally, But I am convicted that we should primarily read the Bible formationally.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

McKnight also adds, “Those who are devoted to the formational…attend to Jesus because when they read the Bible they both learn and listen.”[5]

God is not a subject we study. He is someone we love.

You can receive more Scot McKnight resources at his blog, The Jesus Creed.


[1] Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004), 195.

[2] M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., Shaped by the Word (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1985).

[3] McKnight, The Jesus Creed, 195.

[4] Ibid., 195-196.

[5] Ibid., 196.