I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva


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Calvin Seerveld writes movingly on how to read the Bible:

The true story of God’s great deeds has been written down (John 20:31) so that we may believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and so believing have life in his name. The Holy Scriptures have been given us historically so that we might come to know the covenanting God and his way of doing things in creation and so that we might be able to obey him more maturely as adopted sons and daughters, who had lost their way in the world. That is crucial, I believe, for rightly understanding the Bible, this God-speaking literature. It must always be pulled back to its primary level of true story for believing children.

That’s a test I have always used when challenged in my confession: I recall the way I responded as a wide-eyed child to Mother reading me Bible stories before I was trundled off to bed. Adam and Eve were real people then . . . and now, quite unlike Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming. Balaam’s ass saw the angel and talked, and God had a whale swallow Jonah—it said so—because God loved the Israelites so much and all the people and cows around Ninevah; but Hansel and Gretel and the witch in the forest were not people in a true story. Somehow my believing parents gave me a lasting sense of how Genesis 3 and Romans 5, Exodus 20 and Matthew 5–7, Psalm 90, Isaiah 40 and Romans 8—all richly, literarily variegated—integrally told the true story of God’s saving presence on the earth, especially for those who took him at his Word, as my Dad would say (cf. I Timothy 4:10). I learned to use the Bible not so much as a book of special, extra, inside information (the way Thomas Aquinas conceived it, cf. Summe contra gentiles, 4, i) but as a source of knowledge-to-grow-on, the kind of vision (nouthesia) your father would give you as an inexperienced lad who was walking around in the world (Bible as “spectacles,” to use John Calvin’s phrase). And it is that kind of humbled, childlike, expectant hearing and fiducial reception (to use an early English Puritan expression) that I believe must be the first and last way one meets the God-speaking literature called the Bible.

So what am I after? Just this: (1) It is an insight of christian aesthetic theory that bona fide art presents reliable, specific knowledge for others to grasp; and that knowledge is of its own imaginative, suggestion-rich sort. (2) Literature is thoughtful writing that is characterized by such an artistic norming. (3) The Bible is God-speaking literature telling us a true story; that is its nature. Therefore, when faithful, childlike people read the Bible, they should read it literarily. One should not read the Bible literalistically (=”literally”?) and then figuratively when one gets stuck. One should always read it literarily, literaturely, the way it is written, to mine its special wisdom-making, true-storied knowledge for children.

The Bible is not a collection of atomic, bullet like proof-texts to be shot at people. It will take a trained person who subsumes verses within paragraphs, within chapter wholes, within total books, within the perspicuous true story connection I mentioned to interpret Scripture word for word. The Bible is not an anthology of lessons in piety which can be distributed, so to speak, like candy to whoever holds out his hand. The Bible does not give recipes, which when followed to the letter, make wonderful devotional soup. Only when the mighty, true story of civitas Dei vs. civitates mundi dominates the reading of the quiet pilgrim psalm 131 or jumps out at you from Genesis 32 when Jabbok becomes Peniel or overwhelms you seeking comfort in the letter to the Philippians: only then does one learn the God-fearing, quiet intensity (eusebeia) that is becoming to a child of God. The Bible is not like a telephone book where you can find God’s special number for emergency use, and all the heavenly office numbers to call for marriage, births and funerals, lonely hearts, potential suicides, earthquake-like disasters. People use the Bible that way, and God stoops to their weakness, but human weakness does not define the Holy Scriptures.

I am continually bowled over by the fact that this is the book where we hear God talking about what He is actually doing in the world; and its true story is so powerful, with cosmic, historic sweep and a tenderly passionate, apocalyptic temper that one says spontaneously with Paul (Romans 15:4), “All the things written earlier were put in writing for us to understand so that through the firming up and comforting power of the Scriptures we might have hope!” Part of what I am after, as a christian aesthetician, is greater recognition of the Bible as God-speaking literature that is telling a true story, so that the Bible not be so easily trivialized into a private, short-order, spiritual cookbook. That denatures the Holy Scriptures, no matter how infallible you claim the book to be. (Rainbows for the Fallen World, 90-92)

Written by Scott Moonen

December 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm

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