5 books that helped shape how I read the Bible

I’ve been tagged by Karyn Traphagen with a book meme:

Name 5 books or scholars that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. [Ken Brown has collected responses.]

I’m going to come at it a little differently than some. These books are more representations of communities and experiences that have shaped my reading of Scripture.  As you can see, some do not directly address how I read the Bible per se, but they had a radical impact on my hermeneutics in a contextual kind of way.

  1. Peter Enns – Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament along with classes by Doug Green and Mike Kelly at Westminster (also Kenton Sparks – God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.—though more recent (2008), he gets at many of the same issues.) I guess half of you will disown me at this point; sorry.  These same Old Testament professors helped me appreciate a redemptive-historical approach to the entire biblical canon–the whole Bible as God’s story of redemption.
  2. NT Wright – The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God . (Also his most recent books, but the starting point was his article on How Can the Bible be Authoritative (or pdf)—the 5th Act elaborated more in his recent book on Scripture The Last Word).
  3. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith– Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the problem of Race in America (in conjunction with other books on ethnicity & race)  helped me see how a lot of “biblical interpretation” is driven by our sub-cultures and desires to preserve certain comforts and privileges. Social environment plays a huge role in our hermeneutical stance and which texts we choose to listen to or to ignore.
  4. Kwame Bediako – Theology and Identity : The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa.
  5. Laurenti Magesa – African Religion: The Moral Traditions of the Abundant Life provides some African religious context as a worldview setting for reading and inculturating the Bible). Provides the bookend with #1 in the dialogue between cultures of biblical times and Africa today into which God speaks.

[And since I always cheat on memes, a few more]:

  1. Walter Wink – Naming the Power series (helped me piece together together my biblical, American, and African misunderstandings of the spirit world in a somewhat unusual way—more on that some time in the future.)
  2. Anything demonstrating the more Jewish orientation of Acts (Tiede, Jervell, etc.)
  3. Sperber and Wilson – Relevance: Communication and Cognition – This book actually does a very poor job of communicating or achieving “relevance”, but the ideas that emerge out of it are important for hermeneutics and communication. (Ernest Gutt makes it more clear in Relevance Theory Guide to Successful Communication in Translation )

My hermeneutical journey went something like this.

  • At Wheaton College, perhaps the most significant “eye-opening” experiences were learning Greek, Hebrew, and textual criticism. It helped me begin to see the Bible as a living document in different ways than I had been raised to believe.
  • After my BA, I thought that if I could only figure out how the early church father’s interpreted the Bible, then I might be able to solve many of the disputes we have over interpretation today.
  • Then I studied the church fathers and realized they were just as confused and driven by culture as we are (Bediako’s book gets at that)—back to direct exegesis of the Biblical texts.
  • Through Trinity and Westminster, I became disillusioned with presentations of systematic or dogmatic theologies. (I have a relatively long list of books that paradoxically convinced me that their way of reading the Bible was untenable. The harder they tried, the less convinced I became.)
  • Meanwhile the African-American brothers and sisters began to open my eyes to the racist sub-culture of American Evangelicals and their limited readings of the Bible. They helped me appreciate the Exodus story (Exodus/New Exodus readings of the Bible) and the the importance God places on justice throughout the biblical narrative.
  • Peter Enns (I & I) and the other Old Testament profs at Westminster (Al Groves, Doug Green, and Mike Kelly) opened up the biblical cultural worlds and methods of interpretation during the second temple period. The key epiphany there was the christotelic (towards Christ) hermeneutic of the apostles. (They also introduced me to N.T. Wright.)
  • N.T. Wright opened my eyes to the Second Temple context and a more “Jewish”—story of Israel—reading of New Testament texts. Wright further helped reframe my worldview.
  • More recently, Laurenti Magesa helped me think of contextualizing the gospel in different African cultures, and along with Bediako helped me appreciate how understandings of African worldviews can enrich our understandings of the Gospel and our readings of the Bible.

And le voila; here I am: more confused than ever, but hopefully confused at a higher level. All in all, I have developed a far deeper respect for Scripture and how God continues to speak through it the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ to peoples of different times, places, and cultures. May God be praised!!

If they feel like doing some variation of this, I tag: Rombo Kins (who you’ll probably have to catch on Twitter); Eddie Arthur; Pastor M; David Ker; Michael Kruse; Brad Wright; the newly minted REV. Simon Cunningham; and David Bawks (who should be done with exams and student council business in a couple of weeks.)

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “5 books that helped shape how I read the Bible

  1. […] Byerly at Ben Byerly’s Blog: Peter Enns, N.T. Wright, Michael Emerson/Christian Smith, Kwame Bediako, Laurenti Magesa (plus […]

  2. marty says:

    Hey Ben,

    It’s Marty Foord–we met at Tyndale House last year. I finally found your blog, and found this post absolutely facinating. Although I struggle with Enns and Sparks’ books (I once held a view basically the same as these guys) I wouldn’t disown you at all; we’re free to think our own thoughts and work through our problems ourselves. FWIW one of my main influences is Bill Dumbrell (one of my OT profs) who has devoted his life to “biblical theology” (redemptive historical reading of Scripture). He puts the Bible together brilliantly as has much on common with the WTS OT guys. He also introduced me to NT Wright back in 1992, even before NT and The People of God came out! (I had several wonderful hours with NTW in person back in 2000). Interestingly, Bill Dumbrell also finally convinced me to move away from the Enns-type position on Scripture. It’s funny how life unfolds differently for us all.

    I look forward to reading your posts, and do hope that Africa is going well, and that your work on Acts is progressing.

    God bless you.

  3. Ben says:

    Thanks Marty. I really enjoyed our chats at Tyndale. I’ve got a couple of Dumbrell’s books and find them quite useful too. Wish I was back at Tyndale. I think I’d be a lot more productive. You lucky dog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s