Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reading the Bible through many eyes

When we read the Holy Scriptures through our own eyes only, we see only part of what God wants to reveal to us.

But when we read the Scriptures with others, through many eyes, then we more fully see what God wants to show us about Himself, ourselves, our relationships, and the world beyond our doors.

The theme of this year's Trinity Institute at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, which I recently attended, was "Reading Scripture through Many Eyes."

This year's lectures and discussions were illuminating. Two lectures in particular were helpful in broadening my understanding of reading and interpreting the Bible.

In the first lecture of the institute, Dr. Walter Bruggemann, a retired professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Columbia Seminary, traced the history of biblical interpretation over the centuries.

He started with the literalist reading and interpreting of the Bible and then moved on to the historical/critical method of the 19th and 20th centuries and concluded with a call for what he described as a post-critical reading and interpretation for today.

This post-critical method employs the best of its predecessors--the spiritual devotion often found among the literalists, the questioning rationalism of the modernists--and unites it with even more perspectives: psychology, sociology, trauma and gender studies, political theory, and more.

In a more rounded, even global view, readers more fully see the living Word of God amid the words of these sacred texts.

During the last lecture of the institute, Dr. Gerald West, a Biblical scholar from South Africa, looked at ways to involve church people in a deep and thorough process of Scripture reading and reflecting.

This approach sounded a lot like the African Bible study method or the Liberation Theology approach of reading and responding to the Bible in Base Communities.

West urged readers to gather around the Scriptures, to respond to the Word through our many and diverse experiences, and then to share with one another what we hear God saying to us--what God is calling us to be and to do, in African Bible study language.

"The Bible," West said, "belongs to the whole community." He urged readers of the Scriptures to listen not just to one another, but also to "people on the margins," including the poor, the homeless, the sick--whoever the marginalized are.

From church history, I know that when the church has been its most vital, it is because it has reconnected with its ancient roots in the Holy Scriptures. Out of that encounter with the living Word, Christians have renewed, even revolutionized the church and society.

Look what happened during the Protestant Reformation. Remember what inspired the Abolitionist Movement in Britian and in this country during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, what if we church people started reading the Bible together, inviting everyone to participate, including the marginalized? Reading the Bible through many eyes, we might get a fuller picture of the living God and His relationship to us and to the world.

We might even say, "We're reading the Bible. Watch out church and world. Change is coming."

1 comment:

  1. This has really got my brain working. I usually read scripture hoping to find that one idea God wants me to get on that day. I've done this from different perspectives, but with that general purpose - to discern a message. Now I'm wondering if perhaps instead of always trying to zero in on what God is trying to say, maybe I should think of it like drawing the curtain back and trying to see all that God is.

    Hmmm... I'll have to think on this.


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