On Teaching Scripture

I was recently having a conversation about this issue and hope that this might spur some dialogue.

I think that the teaching of scripture is about the formation of disciplines in the listening audience. It’s teaching them to think in and with the narrative that scripture presents to us. Teaching scripture is less about looking at the text and more about looking with the text at the One it witnesses to.

Theology is at the heart of our preaching whether practical or speculative, whether historical or spiritual, it’s the content of our message that will determine what values are being formed in the congregations we are teachers for. Theology has a very practical voice, as theologians and teachers our imaginative challenge is to understand the text’s voice in such a way that it speaks not to a reality out there, as to the realty we participate in here and now through the revelation of the cross and our call to take up crosses and die as a peaceful community bearing the marks of Christ in our bodies.

Now, while I agree that putting the bible into the hands of individuals is a danger if there is no central visible authority, including the creeds and the sacraments, i think that this can be a somewhat productive exercise if it leads to communal dialogue and poring over the witness together. The scriptures challenge us to wrestle with them, and to know them we must face the challenge that is this haunting book, we must walk away from it, both with smiles and with tears, with rejoicing and great sorrow. Our knowledge of scripture is not and never a mastery of a text, it is a humble reception, a yeilding, and a self-disclosure, as we open ourselves to this story, we will find it opening itself up to our interpretation. This witness shows us a world that is often broken, unjust and painful, we have to be able to recognize it for what it says and live in the haunting world of the text. This text shows us humanity as a broken object. Yet, it teaches us that despite our ideas about the world we find ourselves in, we know the character of God and His faithfulness, and that in itself challenges us to live a different life.

Teaching the scriptures is not atheological, as many of our contemporary low churches would have us assume. Nor is it all theological in a sense that we turn the church into a class of elite super-nerds bashing each other with the text. The first message of this text, the primary message is the crucified God who has shown us that He is for us, who has suffered that we might know the faithfulness of this God. It is not the pastoral task to innovate fresh revelation as has been assumed by some charismatic and third-wave circles. Our task is to understand that what has been given to us is the fresh revelation, and we must look with the text to understand the one it witnesses to. The text speaks in ways that challenge our imaginations to conform to an ever increasing consciousness of a world outside ourselves, a time outside our nations, and a history initiated at creation which culminates in new creation.

The way to live and do theology is prayer. Theology is liturgical at heart and it should seek to create liturgies public and personal for Christian living. Theology is not a set of rational philosophical tenets with no corresponding voice in the world we find ourselves in. Our theological preaching is a dialogue with the Crucified God, and it forms the worldview we live in, as a backdrop, that sets all things within itself. All Christian action, all human action is theological, we must merely ask ourselves which gods and powers we are serving with our preaching and with our lives. The speaker of the message will determine the way its content is read and received, our best task to show the world that Christianity matters is to be that community so shaped by this text in love that we come to trust one another, speak truthfully together, and share the common discipline of following a path alternative to the one the cultures of the world would ask us to follow.

As a charismatic, i would challenge the contemporary “prophets” to remember that the prophetic task is not soothsaying, divination or even a “word from the Lord”, the prophetic task is reading this text rightly, that we might nourish and evoke a consciousness that is alternative to the one the world has to offer. The pastoral task is not to show people they can be more blessed and baptize their greed in Christian language, nor is it to Lord power over them. Our task is to serve them by wrestling with the text, and come along side them, calling them into encounter with the magnificent beauty that is The Lord God of the Cross. Our task is to call them to look with scripture at the world that God has changed and to see it accordingly, to imagine our world, with converted imaginations. Teaching scripture is about knowing the fresh revelation, the self-interpreting word of God which is Jesus Himself and the undeniable glory of his sufferings. The fathomless beauty, the yawning abyss of divine love, which can only open itself wider and wider, to bear all things. Our task is to point to this, and let it shape the way we think, teach, preach and live.

“There can be and should be no non-theologians in the body of Christ.”

-Karl Barth.

A great book expressing this very thing is Stanley Hauerwas’ book A Cross Shattered Church

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4 thoughts on “On Teaching Scripture

  1. That was good Eli. They key is to read that with action in mind. we’ve been talking, in a couple of classes, how americans have the bad habit of thinking something is a good idea and not ever doing it. I’m especially speaking of myself. I pray the Lord helps us all to have strength to line up our actions, words, thoughts, and life with His word, and to help others do the same. Thanks for sharing.

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