Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seized by Truth

I ordered Seized by Truth for consideration as a Hermeneutics textbook. Page 3 convinced me I should read it for my own sake:

"[W]hen we read the Bible we are not necessarily reading the Bible as Scripture. . . . At one level, this is the experience of many ordinary Christians who take up the Bible and read its words, then walk away unchanged, uninspired, and uncertain. This is the Word of God? What does it mean? Who can make sense of these words? . . . [I]t is no less true that the seminary-trained and the scholar share the common experience of dryness in the journey through the pages of the Bible. In fact, for those apprenticed in the ways of biblical scholarship during the last two centuries, the experience of distance between ancient text and faithful life is often even more pronounced" (3-4).

I can identify with both dryness and distance. D.A. Carson dignified the "experience of distance" by the term distanciation, claiming "it is a necessary component of all critical work"--necessary but "difficult and sometimes costly" (Exegetical Fallacies, 23). For Green it is a sign that something is wrong.

I am also guilty of teaching my Hermeneutics students an approach to Scripture that Green claims is at the root of the problem, though I am in good company. In a recent book review Don Garlington put it this way: "At this point in time, it should not have to be said aloud that the New Testament documents were not, in the first instance, addressed to us..." (review of Piper, John, The Future of Justification, page 3).

According to Green, those who regard the Bible as Scripture must read it as though it is addressed to us. As the back cover puts it, "We are not reading someone else's mail." Green recognizes that "Exploring differences is important, not least because it carries with it the capacity to protect the Bible from captivity to modern opinions and categories. However, we cannot escape the fact that no approach more clearly separates the message of the Bible from those of us who turn to it for religious insight" (12-13).

I am not (yet) convinced that the distinction is unhelpful. I think it is problematic, in one sense, to read the epistles as though they are addressed to us. I would still suggest that it is when we read 1 Corinthians over the shoulders of the Corinthians that we are able to hear the letter's address to us as Scripture. But I will keep reading. And, in any case, I do agree with this:
Whereas scientific exegesis has highlighted the historical chasm separating ancient text and contemporary readers, reading the Bible as Scripture focuses on whether we share (or refuse) the theological vision of the biblical text. . . . Center stage belongs to those practices of engaging with Scripture that embody the reader's commitment to live faithfully (or not) before the God to whom the Scriptures witness. The first question, then, is not what separates us . . . from the biblical authors, but whether we are ready to embrace the God to whom and the theological vision to which these writers bear witness. (18)
Sadly I'm afraid Green's prose will sail over the heads of my second year college students. Any recommendations for good introductory hermeneutics textbooks?


RogueMonk said...

I would think that "Reading The Bible for All Its Worth" (Fee/Stuart) is still one of the most accessible basic introductions. Perhaps you could use it, and supplement it with some reserved readings.

About the substance of your post. I think there is some real value in a well considered pneumatology as it relates to reading scripture.

Blessings, RogueMonk

d. miller said...

I tried Fee and Stuart (along with Peterson's Eat this Book) the last time I taught hermeneutics because I don't know anyone else who does genre in as much detail and as accessibly as they do, but found myself disagreeing with it in class more often than not.