Kirk and Dan continue their work on how to find a Biblical book’s overall message by looking to the book of Philippians as a test case.
Kirk and Dan are gearing up to do a short series on Ecclesiastes. But before they do, they wanted to take a step back and ask, “What’s the benefit of getting a Biblical book’s big picture?” and “How do we do that?”
(This episode and the following will serve as an initial contribution to what will become an ongoing collection of episodes on How to Read the Bible.)
Fantastic book. Pennington not only serves up good, thoughtful, precise, and insightful scholarship and guidance on reading the Gospels well, but he does so in an incredibly engaging, enjoyable, and understandable manner. I highly recommend this book for any serious student and/or teacher of the Bible wanting to increase his or her reading of, not only the gospels, but all Biblical narrative.
The following quotes and excerpts are taken from chapters 7 and 8 of Pennington, Jonathan T. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012 (emphasis mine).
[T]he most important and determinative aspect of reading Holy Scripture well is not our method or theory but our posture and our goal.
… [T]he most important avenue for reading Holy Scripture involves practicing a posture, or habitus, of reception to the divine Word. Our goal in reading Scripture is not merely to understand what God is saying (via helpful exegetical tools) but to stand under his Word.
… Unfortunately the scientific methods that we have developed in recent centuries tend to ‘objectify the text—that is, they turn the biblical materials into an object to be examined.’ [Joel Green] Rather than emphasizing a separation and distance between us and the texts of Scripture—a distance that can be transcended only by an elaborate set of exegetical tools—we must come to see that the biggest difference is our lack of knowing and loving God; the real divide is between us and God in the text.
… I am not suggesting, however, an either/or choice (rarely is this helpful) between a humble, faithful, open reading and a skilled, rigorous, exegetical reading. Both are to be sought in full. But the priority is the posture. A person who is deficient in skills—and who is not?—but seeks to read with an openness to learn from the otherness of the text (and the God behind it) can be a better reader than a methodologically skilled exegete who reads without a posture and disposition of humble teachability, the greatest of the intellectual virtues. … Our disposition and our willingness to learn from the otherness of the text are the necessary starting point to progress in understanding.
… We as trained exegetes and theologians can and should also have this posture, but honest self-reflection reveals that for most of us, our learning often creates layers of distance between us and hearing the Bible as God’s Word to us. Although it was obtained for the supposed goal of bridging the gap between us and the biblical text, our training in fact often creates in our hearts and minds an elaborate structure of paper walls and divisions that create a maze of distance between us and Scripture. … to read Scripture is to seek to hear and obey God now in very practical ways. Anything less is not reading Holy Scripture according to its purpose.
… And herein lies a beautiful balance worth pursuing: developing skills as readers (whether professional or lay) while also keeping the true goal always in sight—hearing, reading, and applying the Holy Scriptures to our lives. This is understanding. This is wisdom. … Good exegetical skills, reading for the authorial/Authorial intent, are important guidelines for our reading now and in the future, and thus they should be learned and taught to others. But we must never mistake these means for the real end—developing a posture and practice of love for God and neighbor. … [T]he skills that we should develop in our reading must all be subsumed under the greater issue of our posture and goal in reading Scripture.
… [T]he single most determinative and essential element of reading Holy Scripture well is having a proper posture toward God. To read Scripture as God’s Word requires that we approach the Triune God with humility and with a willingness to be read by the text, to stand under it, not simply to seek to understand it.
… [Timothy] Ward rightly states that “the most appropriate question to ask ourselves when we open Scripture to read it is: What is God wanting to do to me, and in me, through the words I am reading?” He notes that this does not mean that the text means simply whatever it means to me, because Scripture is God’s speech acts. Therefore, the semantic content is important. However, interpretation of this content is not an end in itself. “Reading the Bible is not fundamentally a comprehension exercise. Interpretation should serve only to lead us to an encounter with God as he actually presents himself to us in Scripture.” If our reading of Scripture stops at the comprehension stage, we have “made the mistake of exalting Scripture’s content over its purpose. It has ripped apart in Scripture two things that ought not to be ripped apart. Therefore we must also ask: And what, in this part of Scripture, is the Lord wanting to do with that teaching, to me and in me?”
