In preparation for teaching a course here at my church on how to read the bible (“Hearing the Word: Tools for Deeper Understanding”), I’m reading Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture, by Joel B. Green, one of my teachers at Asbury Seminary and now Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ll be blogging it some in order to process it and to invite some conversation around the business of reading Scripture faithfully. I’ll begin today with the first chapter, “Reading the Bible, Reading Scripture.”
Joel begins by stating his thesis for the first chapter in the first few paragraphs (on page 2):
The case I want to make in this chapter is that the slogan that has driven critical study of the biblical materials–“Read the Bible as you would read any other book”–however helpful and well-intentioned, cannot on its own promote a reading of the Bible as Scripture.
He goes on to make this case by distinguishing between “bible” and “Scripture.” In my translation, that looks something like this.
“Bible” simply refers to the collection of historical texts of the Old and New Testaments. “Scripture,” on the other hand, refers to these texts as sacred texts in and through which the voice of God calls and forms a community called by his name. As such, the “bible” informs people but “Scripture” forms people: “To take biblical texts as Scripture has to do with the aim of Scripture, which, [David Kelsey] insists, is to ‘shape persons’ identities so decisively as to transform them'” (p. 5).
We can know the content of the bible without being formed and shaped as persons and, really, as the community of God’s people. For this, we must make a theological claim–that the Bible is Scripture. Once this claim is being practiced, we are positioning ourselves appropriately for fruitful reading of the bible, a transformative reading rather than a merely informative reading.
This is not to say that we should downplay the importance of knowing the content of the bible. Indeed biblical literacy is terribly important and much needed today. The point is that biblical literacy alone is not the answer.
Unfortunately, the modern approach to the Bible is only scientific: “For the scientific reader of the Bible… the first methodological assumption and consequence is a great divide, a chasm separating biblical and contemporary faith” (p. 13). To correct this issue, it is important to make use of helpful methodologies without this fatal “first methodological assumption.” To do this, we must prioritize formation, which is the very aim and nature of a collection of texts to whom the label “Scripture” is attached. “The first question, then, is not what separates us (language, diet, worldview, politics, social graces, and so forth) from the biblical authors, but whether we are ready to embrace the God to whom and the theological vision to which these writers bear witness” (p. 18). Developing a keen eye and ear for these differences is very important in faithfully interpreting Scripture, but it must be in the servive of the first thing: conversion to formation as God’s people.
I must wrap up for the moment, but here’s just a little more: “Christian formation [grows] out of the interrelations among our patterns of faith and thought, our allegiances and commitments, and our practices” (p. 19). More on that formation in another post (“1a”).
5 thoughts on “seized by truth 1”
This is a great post. The dominance of historical criticism has done terrible damage to the way Scripture is received and studied in the church. I got an e-mail from a confused woman the other day who was asking questions about the Pentateuch because her pastor was trying to teach JEPD in Bible study contexts. And what’s that saying about just enough knowledge to be dangerous?
One thing I would add to your post is the importance of reading the Scripture as a community of faith (rather than just individually). Individual study is important, but for the Holy Spirit to really move and help us interact with the text, we need to be reading together.
Thanks, Andrew. Your point on reading in community is key (and certainly at the forefront of Joel’s presentation in the book). At issue is both reading with others here and now in conversation with a small group for example, and with others in the Church Universal, that is, across time, geography, and culture. Since reading the bible as Scripture assumes a community being addressed by the God whose voice speaks through Scripture, we the community cannot faithfully hear the Word addressed to us unless we are participating with all of the “us” addressed by Scripture.
As for the JEDP teaching, one wishes that the pastor would get up to date in the conversation at the very least. We don’t need to perpetuate uneducated teaching on how the texts and canon came to be, but neither do we need to have theories that have since been sufficiently critiqued themselves to be shown to be inadequate (“yes” to sources, “no” to Wellhausen’s primative theory, as most scholars agree today). The other thing is that one hopes the pastor was teaching with the end of formation, as Joel urges, rather than merely information.