N.T. Wright on ‘The Whole Sweep of Scripture’

“Until we wrestle with Scripture like that we are not really honoring it. If this is the book God meant us to have by the Spirit, then it is important we actually take that seriously instead of just snipping it down to make it digestible; like somebody with a huge banquet in front of them who insists on going to the back room and just making a peanut butter sandwich instead.” N.T. Wright

Below is a really great video from ‘The Work of the People’ with N.T. Wright on how to read the Bible. In it he touches on a problem that I take to be rather rampant in North American Christianity – that of picking and choosing verses here and there to the neglect of the whole story.

The holes in North American hermeneutics are revealed in the pursuit of agendas (whether consciously or unconsciously) of making the Bible merely into a source of raw data and proof texts for personal systematic theologies and apologetics (like the HCSB Apologetics Study Bible), a ‘life application’ instruction book (a la the Life Application Study Bible), or a self-help manual (have you seen the Joel Osteen Hope for Today or Joyce Meyer Everyday Life Bibles?). [Yes, I realize I probably just picked on some people’s favorite ‘study helps’ in this paragraph.]

Americans love control and I personally believe these (again, whether consciously or unconsciously) are ways that Scripture is held a bay and at a safe distance … one verse at a time.

Instead Wright encourages us to get swept up in the ‘whole sweep of Scripture’ and compares reading the Bible to listening to a symphony. One of the points of course is that one doesn’t merely listen to a symphony ‘one note at a time’ – one necessarily listens to and experiences the whole thing. To do otherwise simply doesn’t make sense and is to miss the point of the symphony itself. And it also occurs to me that the thought of a ‘note of the day’ devotional is rather odd; its inconceivable that one would think they can get swept up in the symphony in this way. Yet ‘verse of the day’ devotionals seem to be the steady diet of a great many North American Christians.  Are we settling for peanut butter sandwiches when there is a banquet available?

I say let’s put away the daily verse approach and really ‘press our noses against the window’ of Scripture.

The Whole Sweep Of Scripture from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Exegesis as an Act of Love

Some rough thoughts on exegesis and hermeneutical patience…

“Exegesis is the farthest thing from pedantry; exegesis is an act of love.” Eugene Peterson

It seems to me the common appeal to biblical ‘principles’ for whatever issue (ie, ‘biblical’: womanhood, manhood, politics, diet, leadership, business, etc) tends to not only cut the heart out of the gospel as the narrative or story of Jesus (not easily reducible to principles, bullet points, or spiritual ‘laws’) but also position us (even if unwittingly) as raiders of the text as we search for ways to ‘apply’ the Bible to our lives. This is exegesis as an act of power.

Unfortunately, the bulk of Bible study resources/curriculum, the latest book by celebrity mega-church pastors, and ‘Christian Living’ resources merely perpetuate this reality. A steady diet of these resources shape those who use them (individuals AND churches) in both ‘thin’ (co-dependent, co-opted, consumer, individualist, therapeutic) ecclesiologies and dreadfully poor hermeneutical habits.

Let us recover exegesis/hermeneutics as an act of love.

Eugene Peterson says, “[Exegesis] is loving the one enough who speaks the words to get the words right. It is respecting the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right. Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says. God has provided us with these scriptures that present us with his Word. Loving God means loving both what God speaks to us and the way God speaks to us. … Lovers savor the words, relishing every nuance of what is said and written.”

We need to form communities (ie, ekklesia) gathered in conversation with one another around the written word under the cruciform authority of the Living Word and who are willing to slowly listen, and to listen well, to the Spirit speaking in the Biblical text. We need to be willing to be trained/formed in hermeneutical patience.

Hermeneutical/exegetical patience is an act of (triune) love…