My interview with Professor Doug Sweeney:
The following is not an uncommon occurrence for me while preparing to preach…
Not always, but there are certainly times of struggle either to make sense of the text and/or to make sure I really believe it. As the Puritans liked to say, make sure to preach to yourself before you preach to others. Really believing the Word of God is more difficult than determining its proper meaning.
Then God brings light, many times much light, and I can’t write fast enough.
It is one reason I don’t like to preach every week. The process of preparation is best if I have months to mull and consider a text. I want to stew on it for a long time.
I take many notes and ask many questions. Commentaries come at the end to make sure I am in the ballpark of sound exegesis.
All this is one reason why I wish lead pastors preached less frequently. It would be better for them and for the congregation.
I plan to address Bible literacy/reading in a forthcoming book. A good piece from Russell Moore:
Well, if you are, I highly recommend this gem. I am about midway through it, but what a gift for heart and mind! Thanks to Peter Coelho for mentioning it in some of his sermons. Beautifully written and wonderful insights.
I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here. I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational. You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!
American Christians are especially in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.
Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally. You have to be shrewd in what you consult. The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical.
My favorite ones are those who combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day. Right now, I am reading one of these kinds of commentaries: Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah. It is part of The Bible Speaks Today series (InterVarsity Press). Here is something I pondered today:
“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence. It was all very impressive. But what was God’s point of view? According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion. It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.” (Emphasis added)
From Richard Hays:
“The Bible is just not a collection of little verses or tidbits of wisdom. When we’re reading the Gospel of Luke, for example, we’re reading a text that has a narrative shape to it. To see what’s going on in the text, you have to read the thing whole and see how the parts relate to the whole.
And the same thing applies not only to individual gospels but also, analogously, to the Bible as a whole. It has a deep and subtle narrative unity—not because unity has been superimposed by ecclesial fiat or by some clever editorial design, but because the diverse biblical witnesses bear common witness to God’s grace-filled action in the story of Israel. The emergence of the biblical writings themselves, in their complexity and diversity, is itself part of God’s mysterious “authorial” action. That’s why I believe that the Old Testament and the New have an underlying narrative unity that can be discerned only in retrospect, when we read the whole thing together.”
“Popular agnostic Bart Ehrman, religious studies professor at UNC Chapel Hill, starts one of his courses with a class exercise.1 He begins, “How many of you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God?” According to professor Ehrman, the majority of students at UNC raise their hands. Then he asks, “How many of you have read [and he will select a popular novel]… The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins?” Usually, every hand goes up across the room, with only a few exceptions. Ehrman follows with a third question, “How many of you have read the entire Bible?” And virtually no one raises his or her hand. Then comes Ehrman’s punch. He inquires, “Now I can understand why you would read Collins’ book. It’s entertaining. But, if you really believed God wrote a book, then wouldn’t you want to read it?” Ehrman thus exposes the inconsistency with what these students say and with what they do.”
(Tony Merida, “Preach the Word, Build the Church,” May 16, 2016)
Richard Bauckham is professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and a fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is the author of many distinguished works. The following interview revolves around Professor Bauckham’s book, The Bible in the Contemporary World (http://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Contemporary-World-Hermeneutical/dp/0802872239).
David George Moore conducted the interview. Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.
Moore: In the introduction you write that “biblical surprises should also be part of the Bible’s relevance to the contemporary world.” Would you unpack that a bit for us?
Bauckham: I meant that we should never feel too satisfied that we know what the Bible’s messages are and how they relate to the contemporary world. If we go on studying Scripture at the same time as we attend to what is happening in our world there will always be fresh insights.
Moore: Some continue to argue that Gnosticism is compatible with Christianity. It seems fairly obvious that this is not the case, so why do so many keep seeking to persuade us otherwise?
Bauckham: We live in a culture that values diversity and so I think the idea that early Christianity was more diverse than we thought is appealing. Moreover, the institutional church is not popular and so the idea of an early version of Christianity that was suppressed by the institutional church for political reasons also appeals. But Gnosticism is a slippery term. I think, for the sake of clarity, we should limit it to the view that the material world was created by an inferior and incompetent deity, identified with the God of the Old Testament, while the Father of Jesus Christ is an altogether different, supreme God. Jesus came from the Father with a message for the elect: that they do not belong in this world, in which they are trapped by their bodies and the hostile god of this world, and can escape to the kingdom of the Father. Gnosticism is anti-Jewish, anti-body, anti-matter.
Moore: It seems quite evident that British biblical scholars are generally more apt than their American counterparts to discuss the abuses of capitalism and the importance of stewarding the environment. If I am correct in my observation, what do you attribute this to?
Bauckham: There is a strong tradition in USA of association of conservative Christianity with right-wing politics and economics. This doesn’t exist in UK. You also need to remember that the political spectrum in USA is considerably to the right of the spectrum in the UK.
Moore: The modern idea of progress is a stubborn and persistent idea. It is resilient in the face of modern horrors like the great wars, genocide, and so much more. How can we better help others see the unbiblical assumptions behind the modern notion of progress?
Bauckham: I always have to explain that, when I criticize the idea of progress, I am not denying that many things have improved (e.g. medicine). But other things have got worse (e.g. climate change). We cannot empirically weigh up all the gains and losses and say that on balance and in total the world is constantly getting better. The idea of progress is an ideology that distorts by making us notice what seem to be improvements and to miss what are often serious downsides of those very improvements. “Progress” very often has victims, but the beneficiaries of this “progress” can the more easily ignore them because the ideology of progress consigns them to a past that is being left behind.
In its origins the idea of progress is a secular version of Christian eschatology. Perhaps that’s why so many Christians are still firm believers in it. But the Christian hope is for a future that comes from God and is not just for those lucky enough to live in the vanguard of progress but even for the dead.
Moore: It is common to hear people announce the death of the Enlightenment Project. Is the Enlightenment over, and if it isn’t, why do so many say it is?
Bauckham: Of course, the Enlightenment was a complex phenomenon, like all such historical movements. Some of its legacy is more or less permanent, other aspects less so. I think many of us were very impressed by the claim that postmodernism was about to succeed the Enlightenment, but it hasn’t really worked out that way. It looks like the West now has a culture that mixes elements of both.
Moore: Do Christians in the West generally have the correct understanding of freedom?
Bauckham: My impression is that Christians generally don’t think about what true freedom is. They unthinkingly go along with the views that are current in our culture. But, seeing that freedom is probably the most powerful concept in contemporary western culture, it is surely vital that Christians think critically about it.
Moore: Give us a few things that you would like your readers to take away from reading The Bible in the Contemporary World.
Bauckham: I hope many readers will come away with the sense that the Bible speaks more broadly to the big issues of our time than they have realized before. And I hope many readers will find that the Bible invites them to be more concerned with the big issues of our time than they have been before.