I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.
I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.
You can find the previous posts here.
8. How Do I Read the Bible?
The bible should not be treated as a talisman as though it will yield any answer to any question we might ask.
Scripture does not ask us to treat it as a magical object. It does not call for our passive reverence; scripture expects our engagement. With that mind, I offer some guidelines for you to consider when reading a given text:
1. Scripture should be interpreted in light of its historical and cultural context.
This is where an annotated, academic bible can transform your reading of scripture. Knowing the original context of a given passage not only can open up that text to new and fresh hearings it can also prevent uninformed, personal interpretations that are wide off the mark of the text’s original intent.
2. Scripture should not be bound by its original context either.
If, as we believe, God’s Spirit can use the testimony of the past to speak a fresh Word to us, then knowing the original context can help us sort out right and wrong interpretations but it does not limit our interpretations. That is, what Paul said is not necessarily what Paul says to us to day.
3. Scripture should be read theocentrically, with God at the center as its primary protagonist.
Maybe this strikes you as obvious, but in our culture today many Christians value scripture only for its utility, for what it says to me. Scripture should necessarily have implications for our lives so long as we realize that it’s not first of all a story about us. The parable of the prodigal son, for example, is primarily an illustration of God’s character; it’s not first an illustration of us. ‘What does this passage say about God?’ is a question that should always precede ‘What does this passage speak to me?’
4. Scripture should be read corporately.
The bible is the story of God’s engagement with God’s chosen People, Israel and the Church. The bible is testimony about God for the community of God; therefore, you can’t truly read the bible rightly apart from God’s People. Reading scripture with others, on Sunday morning or in small groups, is the best way to hear clearly what the Spirit says today to us. Jews and Christians read in company with others, adapting and even submitting our understandings to the understandings of our fellow saints, living and dead.
5. Scripture should be read in light of one’s own context.
This is both a caution and a command. Realize that what you see or hear is determined by where you stand. A poor Mayan woman in Guatemala who’s suffered exploitation and war will hear the Magnificat differently from a white, upper class woman in the United States. Very often the Word both these women will hear will be a true Word for their context.
‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path…’ – Psalm 119
9. What Plot Does the Bible Narrate?
The worst thing someone can try to do is read the bible from beginning to end. Rather, each and any piece of scripture should be approached with an eye to the whole and how it fits.
There is a thematic, and theological, unity to scripture.
Scripture is not unlike a symphony in which there is a dominant theme returned to again and again but within the larger piece there are any number of variations.
The same is true of scripture. There is within all the stories a dominant theme:
The creation God declared ‘good’ is distorted by Sin. God is determined to get what God wanted in the very beginning. God calls Israel so that through their friendship and witness God’s creation might be redeemed. This is what the Old Testament is about.
Then, in the New, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ to be the 2nd Adam, the New Abraham, for us, and until God brings forth the New Heaven and the New Earth he calls the believing community to embody in every aspect of their lives the life that is made flesh in Jesus Christ, a life which Easter and Pentecost make possible for us.
‘And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[ bear the image of the heavenly man.’
– 1 Corinthians 15.40