Friday, August 1, 2014

The Art of Reading Scripture

The Art of Reading Scripture edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. 334 pages. ISBN 0802812694

In the introduction, Davis and Hays note, "The difficulty of intepreting the Bible is felt not only in secular culture but also in the church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Is the Bible authoritative for the faith and practice of the church? If so, in what way? What practices of reading offer the most appropriate approach to understanding the Bible? How does historical criticism illumine or obscure Scripture's message? How are traditional readings to be brought into engagement with historical methodologies, as well as feminist, liberationist, and postmodern readings? The church's lack of clarity about these issues has hindered its witness and mission, causing it to speak with an uncertain voice to the challenge of our time. Even where the Bible's authority is acknowledged in principle, many of our churches seem to have lost the art of reading it attentively and imaginatively" (xiv-xv).

These questions led the Center of Theological Inquiry (Princeton, New Jersey) to assemble fifteen scholars and pastors to meet "periodically over four years" to study these questions. They name this conversation "the Scripture Project." The project came up with nine principles of interpretation of Scripture. These nine "Theses" is described at the beginning of the book. Each of the essays address some or all of these principles. Here they are:

1. Scripture truthfully tells the story of God's action of creating, judging, and saving the world.

2. Scripture is rightly understood in the light of the church's rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.

3. Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New.

4. Texts of Scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that Scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.

5. The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.

6. Faithful interpretation of Scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God's redemptive action--the church.

7. The saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret and perform Scripture.

8. Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.

9. We live in the tension between the "already" and the "not yet" of the kingdom of God; consequently, Scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh rereadings of the text in light of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work in the world.

This volume gathered some of the best biblical interpreters of our day. The group includes Gary A. Anderson, University of Notre Dame; Richard Bauckham, University of St. Andrews; Brian E. Daley, University of Notre Dame; Ellen F. Davis, Duke Divinity School; Richard B. Hays, Duke Divinity School; James C. Howell, Methodist Pastor; Robert W. Jenson, Center of Theological Inquiry; William Stacy Johnson, Princeton Theological Seminary; L. Gregory Jones, Duke Divinity School; Christine McSpadden, Episcopal Priest; R. W. L. Moberly, University of Durham; David C. Steinmetz, Duke Divinity School; and Marianne Meye Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary. These authors do not all agree with each other. However, they are unified by the Scripture Project and the Christian faith. They provide many different perspectives that will enlighten the reader. It is like going to a feast with many different dishes. I felt my faith challenged and engaged by these essays.

The book includes four parts: reading and teaching the Scriptures; "A Living Tradition;" "Reading Difficult Texts;" and "Selected Sermons." Some of the themes of the essays: teaching the Bible confessionally; the authority of the Scripture for the church; reading the Scriptures as a "cohereent story;" Patristic exegesis; model interpreters; Scripture reading and postmodernism; "embodying Scripture in the community of faith, and others.

There are many positives to this volume. I like the emphasis of reading the Scriptures in the context of the church. The authors accept the work of historical criticism but they want to go beyond it. They believe the scriptures is the book of the church. It is to be interpreted by the church. In addition, I like the emphasis on the multiple senses of the Scriptures. Readers will learn much here that can enhance their reading and teaching of Scripture.

One might think that because of the scholarly nature of the book that it is written for scholars. It is definitely not. I found the essays quite readable and enjoyable. I think the general adult reader should not have a problem of reading these essays. I especially like how these writers interpret the hard tasks of scripture like the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. There is much wisdom here in helping us to be better interpreters of Scripture. It was also helpful to see how Jewish scholars can help us interpret the Old Testament and make even the New Testament come alive. I might not agree with everything in this volume, but I agree with a lot of it. I found myself haven a deeper appreciation of Scripture from reading ths volume.

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