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The Art of Reading Scripture.

The Art of Reading Scripture. Edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans, 2003. xx and 334 pages. Paper. $32.00.

This collection of essays by various scholars grew out of the Scripture Project, meeting over a period of four years and being supported by the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, New Jersey. The intention was to overcome the fragmentation of the theological disciplines; therefore, scholars of the Old Testament, the New Testament, systematic and historical theology, and parish ministry were involved in reading the scriptures together. In the beginning of the book, Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture are given that state the principles by which the authors interpret the scriptures. The gist is that the scriptures tell truthfully God's action and must be seen as a whole and interpreted within the church although in dialogue with others outside the church. It is remarkable how these theses permeate all the essays in this collection.

The essays are divided into three sections, followed by a section of sermons.

I. How Do We Read and Teach the Scriptures? Davis advocates reading scripture with a theological interest, with openness to repentance, with understanding the OT witness to Christ, and in dialogue with Jews. Robert W. Jensen emphasizes the connection between the scriptures and the church. Several authors argue for interpretation with the unity of the scriptures in mind.

II. A Living Tradition. James C. Howell compares Christ with St. Francis. William Stacy Johnson is reading the scriptures in a postmodern age, stating that we have to reach beyond the Foundations and beyond Totality by deconstructing the texts and going toward the Other, philosophically, ethically, and eschatologically. In view of the recognition that we cannot assume knowledge of the biblical story, Christine McSpadden gives suggestions for sermon preparation. L. Gregory Jones illustrates "Embodying Scripture in the Community of Faith" by using Augustine and Martin Luther King Jr.

III. Reading Difficult Texts. Davis is not willing to repudiate any biblical text as a potential source of edification for the church (pace Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza). She believes (correctly, I think) that the tradition within and outside the Bible has sometimes corrected, adapted, and reinterpreted difficult texts. R. W. L. Moberly struggles with Genesis 22. While Hermann Gunkel saw aesthetic value in the story, Immanuel Kant interpreted it negatively, i.e., that the moral law has to have precedence over religion, that it could not have been God's voice that demanded the sacrificing of Isaac. Moberly concludes that the meaning of the story is "that true religion entails a costly self-dispossession that relinquishes what is most precious in trustful hope in a demanding but gracious God" (p. 196).

It should be mentioned here that Davis in the fourth part of the book includes a sermon on this text that speaks fascinatingly of the vulnerability of Abraham, God, and Isaac. This sermon is worth contemplation. God is vulnerable because he has been hurt so badly by humankind in the preceding events of Genesis that an unimaginable demonstration of human trust is necessary in order to heal God's pain. Gary A. Anderson parallels "Joseph and the Passion of Our Lord." Richard B. Hays argues against Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar that the scriptures have to be interpreted backward from the resurrection, as is shown in John 2:13-22; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 24:13-35. This accords very well with the theses at the beginning of the book that scripture has to be seen in its entirety. Marianne Meye Thompson, in reading John 13:1-18, puts the emphasis in understanding the washing of feet in a christological, theological sense rather than the ethical setting of an example, but without neglecting the latter. Jesus follows the path of humility, service, and death.

IV. Selected Sermons. Following the sermon on Genesis 22, mentioned earlier, other sermons on difficult texts deal with Psalm 149 for All Saints' Day, appealingly combining this text with the other texts for the day, pointing out that saints (all believers) have to win the battle over evil in themselves. The remaining sermons are by the two editors and were actually preached in various situations. They illustrate in a fine manner the application of the nine theses.

Despite the many authors represented in the book, it manifests a remarkable unity and can be recommended to all interpreters and preachers. The emphasis on the unity of the scriptures is noteworthy and necessary for all of us. A small observation: I did not detect any misprints.

Wilhelm C. Linss

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
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Author:Linss, Wilhelm C.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:766
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