Preface: I’ve recently inherited and am now assigned to lead a small group at my church assembled around the topic, “Christ in Culture.” The nature of this group, among other things, involves coming together to discuss and think through hot button social issues to ask, “How should we as Christians engage these things? What can / should we do?”
I plan on beginning this year’s small group by taking time to have us evaluate our “grids” — the assumptions and paradigms we use when considering these topics. Towards that end, I’ve quickly composed a list of questions that I believe get us to those “foundations.”
I thought I’d share here as well. (Feel free to comment with any suggestions, additional ideas, etc.)
Revelation – What “sources” do we use to think about these things (e.g., scripture, but also — experience, anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, political science, etc.)? And what are the interplay among these things? In other words, theologians often distinguish between special or supernatural revelation (e.g., Bible) and general or natural revelation (i.e., other sources of truth). What sources should we use? And how do they relate? What happens if they seem to conflict? Do we give precedence to any? Do we ignore everything but scripture? If we use sources outside of the Bible, does this imply a rejection of our belief in the sufficiency of scripture? What does it mean for Scripture to be “sufficient”? When using scripture in these discussions, how do we move from scripture to these contemporary issues? In other words, how are we to “apply” scripture to these issues?
Mission – What is the mission of the church? Is it our responsibility to engage in these things, or are these simply “worldly” affairs? Are they distractions from evangelism? When these issues get political, how does the church intersect with government and/or participate in politics? Are these things we should address as a whole church, or just on an individual level — as persons who make up the church?
Gospel – What is the relationship of the gospel to these things? (1) Often times people speak of these things as “gospel issues.” But what does that mean? Are they implications? Entailments? Or the essence (“heart and center”) of the gospel? (2) What is the role of conversion and regeneration in seeing “social justice” come to fruition? Does/can true justice happen outside of people being converted/saved? And if not, what can we accomplish in society among those who are not saved, and is it still worth pursuing?
Cultural mandate – Genesis 1:28 gives us what has been called “the cultural mandate” (“Be fruitful… multiply… have dominion”). (1) How does this mandate impact our responsibility to engage culture? (2) How does this affect our view of culture? Is it all good? All bad? Somewhere in between? How so?
Image of God (Imago Dei) – The doctrine that we are all made in God’s image would seem to have a significant impact on how we should approach these things. (1) That humanity is the image of God grants each person irrevocable dignity. How does that affect our social engagement, particularly with regards to how humans are to be treated? (2) Creation in the image of God would also seem to imply that humans, whether they believe in God or not, have an inescapable sense of God — we were made to know him — and therefore retain “glimpses” of truth and righteousness in their affairs. How does this affect the way we partner with them in these areas? Our expectations for them?
Sin; depravity (hamartiology) – At the same time, the Bible teaches us that outside of Christ, humanity is wretchedly sinful. (1) Theologians have historically spoken of the “noetic” effects of sin — sin affects our ability to think and believe rightly about God and his world. For example, in Romans 1, Paul says that sinners “suppress the truth.” How might this reality affect our expectations about engaging and partnering with non-believers? (2) How does the doctrine of sin impact of expectations about culture (e.g., it’s goodness/badness)? (3) How might the doctrine of sin affect our pessimism regarding human nature, and the need for certain regulations (“checks and balances”) — whether in government or business (market)?
End times (eschatology) – How does our view of the end times affect our social engagement? Are we generally optimistic or pessimistic about what change we can bring? Can we bring about God’s kingdom here on this earth? And, if so, how, or in what sense?
Compassion & justice – Often times debates among Christians clash on the juxtaposition and tension between principles of justice and compassion. How do we promote policies that are both just and compassionate? And what do we do when the two appear to be in tension? Do we prioritize one over the other?
Government – (1) From a Christian perspective, what is the role of government (see Romans 13)? In other words, what is government supposed to do? (2) Should we engage in politics, or withdraw? (3) If we engage, should we attempt to legislate our morality? If not, then how do we determine what to legislate? If there is no such thing as moral-less, value-less, legislation, then what values do (should) we use? In other words, if we desire “righteous” (socially just) legislation in our government, from where are we getting our standard of justice, if not the Bible?