one striving for God's reign to come to earth, bringing his peace, wholeness, completeness, and health to all aspects of life.

A Call to Exegesis

Right now I'm reading Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book.  It started slowly but makes some excellent points.  I just finished chapter four, which was a great discussion of the form of Scripture, story.  All of Scripture, the different genres and styles, are all part of a meta-narrative, one grand story.  And Scripture must be read within this framework.  So often we want to take a verse or a chapter and dissect it for the meaning, the important nugget, the principle, and then move on.  And we do great violence to the text in this way.  Peterson says that the form in which language comes to us is as important as its content, and if we misunderstand the form we will probably respond wrongly to the content—we must understand the form of story if we are to rightly respond to the Bible.

A couple quotes on this crucial point:
“We are caught off-guard when divine revelation arrives in such ordinary garb and mistakenly think it’s our job to dress it up in the latest Paris silk gown of theology” (43).  
“We do violence to the biblical revelation when we ‘use’ it for what we can get out of it…When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s” (44).  

Part of understanding Scripture as story is coming to grips with the different viewpoints/ideas/content present in the different authors in Scripture.  This has caused great grief for many, as they try to get their brains around why there are seeming discrepancies in Scripture.  However, in the context of Scripture as story, this becomes  an aid in helping us wrap our brains around the meaning and direction of the story.  Peterson says that the many voices and points of view present in the Bible give it coherence; “instead of attempting to iron out the wrinkles of inconsistency and disharmony, we have to listen for the resonances, echoes, patterns—the swarming complexity of lived truth, not pinned-down and labeled facts” (47).  When Scripture is a story instead of a text book of facts, we can see the overlapping nature of different books in this context of the swarming complexity of lived truth, and allow the story to speak without needing every detail to match up in our modern scientific way...

There is so much in this chapter, but I want to move to the final piece as it's crucial.  Peterson calls for all of us, all serious Christians, to engage in exegesis, which is defined as a careful and serious reading of the text.  Or Peterson defines it by saying: “Exegesis is simply noticing and responding adequately to the demands that words make on us” (51).  Many think that this task is for clergy or for academics, but Peterson makes a clear call for all Christians who want to follow Christ to engage in serious study of the text.  Further, he says, we cannot rely on our “spirituality” or listening to God and skip exegesis; the more mature we become, the more attentive we must be to exegesis.  So buy some commentaries, people!  

Wondering why your "devotional life" (whatever that means) is stale?  Wondering why you can't seem to get anything out of the Bible?  Wondering why your "daily devotional" doesn't seem to lead to real spiritual growth??  It's because you aren't digging into the text, which is not the role of pastors and professors, but of all Christian people!  So, seriously, buy some commentaries!  If you need help with what kind of commentaries, or with where you might get them, I can help you or point you in the right direction.  But I think if you do this, you'll find it begins to deepen your interaction with Scripture immediately.  I'll close with some more of Peterson's quotes on exegesis:

“Exegesis is the furthest thing from pedantry; exegesis is an act of love.  It loves the one who speaks the words enough to want to get the words right.  It respects the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right.  Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says” (55). 

“Exegesis does not mean mastering the text, it means submitting to it as it is given to us.  Exegesis doesn’t take charge of the text and impose superior knowledge on it; it enters the world of the text and lets the text ‘read’ us.  Exegesis is an act of sustained humility: There is so much about this text that I don’t know, that I will never know.  Christians keep returning to it, with all the help we can get from grammarians and archaeologists and historians and theologians, letting ourselves be formed by it” (57). 

Without exegesis spirituality gets sappy and soupy, and all the words are defined out of the context of our own experience.

May we all do the hard work of exegesis, digging into the text and the world behind it to understand its meaning, so that we may be built up into mature and complete followers of Christ...


Anonymous February 11, 2010 at 10:38 AM  

I'm glad you're enjoying the book! Ruth Anne

Anonymous February 12, 2010 at 8:55 PM  

I found a great treasure - I made my way to your blog - Bapu

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