I've recently been reading a book called "The Art of Reading Scripture," which is a collection of essays about, you guessed it, how to read Scripture. As I read the first chapter, I remembered a story (maybe true) about how a young Billy Graham visited the famous theologian Karl Barth on Barth's deathbed in Germany. Barth thanked Graham for his visit and indicated that he had heard the young preacher on the radio the day before. "You really mastered the text," he said to Graham. A flattered Graham responded, "Thank you, sir," to which Barth replied, "No. I had hoped you would let the text master you." I confess that allowing myself to be mastered by the text is a hard thing for me to know how to do. But I'm grateful for those moments when it happens. In that spirit, here are a few highlights from my reading on how to read Scripture.
Peace to you.
From The Art of Reading Scripture, ed. Ellen Davis:
A cartoon in the New Yorker shows a man making inquiry at the information counter of a large bookstore. The clerk, tapping on his keyboard and peering intently into the computer screen, replies, "The Bible?...That would be under self-help."
As the cartoon suggests, in postmodern culture the Bible has no definite place, and citizens in a pluralistic, secular culture have trouble knowing what to make of it. If they pay any attention to it at all, they treat it as a consumer product, one more therapeutic option for rootless selves engaged in an endless quest of self-invention and self-improvement. Not surprisingly, this approach does not yield a very satisfactory reading of the Bible, for the Bible is not, in fact, about 'self-help'; it is about God's action to rescue a lost and broken world.
The Bible confronts us with facts that are peculiar in this way: the better we understand them, the more we wonder about them. So teaching the Bible confessionally means enabling people to wonder wisely and deeply. Wondering is the business of scholars and preachers, just as it is of Sunday school children.
Whenever we pick up the Bible, read it, put it down, and say, "That's just what I thought," we are probably in trouble. The technical term for that kind of reading is "proof-texting." Using the text to confirm our presuppositions is sinful; it is an act of resistance against God's fresh speaking to us, an effective denial that the Bible is the word of the living God. The only alternative to proof-texting is reading with a view of what the New Testament calls metanoia, "repentance" -- literally, "change of mind."
We have been saved through grace -- this is often the first affirmation we make as Christians awakening to the wonder of the life we share in God. But if the fruits of salvation are to be evidenced in the world, then the affirmation of salvation needs to be followed by the question, What form of obedience does Christian discipleship now require?