Academic Reading and Devotional Reading of the Bible

With all the recent discussions whether or not laypeople should read the Scriptures, I’ve decided that it’s worth some reflection on the topic. I am, of course, a trained biblical scholar. I have been studying the Scriptures from an academic point of view from my freshman year in college up through receiving my PhD this past year. That comes out to be over 20 years of focused study on the scientific interpretation of the Bible. Throughout that time, I’ve also been an active Christian and have been reading the scriptures for my own edification. In addition, the bulk of my work for my dissertation has been on the pre-scientific readings and understandings of the holy Scriptures, particularly that of the church fathers and the early medieval monastics. With that kind of history behind me, I think I speak from an informed position both about the academic interpretation of the Scriptures, and the devotional interpretation of the Scriptures.

Indeed, the whole point of my dissertation was to argue that the academic interpretation of Scripture is a very particular way of reading for a very particular purpose that is located within a very particular context. I then set this way of reading in relationship with the early medieval monastic reading practices which were likewise a particular way of reading for a particular purpose located within a particular context. I tried really hard to express that neither one of them was better or worse than the other, but that they were doing different things for different reasons.

What I came to over the course of that 270 some pages, was a certain clarity about the purposes of the Academy over and against the purposes of the seminary and therefore the purposes of the church. As a New Testament scholar coming intentionally and deliberately from an ecclesial perspective I often felt a tension throughout my coursework between my academic studies and my own devotional and preaching work. When I taught preaching students the craft of biblical exegesis for the purpose of Christian proclamation, I felt the tensions between the academic work and the kind of reading and proclaiming necessary in a church environment.

The thing about George Clifford’s piece and the discussions that have ensued at the Café and also here, is that the question truly is not an either/or; it is most definitely a both/and. Yes, the Episcopal Church needs to embrace the academic study of the Scriptures. However, the academic study of the Scriptures does not give to us the bread that feeds, nor the wells of living water that spring up within our hearts. ‘Cause—it’s not supposed to. And that, my friends, is the crux of the matter from my perspective. We can be careless about questions of fitness and purpose.

One of my favorite expressions is, “To the man who has a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.” That is, to a person who has a good and effective tool, the temptation is to use it anywhere and everywhere possible. Typically when I use it, this phrase means I’m going to try and turn something into a database. However those who learn about the academic study of the Bible often fall into this trap as well. The academic study of scholarship is a tremendous tool for understanding the Scriptures. However, it is one means for gaining knowledge that is applicable in certain circumstances. I don’t care how good the hammer is, I don’t care how shiny the hammer it is, a hammer is no substitute for a toolbox. No one can be a master craftsman without properly understanding the application and limitation of their tools. And that’s the problem: the limitation of the tools. The difference between a journeyman and a master craftsman is that the master craftsman understands why and when to apply each tool. The journeyman simply fixes his attention on the tool he thinks is the best.

Here’s the thing. Most clergy take between 3 to 5 classes on Scripture over the course of their seminary career. You typically have an introductory course on the Old Testament, sometimes to introductory courses to read through the whole thing. Then you have an introductory New Testament course that is often paired with a methods course. A decent preaching course will reinforce what you learned in these introductory classes and in your methods class, but there’s simply too much stuff to cover in preaching for this to qualify as another exegetical class. What ends up happening is that we are not turning out master craftsman of the Scriptures. In most cases, we are not even turning out journeymen. This may seem harsh, but I would say that your average master of divinity educated clergy person is an advanced apprentice in using and applying the techniques of the academic study of Scripture. And honestly, that’s to be expected. Four semesters within the scope of three years is not enough time for anyone to master anything worth knowing. What it does mean, is that all too often clergy come out with a taste of modern biblical scholarship, but are unclear on its limitations and most appropriate applications. They know that it is important, they know that it can be helpful, and it would be one thing if it stopped there—but it doesn’t. Because there’s this thing called a commentary.

People are often surprised when I say this but I’ve come to really dislike commentaries. This dislike has grown over the years and it is rooted in how people use commentaries. Commentaries themselves are not good or bad; they are tools. But, commentaries exist for one purpose: they tell you what someone else thinks the text means. It doesn’t matter if it’s a modern biblical scholar or one of the patristic fathers– the point of a commentary is to tell you what they think the text means. The problem is that far too many people surrender their own reading authority over to a commentary. Rather than read the text for themselves, they go and find out what some authority says instead. And all too often, this is where a blind faith in the academic study of the Scriptures leads: to the assumption that these methods are essential and therefore the commentary is right and any other reading is wrong.

