Friday, November 20, 2009

The Art of Reading Scripture: An Introduction

When I posted last week that we'd be starting The Art of Reading Scripture by reviewing chapters 1 and two on Monday I didn't realize that there would be so much in the introduction and nine theses that I would need to write a separate post about them. However, a separate post that introduces the book would be beneficial, so we'll embark upon that now.

The first thing to note is that this book is the work of a group of contributors that extends beyond just Richard Hays and Ellen Davis. It is the work of a collection of scholars from diverse disciplines (OT, NT, systematics and historical theology) and two practicing ministers.

In the introduction, Hays and Davis lay out four very important questions to consider (pp. xiv-xv):
  1. Is the Bible authoritative for the faith and practice of the church? If so, in what way?
  2. What practices of reading offer the most appropriate approach to understanding the Bible?
  3. How does historical criticism illumine or obscure Scripture's message?
  4. How are traditional readings to brought into engagement with historical methodologies, as well as feminist, liberationist, and post-modern readings?
Hays and Davis don't think that these questions have easy answers (I am inclined to agree), in fact they state that they believe that properly reading Scripture is an art, 'a creative discipline that requires engagement and imagination' (p. xv). As they note, this is both good and bad news. Contrary to what many in the church (both conservative and liberal) may think, if Scripture reading is an art, its hard to do well, like every other art. There needs to be a recognition of the difficulty and a substantial investment of time and effort in reading Scripture. The good news is that approaching God's word this way enables us to see the potential for opening it up in a way that is compelling and beautiful (without eliminating the notion that a particular reading can be right or wrong). Since we believe God to be compelling and beautiful we should seek to display him as he really is. 'Our readings will produce such beauty precisely to the extent that they respond faithfully to the imaginative power of God, to which the Bible bears witness' (p. xvi).

It's also necessary to note that, as artists reading Scripture, we are not on our own inventing radical readings. There is a long line of stimulating faithful interpretation of and living out of the Bible in the history of the church that we should use as our aides.

As an upfront summary of their answers to those four questions, Hays and Davis propose 'Nine These on the Interpretation of Scripture.' I won't rehearse these now, even though they're extremely interesting. Instead we will go through the essays first to see what help they provide and then consider the theses at the end and see if they are helpful to answering those four, difficult questions.

What are your thoughts? Does describing reading Scripture as an art make you uncomfortable? Is it liberating? Promising? I personally like the idea, as long as it is practiced within proper limits (perhaps that is the roll of the historical-critical method). I think it will help us regain a sense of wonder at who our God is and what he, has done, is doing, and will do in the world. I am interested to see how the various contributors further this idea.

As a semi-related post script, danny has written an entertaining post at Boston Bible Geeks poking fun at a bad hermeneutical method.

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