By Mark Traphagen on June 21, 2009
I’ve been tagged by my friend JD on his Ad Fontes blog to come up with the five books (or scholars) who have most influenced me in how I read the Bible. (I’m returning to the narrower parsing of this meme given by its creator, biblioblogger Ken Brown.)
Even after a seminary education, I’m not a Bible scholar (don’t even play one on the Internet), but I have definitely been influenced greatly in the way I approach the Bible, particularly in the past five years.
Here is my list of my top five influences in how I read the Bible today:
1. Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelical and the Problem of the Old Testament. This is the book and the professor who opened my eyes to see that the emperor of biblical inerrancy has no clothes. In his Old Testament Introduction class and in this book, Enns was first fearless in presenting to us the naked truth: much of the OT closely resembles other Ancient Near-Eastern (ANE) literature, the OT contains a diversity of theology and sometimes contradictory history, and then there are those wacky NT writers and their use of the OT. No need to fear, says Enns. The God who would become part of his creation, incarnate in Jesus Christ, would have no trouble with giving his revelation through very human means. We can read the Bible that God gave us rather than trying to make the Bible fit our preconceived notions of what it has to be to fit our “doctrine of Scripture.”
2. Kenton Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. Pete Enns called this book “Inspiration and Incarnation on steroids,” and that it is. Sparks gives a very thorough survey of the church’s varying views on the nature of Scripture throughout history, the full range of biblical criticism, and the various evangelical responses to that criticism (all of which he finds wanting). Sparks expands on Calvin’s accommodation idea, that God speaks to us in very human ways because of his love and respect for his human creation. Differing slightly from Enns, he believes that God adopted certain human writings as saying (essentially) what God wanted to say to us.
3. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination. This was assigned reading in Prof. Mike Kelly’s class on the prophetic books at Westminster Theological Seminary. Though Brueggemann goes “out there” (his Marxist leanings sometimes show through a little too clearly), this book helped me move the prophets from the dusty old cranks of my Sunday School upbringing to incredible co-creators with Yahweh, men and women who could see a world that could be but was not yet, and speak it into existence. He challenges those of us who have “tasted of the things to come” to never settle for the status quo, but instead be those who seek to bring that vision into reality, even though the kings of this world will largely oppose us.
4. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This one’s sort of a cheat, as I only just finished it the other day. But I included it here because it represents Wright’s influence on my reading of the Bible over the past few years. Most of the hermeneutic he applies in this book I’ve heard in numerous lectures from him. Most apropos to this list, Wright challenges us to shed off imagery that we impose on the Bible that isn’t really there (such as the afterlife being a Platonic, disembodied “spiritual” existence).
5. Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community. While this is not a book about how to read or interpret the Bible per se, it nonetheless provided me with a valuable model for reading Scripture with an eye and an ear for the original context, especially the socio-cultural context. Strom believes that in the letters of Paul (the Corinthian letters in particular) we find the Apostle locked in a life-or-death battle for the heart and soul of the church. Strom posits that by the second half of the first century the church was already falling into a captivity to its Graeco-Roman environment, and that the rise of hierarchical church structures with a radical divide between clergy and layperson was Paul’s great (and apparently warranted) fear for the church. Also recommended is Strom’s The Symphony of Scripture for reading the Bible as an unfolding story.
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