Scot McKnight did last night’s talk at the 2007 Ancient Evangelical Future conference. He spoke on several illegitimate (but common) ways of reading the Bible, and what he deems a more appropriate way. See if you can see yourself in any of these descriptions.
Models of reading the Bible
- The Rohrschach Inkblot: we project onto the Bible what we want to see, or what is already in our heads to begin with.
- The Holiday Puzzle: We think God is present in ideas and systematic theologies and we attempt to use those ideas to "put together the puzzle" of the Bible. We read the Bible as a brain-teaser, as if what God meant to give us was a list of propositional truths, but we have to find them in this big hairy story called the Bible.
- The Maestro: We go to the Bible only to see how Jesus did stuff and we attempt to simply do likewise, failing to realize that Jesus is part of the big Story – he’s the center of the story, but not the whole thing. He also set the Story on a new trajectory, so we can’t assume totally that Jesus’ actions are completely appropriate for us to imitate identically.
- The Lawbook: God is primarily a law-giver, because he likes rules. The Bible is a book that tells us what to do and what not to do.
- The Hallmark Calendar of Blessings: We read the Bible like it’s a calendar with a "blessing for the day," or a "promise for the day" – Chicken Soup for the Soul, etc. A book full of nice thoughts.
As an alternative, Scot said we should read the Bible as a "wiki-story" – lots of contributors, but still one Story, involving ourselves in the actions of God in history, not just in believing abstract truths about God. He went on to articulate how he sees that story, and how we participate in it.
One interesting thing about Scot’s talk was the importance he placed on the bulk of the Old Testament. Christians have typically gone straight from the Fall in Genesis 3 to Jesus, as though nothing of importance really happened in between. But Scot says the hugely important thing that did happen was a covenant community was formed, and journeyed, and struggled, and failed, and succeeded. If we miss that we risk turning the gospel into a tidy formula that answers the big questions of life in purely individualistic terms. The covenant community forces us to reckon with the fact that redemption happens in the context of relationship, in the context of messed-up human beings (cracked Eikons, Scot calls them) covenanting together with God in his redemptive plans for the world.
He also made a somewhat controversial statement that went something like this (I’m paraphrasing): The distinction that has traditionally been made between the kingdom and the church (i.e. the kingdom is bigger than the church) is unsupportable by the New Testament. That stirred up a lot of comments from his fellow presenters and panel members! Apparently Scot will begin a series on his blog shortly that focuses on all the occurrences of the word "kingdom" in the gospels. He hopes to show that every time the word refers to the society of those who believe in and follow Jesus, and that basically Paul uses the term church to refer to that same society, thus they aren’t all that distinct.
I’m doubtful. I think the distinction holds. Scot admitted, too, that he is reacting a bit against some of his friends who claim to be doing "kingdom" work outside the context of any involvement with a local church. He wants the two to be more closely aligned and identified, which I can empathize with. But I still think that theologically we can’t say they are the same thing, because God’s kingdom involves more than people. God rules over more than a society, he rules over the whole world: atoms and aardvarks, quarks and quiche, nations and nano-technology.
It’s been a rich, intellectually and spiritually stimulating time so far. One more session this morning and I drive back.