In my earlier post on chapter 3 of Joel Green’s Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture, I said that I would take each of the following points concerning our reading of Scripture and dedicate a post to each of them in order to help organize the conversation a little and give each its due. Previous posts are here: One, One-A, Two, Three.
Our reading of Scripture must be…
1. Ecclesially located
2. Theologically fashioned
3. Critically engaged
So, what does Green have to say about his assertion that our reading of Scripture must be ecclesially located? “The single most important practice to cultivate is involvement in interpreting Scripture with others who share this posture of ‘standing under,’ who meet regularly to discern its meaning for faith and life and put its message into play. The best interpreters are those actively engaged in communities of biblical interpretation” (p. 66).
This perspective will continue to develop a major theme of the book stated early and often, that the aim and purpose of Scripture is formation. In the case of the Christian Bible, the point is Christian formation as disciples and as a Church. Joel offers two sub-points here.
“First, the church engaging the Bible as Scripture is itself being shaped in the form of and by Scripture, and it serves both as crucial context within and the premier instrument by which God’s people are formed as persons who embody Scripture” (p. 67). Furthering this point, Joel offers the language of “performance” with a word of clarification: “By performance I do not mean playacting, of course. ‘Performance’ assumes all of the seriousness of hearing, heeding, embodying, and giving expression to the character of God who makes himself known in Scripture” (p. 67). Think more of performing a musical masterpiece. The musical score is already written and the instrumentalists so immerse themselves in that piece of music that the perform it faithfully and passionately. Having settled that, Green speaks to his use of the phrase “the church engaging the Bible as Scripture.” Too often these days, local churches are not engaging the Bible as Scripture. They may be engaging it as an interesting book or as a kind of “owners manual” for life, but neither of these is truly a proper engagement given Scripture’s aim of Christian formation. Inconveniently, churches who claim, even in strong language, that they are conservative on the authority of Scripture are not always engaging it as Scripture.
“Second, the location of our work with the Bible as Scripture within the community of God’s people serves as a pivotal interpretive constraint” (p. 73). Green continues: “The church protects the Bible, and us, from the myopia that would press us, however unwittingly, to substitute our word for God’s” (p. 73). We usually think scientifically, which means we value an idea of detachment and objectivity as being necessary in order to arrive at “the truth.” In order to acheive objectivity, we think we must come to the subject with a posture of neutrality. Objectivity is helpful, but “objectivity is not neutrality” (p. 74). In fact, observer neutrality is just a myth. None of us arrive at any subject we study from a position of neutrality: “We cannot escape the clothing of our own experiences as we take up the task of biblical interpretation” (p. 76). So, rather than nurture the mirage of the neutral interpreter, we are in a better position to come closer to the intellectual honesty and integrity that we esteem when we improve our self-awareness and own our perspective: “It helps us come clean with our commitments and concerns” (p. 76).
Though we may still be susceptible to reading into the Bible a message that is more self-serving than God-serving, “The church historic and global is our conversation partner in the hermeneutical task. Interpreters who are manifestly ‘not like us’ can assist us in hearing those melodies in Scripture for which we would otherwise have no ear” (p. 79).