Knowing the Word of God

     As I write this, my head is still spinning from our incredibly stimulating time with brothers Walsh and Middleton. Most of you know that I look to Brian as an esteemed friend and it was so good having current CCO staff finally meet him. I had never met Richard and, like you, was deeply impressed with the way in which he has found himself in, and therefore wisely fluent in, the biblical drama. Quite a few of us came away from the December Staff Seminar not only renewed in our commitment to do culturally-relevant ministry within the postmodern context, but to be relevant precisely by sharing the biblical story.

     It is not my intent now to critique either Walsh or Middleton, or our response to their provocative teaching. I do wonder, though: are you still living with some of the questions they raised? Did you agree with everything they said? Shouldn't their explosive insights have caused us a bit of discomfort (and shouldn't we have given voice to that?)? I trust that fruitful discussions are raging...

     It is nearly axiomatic to say that we don't know the Bible as well as we ought. At its deepest level, this calls into question our fundamental identity (and therefore our loyalties). It is the basic argument Will Willimon makes in his beautiful and powerful little book, Shaped By The Bible: we are who we are as we are shaped by the Bible, to not be a biblically-formed people is to not be fully Christian!

     We really know the Bible as it becomes our story; amassing sheer amounts of Bible facts does not necessarily lead one to know the story, to own the story, to be graced by the story, to be shaped by the story.

     Still (and this is my one big point for this column!) one can hardly claim to be radically shaped by the Bible if one doesn't know what it says. It is critically important to understand the texts as they have come to us. We need to get the story line down pat (which itself is no small task) and learn the skills of placing texts within the broader story. To be faithful Christian leaders, we need to invest in biblical research aids and tools to help us understand the Word and teach it effectively. We need to resolve to spend the time, energy and money necessary to learn the Bible.

     Richard's recommendations of several commentary sets were, in my opinion, excellent ones, although the New Interpreters are very expensive and the Interpretation series is comprised of rather pricey hardbacks. Perhaps you should be saving up for them, or approaching a specific supporter to contri-bute towards a similar set. (Not a bad way to illustrate to your supporters our evangelical commitment to the authority of Scripture!)

     For those who can't at this time purchase a mighty set of semi-scholarly commentaries, or who may feel that they are not even ready for such serious biblical research, here are a few less expensive suggestions; a few, I would think, could be routinely used with your fellowship groups and disciple-making teams.

Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible (Eerdmans) $25.00. Many one-volume commentaries are too brief to be really helpful (a good study Bible would be just as useful). This handbook, however, gives nice thumb-nail overviews of every section of Scripture with lots of sidebar pieces and extended articles. Now out in paperback, with full color pictures, this is very, very nice.

The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Brueggemann (St. Mary's Press), $9.95. I certainly agree with Middleton's recommen-dation of Brueggemann. This brief intro to the Bible is absolutely fantastic. Rather than exegete a particular passage or examine the details of a particular story, he challenges us to allow the Scripture to challenge our imagi-nations and renew our visions. Brueggemann characteristically looks at themes and claims that loom large over and within a text and shows how such claims are subversive to the typical claims of our culture. If you haven't read Brueggemann, start here.

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann (Fortress), $12.00. Both Walsh and Middleton touted this as one of the most important books on the Bible they've ever read! Besides being a good intro into Brueggemann's method, it reminds us that the task of prophetic ministry is to "nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the dominant culture around us." This can easily be followed up by David's Truth in Israel's Imagination and Memory and The Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Israel. All three are semi-scholarly, fairly accessible, brilliant, dangerous and very, very necessary. I pray that God uses these books to make us into a more prophetic ministry.

Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination by Walter Brueggemann (Fortress), $12.00. This might be useful for those who want a primer on postmodernism. As he says in his first para-graph:"Ã’There can be little doubt that we are in a wholly new interpretive situation...it is my judgment and my urging that the new situation is in fact a positive opportunity..." I'm not sure that Brueggemann is entirely right about either the old world or the new interpretation, but his insistence on hearing the texts in our context is, obviously, itself a great asset to our efforts at faithful reading.

Reading the Bible With Hearts & Mind by Tremper Longman III (NavPress), $14.00. A very clear and compelling overview of the Bible with a bit of a feel of practical appli-cation. Longman is O.T. professor at Westminster Seminary and stands in a good tradition of covenantal thinking about the Scriptures. Plus, every time you use it, you'll think of us...fortunately, this is a really good book!

Promise & Deliverance volumes 1-4 by S.A. DeGraaf (Presbyterian Discount Publish-ing), $60.00. Long out-of-print, this set came back out a year or so ago in paperback! Simple to read, good to teach from, these were originally written in the late 1800s in the Netherlands and were translated into English by reformational folk in the '70s, when they became standard fare for CCO biblical study. I think I appreciated W & M's criticism that the set is a bit too Christo-centric; still, they are invaluable (partially because they are so easy to use, and for how they consistently avoid moralism and legalism but place God and God's redemptive plan at the center of the texts). If Steen were alive today, everyone on CCO staff would have a set and we'd be better off for it.

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund Clowney (NavPress), $8.99. Speaking of (overly?) Christo-centric studies of the Hebrew Scrip-tures, this is a mustread. Again, strongly covenantal in its thrust, this is very, very nice.

The Bible in Time by Stephen Travis (Abingdon), $11.95. This is a nearly devo-tional study of 130 key passages put into chronological order. Very helpful.

The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill (Herald Press), $14.99. This book, written by the Messiah College provost, is an all-time great classic! Still one of the best intros to the theme of the Kingdom (parti-cularly as taught by Jesus and contrasted to the expectations of the Pharisees, the Zealots, etc.). Not a difficult read, but unbelievably challenging! For a more scholarly, Reformed work, see the serious-minded Coming of the Kingdom by Herman Ridderbos (Presby-terian & Reformed), $17.99.

Yearning Minds & Burning Hearts: Rediscovering the Spirituality of Jesus by Glandion Carney & William Long (Baker), $14.99. This is a very special new work which, as the subtitle says, attempts to show the relevance of Jesus' own sense of spiritual-ity. Of course, if one is studying the life of Jesus, don't overlook Phil Yancey's excellent The Jesus I Never Knew. (Note: if you need a PMable paperback, order the large-print edition which is less expensive than the hardcover!)

Jesus the Victory of God by N.T. Wright (Fortress), $29.00. The author is a good friend of Walsh's and is clearly one of the most prominent New Testament scholars in the world today. This magisterial work is one of the most important scholarly books in biblical studies in decades!

Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures by Herman Ridderbos (Presby-terian & Reformed), $6.99. A brief book which investigates the nature of the New Testament within the broader scope of the redemptive historical approach.

Paul, the Spirit and the People of God by Gordon Fee (Hendrickson), $12.95. My, what a marvelous book! Fee is a Spirit-led Scripture scholar who is renowned for his personal passion for worship as well as his brilliance in languages. This is a study of how Paul used words like spirit and spiritual, and consequently serves as a wonderful intro to Pauline theology. Highly regarded (Eugene Peterson calls him "one of our truly master exegetes"), Fee has done several commen-taries and other serious publishing. This is actually an adapted version of a much more scholarly work. Also, you should know (and I assume most of you have) Fee's coauthored book, How To Read the Bible For All It's Worth, which I assume is a standard tool for campus ministry as it is the best book of its kind. See also R.C. Sproul's little book, Knowing Scripture, which is also quite good. Everyone should be loaning these out all the time, helping our students learn basic hermeneutical principles and thereby equipping them to join us in the adventure of a life-tim, living in and by the Bible story!