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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, January 26, 2004

Careful what you ask for...

Tripp asks for more specifics about my last Ethics class posting. In light of my more formal musings, how do I interpret scripture, personally?

Good question, bro, and not one for a single sentence answer.

First, I start by reading it. That sounds elementary, but I'm surprised at the folks I come across who don't, much. Often people hear a preacher, or teacher or writer, and take what they say as the Gospel, without looking it up on their own. (Incidentally, that's part of why I take the preaching ministry so seriously; for some people, that's their primary, if not first and/or only, exposure to the text. What I say, and what they hear, has a direct bearing on how they will accept the Word, or not. Let me note, in this digression, that I am under no illusions that I am responsible for another's salvation; but I do want to avoid getting in the way, if I can).

So, I begin by reading. For me, that is almost never simply looking at a selected verse or passage. That also includes prayer, and reading what comes before and after, and any footnotes that may be attached, and references to other places in the Bible that influence the words in front of me. I try to get a sense of what's going on: who's speaking, who was the original audience, and what was going on that might have influenced the exchange?

Then I do listen to other voices: Sunday morning preaching, bible study, and devotional reading are part of the arsenal. I've never been in a group study where someone didn't come up with a take on the scripture that would never have occurred to me, on my own. So we're back to the community discussion, and how much more we are together than we are individually.

Sometimes what I hear is wonderfully eye-opening and instantly illuminating; other times, I am made uncomfortable, or even angry. But that's useful, too. Because the challenge then is to discover why. Is that different view irritating because of "proof-texting?" -- someone supporting a personal opinion by selected quotation, and omitting other pertinent information? Or does it get to me because I am, as my evangelical friends would say, convicted in my own heart of misunderstanding?

Over time, I've learned to heed and trust some voices over others. I have favorite authors, and preachers, and study/prayer partners, and friends-- and also a list of those people I do not listen to, especially. But both of those lists shift and change as I learn of new names and voices. That's been one of the great blessings of seminary: exposure to a whole realm of scholars and theologians (amateur and professional); of Christians whose voices I had not heard before. No, I don't agree with them all-- but they have collectively been incredibly influential in how I read the Bible. I can't tell you the number of times since I've been here that I've looked up and said, "I didn't know that was in there!"

And that's the biggest key, I think: not ever even pretending to be done. I think of my Grandmother, a lifelong Christian, who at 98 was still studying and learning from the same stories and lessons that had been taught her as a girl, even before she could read them on her own. There's always something new, if we're listening for it.

Does that answer the question? What say ye?


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