The Art of Reading Scripture
Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, Editors
Eerdman’s, 364 pages
Reviewed by Robert Alan Rife | December 15, 2021
Within days of my first moment of coming to Jesus, I became fascinated by the strange and enigmatic words on the wispy pages of a Bible given to me by my grandmother. The first verse I ever memorized was, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8, NRSV). This love for the Word began in the blazing glow of new life, freshly experienced, continuing well into adult and married life.
However, what once nourished began to niggle. What was once compelling became confusing. Then for years I dismissed the Scriptures almost entirely, faking my way along in life and ministry.
Two equally compelling forces helped draw me back to the Bible I once loved. Discovering, embracing, and being ordained into the Pietism of mission friends reinvigorated my love for Holy Writ. They held a high view of Scripture in a way that was decidedly unique, refreshing. It was Christ-centered and transformative.
Second, I was inspired by helpful books along the way, including The Art of Reading Scripture. I was first introduced to this book as a required text for a Biblical Spirituality course I took for my master’s degree. When my wife and I recently relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland, as Serve Globally personnel, this book was one of only a few we deemed important enough to make that journey with us.
With creativity and breadth, The Art of Reading Scripture seeks to answer the following conundrum: “Even where the Bible’s authority is acknowledged in principle, many of our churches seem to have lost the art of reading it attentively and imaginatively.” To address these and other concerns, the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, convened a group of 15 scholars and pastors who met under the collective name of the Scripture Project over the course of four years (1998-2002). They pursued this endeavor with the conviction that “reading Scripture is an art—a creative discipline that requires engagement and imagination, in contrast to the Enlightenment’s ideal of detached objectivity.”
For years this collection of scholarly essays and sermons has been pertinent to my personal need to stay connected to the Bible. They argue for a Scripture that continually maintains God as the principal actor in an unfolding drama. Scripture is meant not merely as information but as a transforming rule of life. Moreover, despite postmodernism’s insistence otherwise, Scripture can be understood as a single narrative arc, through a diverse multiplicity of narratives, written by numerous authors, collected over millennia.
The fullest apprehension and interpretation of Scripture must be undertaken collectively. The Church theological is the Church catechetical, is the Church liturgical. I was drawn to the beautiful idea in this book, represented well in our own Pietist tradition, of the Scripture embedded in human lives as much as printed on the page.
The Art of Reading Scripture should be of particular interest to our own collective—readers intent upon pursuing the transformative potential found in the pages of the Bible—the foundational expression for our missio Dei, sprawled out for us in the Scriptures, artfully read, preached, and lived.
I can say with utmost confidence today, “I wait for the Lord, and in His Word I hope.” Thanks be to God.