Keeping an Open Mind

Much is made in my culture about open-mindedness, especially with regard to biblical interpretation. The assumption is that every reader of Scripture should be equally open to other perspectives on this or that bit of exegesis, and to other theological and ideological perspectives.

I believe that willingness to listen to other perspectives is a virtue for both the scholar and the Christian. However, I wonder there should not be more talk (within my circles and without) of a willingness to reorder behavior, not simply thought, into conformity with Scripture. In my experience, people rarely read Scripture, interpret, and then live according to the principles they find; rather, we decide how we want to live, and then read and interpret Scripture in accordance with our desires. Yet if Scripture is communication from God, it must have authority over our thinking and our living.

I recognize that the devil is in the details of exegesis, hermeneutics, conceptualization and application. But surely reflection on Scripture should start from an attitude of trust and submission, not suspicion and rebellion. I have tremendous respect for interpreters with whom I disagree on interpretation but agree on these attitudes.

It’s not easy to walk the line between faith and criticism without falling into blind fideism on the one side or rebellion on the other. I appreciate the following example highlighted by Clay Croy in his book on NT Interpretation (N. Clayton Croy, Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation, 2011):

François Bovon, professor at Harvard Divinity School, is the author of a commentary on the Gospel of Luke in the prestigious Hermeneia series. In the preface of his first volume, he writes: “I wish to examine [Luke’s] Gospel with the sober reserve of a scholar and with the confidence of a believer. For I hope in this manner to arrive at genuine understanding. I also realize that this becomes possible only if God leads me into his Word” (2002: xiii). In an online review of Bovon’s commentary, Joel Green remarks, “This is itself a startling declaration in the preface to a contribution to a series that characterizes itself as ‘critical and historical.’ Where one would have anticipated assertions of scientific objectivity and scholarly neutrality, Bovon lays claim to his theological commitments and ecclesial location—not as hindrances to but as partners in the interpretive enterprise” (Green, 2003).

Bovon thus provides a good example of a virtuous reader: honest, open, attentive, obedient, and pious. Biblical interpretation in confessional contexts presupposes that Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, even if the precise nature and effects of inspiration are variously understood. It is appropriate then to appeal to that same Spirit for guidance and illumination when the Scriptures are read in communities of faith.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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1 Response to Keeping an Open Mind

  1. Pingback: Best of 2014 | think hard, think well

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