So, to recap briefly, learning the scientific study of Scripture takes time. Most of our clergy have not spent that time (and that’s not necessarily their fault). In lieu of mastering the tools, they go to commentaries where such tools are used.

Now it’s time to pick up where we started. It’s all about the question of purpose. Why do we read the Bible? We read it for a whole host of reasons: we read it for reflection, for inspiration, for information, for nourishment, for solace, for answers, for questions, for security, for strength. This is why Christians read the Bible. The academic study of the Bible is most directly applicable when we read for information. The academic of Scripture study focuses on a circumscribed set of questions: what were the circumstances around the writing of these books and their collection into one document? What do these texts teach us about what the people who wrote them thought? What do these texts reveal about the history and organization of the communities that created them? The bottom line is that the academic study of Scripture is securely located within the History of Ideas. It wants to know what things were thought by which people at which time and what would have been intended by what they wrote. The way that we typically wrap this up is to talk about the “literal” or “literary” meaning of the text and to make statements about “authorial intent.” Don’t get me wrong—authorial intent is important. But authorial intent is only part of a text’s possible or total meaning. The end of the academic study of a particular text is an interpretive guess about what it meant. Commentaries are therefore collections of such guesses that relate around a broader and bigger guess about the intent of the work as a whole.

My research is part of an evolving direction of Biblical Studies that has come about in the last thirty years or so that looks less at what the author meant and more at what the interpretive life of the text has been since it left the author/authors. That is, the question that I like to ask is not, “what did the author intend” but “what have communities found in this text?” As a result, I look at how preachers, monks, ascetics, and liturgies have interpreted, re-used, or re-purposed biblical texts to further their own reading strategies and goals. What I found in my intensive study of early medieval monastic reading practices is that they had a very clear purpose in mind: how do we enact the text in order to become saints? This is a very different purpose for reading and studying the Scriptures than what the academic community does. And, I would argue that it is far closer to the modern church is trying to accomplish. We frame it differently, but the end goal of our reading process is neither a guess nor, more broadly, an idea.

I’m in the same camp with the early medieval monks; the interpretive process has not been completed until someone’s habits have changed.

It’s not enough for us to read the Scriptures. Our work has not been completed until we have been transformed by them. And when I say “we” I mean “we,” not “you and me”—the whole community, the whole body of Christ, needs to be about the work of growing into the mind of Christ.

This is what the church needs to be about. This is the kind of reading that we have to be doing the good results of well done academic scholarship are useful to us—but they cannot do our work for us. They are fundamentally not asking the same questions that we’re interested in; they are not finding the answers that will ultimately transform us.

What I see emerging within the church is the recognition of the need for a “neo-patristic” method.

What exactly do I mean by neo-patristic?

  • By the “patristic” part that it shares fundamental and necessary qualities with patristic reading:
    • The Scriptures are the Church’s book to be read paradigmatically within the Church’s liturgy that bring us into a deeper relationship with the God embodied, celebrated, and proclaimed within the Church.
    • The purpose is located biblically within 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Ephesians 4—Scripture is intended for the entire body of Christ to do the works of righteousness. In a word: edification.
    • The controlling hermeneutic is the twofold love of God and neighbor. As Augustine, as Gregory the Great laid out time and time again this is the fundamental hermeneutic revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    • Meaning is found in the sensus plenior. That is, there is no one meaning for anyone text; there are many—sometimes competing, sometimes complementary—meanings that can be found within a single text. No one meaning (like authorial intent) can be the “right” or “most meaningful” meaning. The best meaning of the text is the meaning or the constellation of meanings that is most edifying to the church in its whole and in its particularities.
    • The literal meaning or the authorial intent is not necessarily the dominant reading. While it usually is one of the dominant meanings, there are times and places where it must give way in the face of more primary meanings. (I’ll say more about this later.)
  • By the “neo-“ part I recognize that it diverges from classical patristic reading:
    • For the patristic authors, the primary author was always the Holy Spirit. When they would speak of authorial intent they referred to what they believed the Spirit intended to say. While we recognize the Holy Spirit to be integral to both the writing and the reading of the text, we recognize the humanity of the authors and their inevitable propensity for both sin and limitation in a way that the patristic readers did not.
    • It does not seek to simply parrot patristic commentary. Rather, it recognizes the patristic tradition to be a living one where the Fathers interpreted in similar ways yet argued with one another and disagreed. Rather than simply being a replication of patristic teaching it is an on-going living use of the methods that they demonstrated in their own writing.

There’s a lot more about this that I’d like to say, particularly in terms of what this looks like both in relation to modern scientific Scripture study and in terms of direct application. However, since I’ve gone on at some length, I’ll post this part now as I work on the next part.

