The Art of Reading Scripture
In an attempt to overcome modern, individualistic, and fragmented approaches to reading the Bible, the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton University assembled a number of scholars and pastors to read the Scriptures as a community, as the “Complete Theologian” (p. xv). They called themselves “The Scripture Project.” From their work two products emerged. First, each member contributed to a series of essays that explained the Project’s hermeneutical model. Second, their essays encouraged dialogue among themselves, from which they distilled and affirmed “Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture” (pp. 1–5).
Davis and Hays, both of Duke Divinity School, then compiled and edited the Project’s essays, and recorded the Nine Theses, with brief commentary, in this book. Davis and Hays also included six sermons of their own that illustrate the Project’s hermeneutics homiletically.
Christian educators, seminarians, and pastors interested in reading the Bible with the community of faith, past and present, will find The Art of Reading Scripture interesting, but they should read it critically. Some of the authors tacitly disagree with each other, even contradicting the conclusions of the Project. For example thesis eight calls for Christians to “read the Bible with diverse others outside the church,” which includes Jews and critics (pp. 4–5). Davis supports this thesis in her article, “Teaching the Bible Confessionally in the Church.” Yet this premise seems to be contravened by thesis two, the rule of faith; thesis seven, “the saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret … Scripture”; and thesis five, “the four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.” It is unlikely that Jews or critics of Christianity would accept the point that “the canon of Scripture finds its unity in the overarching story of the work of the triune God” (p. 1). Alternatively did the saints of the church read the Bible with Jews and critics, or did they defend their readings against Jews and critics? And, should Christians read the Bible with those critics who reject Christ’s resurrection? Perhaps one could assert that Christians should listen to Jews and critics in order to articulate the Bible’s message more precisely, but to “read with them” risks compromising that which makes Christianity distinctive.
Furthermore Davis violates the Project community’s reading in her essay, “Critical Traditioning: Seeking an Inner Hermeneutic.” Even the essay’s title suggests a reader-oriented or individualist kind of interpretation. Critical traditioning engages “in radical re-thinking of a formerly accepted theological position” (p. 170). She thus disagrees again with the rule of faith and with receiving guidance from the saints of the church. Then in her sermons, which are asserted to be exemplary of the “kind of approach the Nine Theses commend” (p. xx), Davies denies God’s immutability, thus revealing her rejection of the rule of faith once more. Further, even though members of the Project objected, she included her sermons anyway, which reveals her rejection of the community (p. 290)!
In spite of these weaknesses this book offers some redeeming and worthwhile features. For instance Hays demonstrates in his article, “Reading Scripture in Light of the Resurrection,” that Jesus taught His disciples to use His resurrection as a lens for reading the Old Testament. Brian Daley offers six helpful principles of patristic interpretation in his treatise, “Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable?” He welcomes the postmodern reprieve from atheistic modern methods (p. 72). Moreover, David C. Steinmetz in his essay, “Uncovering a Second Narrative,” demonstrates thesis three, “The New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New” (p. 2). Moreover, for those who read the Bible simply as another self-help book, Hays homiletically illustrates the value of the Project’s hermeneutical conclusions through his three sermons.