Monday, April 9, 2012

is the Bible just like any other book?

Or are there distinctively Christian ways of reading Scripture?

Todd Billings thinks so. His book is a great introduction to the theological interpretation of Scripture. According to Billings, "Something much bigger is going on in receiving, understanding, and believing the word of God than human linguistic understanding" (3). Later he explains, "Through Scripture, the Spirit addresses all of God's people, not just the original hearers" (61). Not only are we addressed, but we are invited to participate in the drama of God's action in the world. The process of interpreting Scripture is not complete until we are changed. He says, "Revelation brings not only knowledge of God but fellowship in and with the triune God, a saving fellowship that transforms believers ever deeper into Christ's image as Christ's body" (198). This fellowship extends not just vertically (with God), but also horizontally, as we are formed into a community of God-followers. This community transcends space and time, as we join those who have read Scripture in the centuries before us and in cultures around the world. Together we are transformed.

In answer to our opening question, Billings concludes, "While there are important practices of reading that apply to nonbiblical books as well as to Scripture, ultimately we should not read Scripture as we read other books. We should read it in prayer, memorize it, speak and sing it with the congregation in worship—worship that delights in telling and tasting the story of God's saving work in Christ, accessed through Scripture. We should come to Scripture, as we do to worship, with an expectation of meeting the mysterious triune God, with the prayer that we would grow in our love of God and our neighbor—becoming more like Jesus Christ" (224, emphasis mine).

Billings was here on Wheaton's campus in December serving as the outside reader for the dissertation defense of a fellow student. I'm glad to have had an opportunity to read his book. His vision of the promise of theological interpretation is coherent, compelling, and accessible to a wide range of readers. If you've been wondering what it should look like when Christians read the Bible, this book is for you!

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