Friday, 28 February 2014

Exploring New Approaches to Scripture

Most of my previous posts on this blog have been what some have called 'theological throat-clearing'. That is, they have been about explaining where I am coming from, why I am writing these posts and making some introductory points. It is now time I got on with saying something about specific and substantive issues and subjects. I am starting with the Bible.

In my last post, I said that one of the main safeguards for avoiding pitfalls, as we freely explore new theological perspectives, is 'staying rooted in the Story of Scripture but being willing to review how we have understood it'. The issue of what we understand about the Bible, how it is authoritative and how we are meant to read and engage with it is, for me, one of the most pressing, exciting and challenging issues on the theological landscape today. It is also the one that has been central and instrumental in my own journey as I
have shifted my perspective on this over the last few years.

The Bible has always been for me a 'sacred place' where I have met with God and sought to hear him speak to me - to hear the voice not just read the words. It continues to be that for me and I am sure for many Pentecostals - a living Word, where we hear the Spirit and receive life-giving words. The difficulties have arisen when we have gone to the Bible to find out what we should believe about something (frankly, often it's to find justification for certain beliefs and practices that we already hold as a result of what we had been told, by our group or tradition). We imbibed the outlook of fundamentalists and many conservative evangelicals and would use the Bible as a theological compendium - look up the subject, find the proof texts, and stitch them together so that we could know what we were supposed to believe about a given subject. Or we'd approach it like a book of rules to know how we were to behave, or to know what was right or wrong about any specific ethical issue. Or we'd approach it as a divine blueprint for knowing the design for how we should do church, what was the right model, structure and practices for church life and ministry, convinced that the New Testament was clear and consistent about this (I now think it is diverse, developing and open-ended). And anyone who disagreed with my or our understanding of the beliefs, rules or blueprint was just wrong - they had not read it accurately. 

I now look at it differently. When we treat the Bible as a compendium of beliefs, a rule book or a blueprint we are treating it as something other than what it actually is. In keeping with many across the evangelical spectrum, I now focus on the Bible as the Big Story of God's Mission told through many different stories in real historical contexts that have to be understood and taken into account. And the aim is not so much to try to arrive at the timeless truths contained within those stories, but to see their place within the Big Story and to realise that we now get to enter into that Big Story, play our part in it, and carry its plot forward as the church, led by the Holy Spirit, towards its ultimate and glorious climax. In doing that, we are led by the Spirit and discover what the Spirit is saying through what he has said. We experience it as a living and liberating word that still actively shapes and forms the church now, and not a dead letter that we take up from the ancient world and try to force the present church into some past constraints. In other words, we experience it as new wine rather than old wine-skins. 

As I reflect on new approaches to Scripture (actually they are new to many of us who have been stuck in fundamentalist mud for years, but in fact many have been exploring these things for a number of years; I'm behind the times really) I think I will try to raise some questions and reflections on:
  • The Bible as narrative - as a Big Story told through stories.
  • The Bible as stories and other kinds of text written in particular historical contexts in the ancient Near East - how are we meant to handle the gap between then and now, and the diverse and plural nature of these stories and the perspectives they reveal. 
  • The Bible as a progressive revelation of God and his ways and purpose as the Story unfolds. Of especial significance, is how we are to relate the New Testament to the Old Testament.
  • At the pivotal centre of the Story is the death and resurrection of Christ and we need to think about the implications of how we understand the Bible from a Christ-centred and Cross-centred perspective.
  • Given the spiritual nature of Scripture, how are to engage the Spirit within Scripture so that it remains for us a living, dynamic, liberating and powerful word and not the dead letter of an ancient text.
I hope others will join the conversation and raise other issues and questions also. 


  1. A valid and fruitful journey is about to commence, it seems! The key skill for you, Trevor, will not be to understand these things but to explain them to others in a clear and helpful way. Go for it!

    1. Thank you for you encouragement, David. And thank you that the best lesson you taught me was to go on learning!