Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In Pursuit of Becoming a Technical-Devotional Reader of Scripture

Daniel Doriani, in his commentary on the book of James, comments on the propensity for ministers of the Word to "professionalize their use of Scripture." That is, it's their job to affect people with the Word of God, and so they study Scripture and prepare to teach and preach it for other people. It's far easier to love preaching the glory of God than to love the glory of God.

Yet Doriani reminds us that we can do the people of God no good if we ourselves do not seek the benefit of Scripture's effect on our hearts and lives. We affect no one with the truth of God if we ourselves are not affected. That's why Ezra set his heart to study the law of Yahweh: first to practice it himself, and only then to teach God's statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10).

With a striking degree of insight and wisdom, Doriani offers a taxonomy of the ways one grows in reading Scripture. In short, we need both light and heat. We need to know our stuff, and we need to pursue our greatest pleasure in benefiting from what the Scripture says to us first.
Teachers and preachers of the Word must continue to seek the solution to their own struggles in the Word of God. This seems obvious, but pastors and seminarians are prone to professionalize their use of Scripture, to read it to help every soul but their own. Let me offer a typology of the ways pastors can read Scripture.

When he is a new Christian, the future pastor's reading is naive and devotional. He devours Scripture, underlining virtually every word in his new Bible, feeling that God speaks directly to him with every word.

After a few years, the budding leader's reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. He still feels that God is speaking to him in the text but he has learned to read texts in their contexts. He reads Bible dictionaries and commentaries. He knows the translation strategies of various Bible versions and begins to use that knowledge to get at the original text.

The future pastor decides to go to seminary, where he becomes a technical reader. He reads Greek and Hebrew; he consults scholarly sources. He respects the distance between his world and that of biblical thought. His zeal to describe biblical history, culture, and language grows. He pursues what the word originally meant and perhaps neglects what it means today.

As ordination comes, our friend remembers that his study has, as its goal, the edification of the church. He continues to read technically, but now he shares his findings with the church. He becomes a technical-functional reader. His reading may be detached, personally speaking, but he stores and organizes his discoveries so he can offer them to others. While this phase may mark a partial improvement, he does not directly profit from his reading of Scripture.

He needs therefore to become a technical, devotional reader. Every technical skill remains, but he reads like a child, letting the Word speak directly to his heart again. He gains what Paul Ricoeur calls a "second naivete." He is both technically astute and meek. He both receives God's Word and expounds it. In this way he finds strength to endure trials and to check the growth of sin.

From Daniel M. Doriani, James, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), 50-51.

The precepts of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart.
- Psalm 19:8 -

I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.
- Psalm 119:14-16 -

I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
For they are the joy of my heart.
- Psalm 119:111

1 comment:

Mark D. Twombly said...

Amen, Mike.

You may recall our planning sessions for teaching, where we emphasized that our effectiveness is directly proportional to the impact the word has in our own lives.

Ezra 7:10!