Chris Armstrong, Darrell Bock, Gerry Breshears and Tom Nelson gathered to discuss a rather provocative comment/issue that surfaced at the Boston Faith@Work Summit on connecting faith to life. Paul Williams noted that people possess a real difficulty of connecting life & work in their reading of the Bible. Paul asked, if this is a problem, “how are we teaching people to read” scripture that overcomes this? The challenge may well be that we have a tendency to train seminarians to move from the Bible to life (exegesis to application) where people tend to come from life (in all of its messiness) to the Bible. Williams had noted that the Bible does have answers, or people tend to think so, yet the approach to scripture seems to assume a propositional view (seeking right “answers”). Williams suggested by video that scripture might function differently in how the text, as a narrative whole, might shape Christians in their ongoing living and acting. Williams also invoked Henri Nouwen’s critique that much of enlightenment education seems alienating, separating theory from daily life and even deferring application. Williams also wondered if faculty tend to implicitly convey an “expert” mindset to seminary students that often might impede how pastors then treat the observations in dealing with scripture.
Bock noted that we have a tendency to not teach students/leaders to deal with the text the same way people engage scripture. Bock notes we tend to teach texts according to specific categories (theology, historic, culture) People come to the bible through a theology that is “messy” versus a reading that is neatly categorized. This categorical view of scripture may make scripture “clean” but obscures the inherent messiness that people bring to scripture.
Bresheers notes that scripture elicits an imaginary view of the world as it “should be.” Yet Gerry notes that we need also need to bring our messy view not only to engage our life but also to remind us that scripture is not as neatly arranged as our theological training makes it. We impose a “grid” of simple understanding that often masks the goal/role of scripture and also short circuit how the Holy Spirit might use the text.
Armstrong noted that engaging the history of interpreting scripture might provide a deeper understanding of the diversity of reading scripture. So history provides examples of the dialog between life and reading scripture.
Nelson loved his seminary training but noted that he missed certain things in his education that truncated his ministry when he began. He missed the “book ends” (opening and closing of scripture) that would have given hime a narrative and canonical coherence. His loss of narratival coherence hindered his ability to biblical and systematic theology. How can we help students a canonical coherence (to see the text freshly in its broad sense) so that can see how scripture functions within its own “context” and envision how that context extends toward life. This “fertile soil” of a larger reading actually opens up scripture to life.
At the center of the discussion was a dual tension. The first called for more curricular integration and coherence (in a world of specialized silos in theological education) yet we also need to ask if too much integration does not respect the messiness? Bock noted that we have a tendency (in the midst of our fragmented attempt to integrate) to have to work too hard to see the larger/canonical view of scripture. Unfortunately we also have people come in to church wanting a “simple,” uncomplicated view which represent a false coherence. In truth scripture engages in multiple perspectives. The fact of the matter with any social issue and scripture we have different hermeneutical perspectives: the moral question, the pastoral question, and the civic question (all shaped by the gospel-invitation question). Bock asserts you have to ask how all of these questions relate to each other? Nelson noted that having a larger canonical view gives one a hopeful realism to really engage messiness, yet Bock notes we have to “triangulate” these relationships and allow the Holy Spirit help us, as community, to negotiate the space.
The question occurred if messiness is a virtue or are we really seeking order and wholeness in following God in the world? Still “how” we arrive at that order (whether imposed by leaders or emerging through communal discernment) really matters.
At the heart of this panel discussion was the need to empower ministers and laity alike to engage scripture dynamically. Obviously “how” we read seems as important as “what” we read. Avoiding a “bottom line” approach may well open up to the movement of the Holy Spirit within the community so that people in the workplace can trust they can move from life to the Bible.