How do you read the Bible?

I’ve just started an intriguing book that Anna recommended to me: Ellen F. David and Richard B. Hays (eds), The Art of Reading Scripture (Eerdmans, 2003). The result of a series of consultations, the book attempts to address the critical issue of how we are to read the Scripture. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, how Christian’s engage with Scripture is critical to the church’s fidelity to it’s mission in the world.


From the introduction,

…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.

Of course locating the Bible in the life of the individual Christian and the life of the one holy catholic and apostolic church is also very complicated:

Is the Bible authoritative for the church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. If so, in what way? What practices of reading offer the most appropriate approach to understanding the Bible? How does historical criticism illumine or obscure Scripture’s message?…The Church’s lack of clarity about these issues has hindered its witness and mission, causing it to speak with an uncertain voice to the challenges of our time. Every where the Bible’s authority is acknowledged in principle, many of our churches seem to have lost the art of reading it attentively and imaginatively.”

I think Eugene Peterson once noted that even as we read the Bible, the Bible reads us–telling us our story and helping us to recognize our true place in the cosmos over against our self-created narratives.

In order to read the Bible well, Hays et al. offer two requirements:

That we read with imagination – God is disclosed as an imaginative being who delights in engaging with His created order in novel and imaginative way. Indeed, the grand narrative of Scripture is an imaginative masterpiece.

That we read in the company of one or more master interpreter. Like artists, we need to learn the art of reading Scripture in the company of one who has gone before and learned and given embodiment to a faithful life of engagement with Scripture.

Later this week I’ll discuss the nine theses that Hays et al. offer in order to learn to read and be read well by Scripture.

In lieu of a comments section, I accept and encourage letters to the editor. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

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