A third approach that should be considered is one used formally by some smaller denominational and independent assemblies, as well as by many believers in private study (again let us remember that we are not addressing casual devotional reading here). I have termed this enhanced bible reading, though it does not have a name per se, and those who practice it would definitely shun a label.
What is involved here is bible study encompassing simple group or individual bible reading, with sharing of insights as moved by the Spirit. There is little or no deductive or inductive methodology. The Scripture is read and interpreted directly with no intermediate hermeneutic process. That is, instead of the usual exegesis -> theological formulation -> interpretive/application paradigm, the reading of the text here leads to immediate interpretation in the present. Past to present is a direct jump. This presumes that direct interpretation can be drawn directly from the text, irrespective of the translation (though in most cases the translation used would likely be KJV or NKJV) or any historical-grammatical considerations.
The underlying assumption is that interpretation and application are Spirit driven and revelatory in nature. As such, though the reader does the interpretation, it is assumed that the Spirit is driving it. With a group, the work of the Spirit is the combined revelation of the group through the reading and sharing process. Additionally, in some cases the use of commentaries and such occurs to add additional information after the fact, but this is minimal and not consistent.
With, as previously discussed, a growing church dependence upon a new ministerium of Pastors (which is historically why this reading methodology emerged in the later 19th century) on one side, and with today’s emerging church and its pursuit of experiential faith on the other side, there would seem to be much to recommend this more fundamental and faith driven approach. I would agree, especially since I consider the work of the Spirit to be largely undervalued today.
Having said that, however, there are problems that can not be overlooked.
Though I think that in other methodologies the essential and overarching work of the Spirit is often either overlooked or underplayed, to assume that no other assistance or work on the part of the reader is needed to divide the Word correctly is fraught with danger. In the case of the basic Gospel the perspicuity of Scripture is unquestionable, but much other important material does not easily or automatically make the transition from the Scriptural writer’s pen to our modern linguistic and conceptual understanding unaided. To assume that revelation alone will bridge that divide, without additional effort or assistance, is a recipe for error or even heresy. The Scriptures are both infallible and inerrant in their autographa. However as active readers of translations we are most certainly not. Further, it must be born in mind that nearly all historical heresies were the result of unintentional error based upon Scripture.
It would seem that plain reading has value but only within limits. It is unable to facilitate correctly dividing the Word on a consistent basis. But more significantly, it brings the danger of miss-reading and miss-interpretation without the safeguards of methodical study, even when the accountability of group work is factored in. This can lead to inappropriate doctrine and inaccurate theology over time.
I must stress that this is not a blanket condemnation of this approach. It is more of a caveat. Enhanced reading in a devotional setting is greatly encouraging and opens a necessary venue for the acknowledgment of the Spirit, something that is glaringly missing in many assemblies.
That said, can this method be modified to yield a better probably outcome?
I would suggest that it can. Collaborative enhanced reading combined with some of the tools of inductive study, such as a good background/cultural commentary and a guide to literary genre, might yield the best of both methods. This could honour the plain meaning and revelatory nature of the text while providing support for the differences imposed by centuries of time.
I have found that though the formal inductive methods seems to have much to offer, the techniques can be excessive, somewhat unworkable and seemingly stifling to personal revelation. Though many do not find it so, this has proven to be a common comment. The result for many is that it is not used consistently, and an unused method is no method.
Within this in mind, enhanced reading combined with limited inductive support tools, may offer an effective combination. In fact, I have just recently discovered that some seminary classes now even present some form of this combination under the title of inductive study. For our purposes, though, I will call it Supported Enhanced Reading.