It should come as no surprise, but I love to read, research, and write. And to make that reading accessible to me after I’ve first churned it up in my mind, I’m trying to develop a workflow for capturing notes and being able to sync them flawlessly between my iPad and iMac for further research and writing. I should have thought about this sooner but thankfully it’s not too late either.
I wanted to share this website from John Chandler that is proving exceptionally helpful to me in developing a solid workflow.
Since becoming a Christian I have loved the study of the Bible. I hated it before, but immediately fell in love with it after. This, I suggest, is the work of the Spirit. But I have to admit, several years into studying the Bible and it being the main passion of my life (in order to seek Jesus), I still find it thoroughly challenging.
I could mention that I find it challenging to follow its worldview in some ways, but that’s not where I’m going with these thoughts right now. I find it challenging to discern its meaning.
I’ve grown up holding two fairly conflicting worldviews in tension: that of a sort of ‘positivism’ and that of a sort of ‘postmodern deconstructionism.’ Positivism essentially means that I look at a text (say, the New Testament) and immediately gain a window onto objective reality and events as they really happened. There is the author and his or her intent and the events which he or she narrates and I can know them objectively. Postmodern deconstruction, on the other hand, essentially sees no authorial intent in the text but rather sees the text as a mirror reflecting back upon the reader their own viewpoints. Somehow I’ve subconsciously walked these two lines, contradictory though they are. Having not thought through them prior to becoming a Christian and a philosophy major, I’m sure I just unconsciously applied them at different times as it was convenient to do so.
It seems to me that there are Christians who fall into one of either camp (or both like I somehow did). On the positivist side, Christians sometimes think that the objective meaning of the events and author’s intent are simply there and easy to ascertain. On the postmodern side, Christians sometimes approach the text in terms of ‘what it means to me,’ never asking the historical question. What matters is the reader’s response.
But the reason I find Bible study so challenging is that meaning is not so simple. In fact, I think both sides have aspects of it right but have absolutized their position into falsehood. Indeed, Christians so often rail against postmodernism as an enemy (usually in favour of an equally non-Christian position, that of modernism) failing to recognize that it has developed in response to things that were left unaccounted for in the prior prevailing worldview (modernism). Yes the pendulum has swung too far to the other extreme, but postmodernism has helped us remember that there is in fact a reader in the reading process that must be taken into account. And that reader brings all sorts of presuppositions and viewpoints to the text they read. Postmodernism’s failure, however, is that it has lost any anchor, something a Christian should be very cautious about unless abandoning “God has spoken” is something desirable.
In responding to postmodernism as Christians, I believe we also need to be careful not to swing the pendulum back again and forget the reader in the process. I have seen, at least in popular discussion, this sort of thing happening.
Navigating these waters is not easy. That, or I’m just not that bright (entirely possible!). Or, I am sure someone will say I’m not allowing the Spirit to speak. Well, maybe, but when I look at 4 legitimate Christians and their take on the same text and the differences present, I am persuaded that our mind/thinking plays an important role in the interpretive process. That’s for another post, and there are good books out there that would show it biblically (both John Piper and Mark Noll have recently written books to this effect).
So, should I despair? No, I think there is a ‘middle ground’ or what have you, that doesn’t succumb to either positivism or deconstructionism. It recognizes there is a reader with presuppositions but it also recognizes that the reader can be shaped by the worldview of the text, produced with some intent that can be (to some degree) obtained. This itself is the content of whole books but it feels good to write some of this out, even if in broad-strokes and so preliminarily.
What do you think?
This afternoon I’m thinking about how I can organize my library and more efficiently keep track of it for access and reference, both my print library and electronic. I was helped by a required course in my program on research methods and I’ve also found this article from Andy Naselli to be of great help.
Every so often I get back on a kick and want to memorize the whole New Testament. I think, “Hey, if I still have several years ahead of me [itself uncertain], it is entirely possible. And how beneficial it would be!”
The only problem is, I had these sentiments 7 years ago, 4 years ago, 2 years ago, etc. What if I had actually followed through starting 7 years ago? And will I actually follow through now?
On the one hand I shouldn’t be too hard on myself since my study in the Bible and related disciplines required for detailed study of the Bible (linguistics, biblical languages, hermeneutics, exegesis, theology, etc.) that has gone on since then has prepared me to be a better interpreter of the Bible today. But, what if the whole NT was already sitting there in my head, ready to be chewed on at any moment?
Charles Swindoll has said it well: “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture…” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], p. 61).
But even if the whole NT seems daunting at the moment, memorizing portions cannot be a waste of time.
A few years ago I wrote up these ten benefits I was finding to memorizing scripture:
1) I’m forced to dig deeper into the wording. Memorizing a sentence requires reading it over many times and saying it over many times.
2) I’m understanding the flow of the author’s arguments much more clearly.
3) Memorizing whole chapters or books is helping me gain context for that whole chapter or book, necessary for understanding the small bits too.
4) I am getting better at cross-referencing Scripture. When I read in 1 Peter 3:1-7 about proper understanding of husbands and wives, immediately my memorization in Ephesians 5:22-33, where it discusses the same subject matter, comes to mind with which to help me interpret.
5) My language learning skills have grown immensely. I’m finding it near impossible to go into a Greek quiz or test and expect to get anything less than 100% because of straight-up memorization.
6) I’m growing more in love with God’s Word as I store it up in my heart.
7) I’m becoming better at combating heresy and I’m becoming more effective as an evangelist.
8) It is growing my thought life and ability to handle more and more difficult texts.
9) It is multiplying my devotional time by allowing me to go through Scripture in my head at any time and meditate on it.
10) And to borrow a reason from John Piper: Conformity to Christ.
There are other benefits but this will suffice for now. These goals are attainable. It just takes time to develop the good habit of sitting down and going for it every day.
As I mentioned, the issue I brought up yesterday about pastors maintaining a certain acquaintance with scholarship in the biblical languages was predicated on the languages being important in the first place.
Andy Naselli has a post that highlights this issue, linking to Scott J. Hafemann’s thoughts (SBJT 3:2 (1999)), and quoting him at length on the best reason he has for pastors using the languages in preaching: tracing the flow of the argument of the text. The whole article (which includes other scholars) is worth reading but especially Hafemann’s thoughts on this issue.
The primary practical reason he gives to learn the languages is this:
[T]he confidence and humility it will bring to our ministries, while at the same time saving us countless hours of exertion and frustration. One hour with the text is worth ten in secondary literature. And at the more important theological level, learning the languages affirms the nature of biblical revelation, restores the proper authority of the pastor as teacher, and communicates to our people that the locus of meaning and authority of the Scriptures does not reside in us, but in the text, which we labor so hard to understand. We learn the languages because we are convinced of the inerrancy, sufficiency, and potency of the Word of God.
He said one other thing in there that lines up with one strand of my research that I will quote and leave for discussion another time: “…since every translation is the embodiment of thousands and thousands of interpretive decisions; a translation is a commentary on the Bible without footnotes.” I can see you salivating for more!
Let me preface this post with my saying that I am not currently a pastor. What I say here should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, but I hope more than that that it would be weighed carefully. As a result, I will couch this in the form of a question with reflections.
Is it possible for pastors to keep up with current Greek scholarship on at least a marginal enough level that they are aware of the discussions and especially take into account developments in the last 2+ decades on verbal aspect?
I notice in sermons that pastors and speakers frequently say something about the Greek that lies behind the English version they are using and make an exegetical pronouncement about the text based on the verb that is questionable. The idea that either absolute time or ‘kind of action’ is the central feature of the verbal tense-form is an antiquated idea (with some debate as to whether time functions at all in it). I hesitate to provide examples lest I single pastors out. These pronouncements do not always affect the main point of the sermon but if I were preaching ideas that have shown to be false, I would want to have those things corrected out of integrity.
So, is it possible for a pastor to keep up with current Greek scholarship? I have two thoughts on this.
1) Scholars may be to blame in the first place. Commentary writers and popularizers of academic material have themselves failed to keep up and provide pastors with material that keeps up to date with the current understandings of the Greek language, especially the Greek verb.
I recently got my hands on a commentary that was released in 2010 (I won’t mention who) that fails to cite any Greek grammatical work beyond 1963, with the exception of two revised lexicons (1996 and 2000) which themselves are not in line with modern linguistics and Greek grammatical study. As such, the writer refers to tense-form usage in terms of its time-values and ‘kind of action’ that fails to recognize what all the major players of Greek grammar currently do and have for at least 2 decades: aspect, and not time, is the major contribution of the verbal tense-forms. Sadly this commentary is not alone in relying on dated grammars that were once magisterial (and no doubt they should be consulted) but have now been surpassed and even contradicted. How can pastors be expected to stay up to date if they are reading commentaries like this?
On the other hand, there are small glimmers of hope that the tide is changing as pastoral commentaries such as Kruse’s The Letters of John (PNTC) and Carson’s forthcoming Johannine Epistles (NIGTC) take verbal aspect seriously in their discussion of the Greek verb. Let’s hope for higher percentages.
2) Whatever the time commitments of the pastor, most (I hope) would agree that the preaching and teaching of the Word is central to the pastor’s job (cf. e.g., Acts 6:4; letters to Timothy). If that is so, the same pastors would agree that the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word is required. After all, to knowingly say something false would not be helpful. I don’t want to say that the pastor needs to be a scholar (there are varying gifts anyway) but should not some contact be maintained with the disciplines from when the pastor first encountered them in their seminary training (Greek as well as church history, theology, etc.)? After all, seminary does not teach everything the pastor needs to know so that they don’t have to read another book in their life, but it exposes the pastor to the beginning of a lifetime of study (I first heard this idea expounded by D.A. Carson in an interview).
Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that the languages are important for the pastor in the first place, a topic for discussion another time (but as I’ve heard many say and I myself believe: you don’t find pastors who have learned Greek well ever complain that it has not been fundamental in their study and teaching).
So, is it possible to maintain contact and stay abreast of the current discussion? I don’t have the final answer and won’t say more than I’ve just said for now except that if a pastor doesn’t think the languages are worth their time, should they quote Greek or refer to grammatical issues in a sermon in the first place?
Interested in your thoughts.
While, of course, we read with our eyes and think with our brains, I’ve come to learn that reading with a pencil is of great help to me.
I had never spent a lot of time with 1 Corinthians and had really wanted to get to know it better. So, I took out my English Bible and a pencil and began to underline and box conjunctions that signalled the flow of the text. It engaged my brain in a way that I don’t always engage when I’m reading and it kept me from zoning out. Days later I found that I remembered more about my study through 1 Corinthians than a lot of other reading I had done elsewhere. The same trend has continued in other sections of the Bible, not to mention my academic reading as well.
If you’re not in the habit of it, give it a try! There are no rules to this but you will probably develop your own approach as you go.