27 thoughts on “Academic Reading and Devotional Reading of the Bible

  1. Bill Dilworth

    Some time ago I was an occasional participant in a group that studied the weekly Torah portion, led by an extremely erudite Conservative rabbi. He had an excellent pastoral presence, as it were, and while he could unpack a verse’s history, its literal meaning, and various rabbinic commentaries on it, he was also very aware of how people look for personal, not just historic or halachic meaning, in the Bible. By contrast, another participant was a Biblical scholar with several advanced degrees, whose special area of expertise included the different sources of the Torah. Frequently the only thing this person brought to the table, it seemed, was the knowledge that the writer/editor was E, J, or whoever. We’d be chugging along, working with a story, and she would remind us that the source was the Priestly source, say, and that *of course* the verse was concerned with such and such issue and *of course* Moses (or whoever) didn’t do whatever the editor presented him doing or saying. More often than not, it presented an obstacle to the group discussion – she was intensely interested in source material, but seemed to have a tin ear for the story we were concentrating on. Very often the story being told by the later redactors didnt seem to matter at all, while where the source material arose from was paramount. She seemed to have a very expensive hammer bought at JTS at the price of great effort, money, and determination, but all she could do with it was hammer.

  2. Kevin LaGree

    I look forward to the next installment, Derek. I like what you said in this post because I share your view that we need to read in context, so to speak; at the very minimum to understand the context of the way we read and the purpose for which we read. In May, as part of my quadrennial renewal leave, I am participating in an intensive retreat in lectio divina to develop a better facility in that ancient practice of the faith. What attracts me to lectio divina is its inclusion of academic (scientific) reading of the text as a part of a multivalent process of reading and reflecting on scripture. It originated from monastic practice, of course, and I think it offers what you describe as a neo-patristic practice (particularly approaches which de-emphasize the “ladder” imagery of a better, more “spiritual” application as one moves through each stage of the process). It seems to me to operate out of a both/and rather than either/or approach to the reading of the text, so I am most interested in your next installment. Very good stuff indeed!

  3. Brian

    Thank you Eric!

    I think this is a very helpful post.

    For myself, academic information about biblical texts informs my attribution of relative authority and perspective within the longitudinal, multiparty dialogue that is the canon. Thus it materially affects my reflective reading of these same texts. As to edification, for instance, I could never square the Pauline circle of radical grace with oppression of slaves, women and homosexuals (one might call my misgivings promptings of the Holy Spirit), until I learned of the academic cases for the authorships of Deuteropaul and Pseudopaul, then it all made much more sense.

    One problem with what communities have found in these text is that many times there is a process of distortion of the Good News with projection of local culture, and more dangerously the advancement of the interests of the power-elite, such as support for certain forms of social organization particularly with respect to the creation, accumulation and distribution of wealth and power that can, and I think have, become “received tradition,” e.g., Carolingian national imperialism, the Crusades and the Cult of the Cross; the Age of Discovery, the rise of capitalism, colonialism, mass slavery, mercantilism, industrialism and the rise of Reformed theologies (with heavy reliance on Deuteropaul and Pseudopaul); or Modernism/Post-Modernism and the rise of Fundamentalism.

    These readings of the Bible are tools too, but I do not think they are tools of edification toward the twofold love of God and neighbor, to me, these historical iterations of guided, programmatic, certainly non-academic, community-use readings of the Bible seem more like the tackle of livery: bridles, saddles, harnesses and yokes than Good News.

    So, I agree both/and.

  4. Brian

    Dear Bill,

    Does it make a difference to your reading that there were Redactors at all? Does it make a difference to your reading that Redactors chose, ignored, sliced, rearranged and spliced sources into narratives that we have as “unified” texts that are now seen as finished, canonical product that shalt not now be re-redacted? What of those processes? What of those biases? What of those agendas? Even the process of establishing a Christian canon, apparently in the mists of time between Irenaeus and Origen, had to have had politics, winners and losers, beside the Gnostics, in addition to pure, spiritual discernment.

    This information makes a difference to me and to my reading of the texts. For one thing, I feel called to a greater sense of responsibility for how I take on each of these particular texts, and to resist just going along for the ride that the writer(s)/redactor(s) intended.

    I do not intend to suggest getting wrapped up splitting hairs over conventions of story setting, etc., so as to miss the overall thrust and point of the narrative. I mean more to say that once in and through it’s not just QED, but that there’s actually much more to it than what meets the eye on the page.

    This take of mine may be just my self-willed αἵρεσις, be that as it may. I think these sorts of questions at least warrant asking.

  5. Bill Dilworth

    While I find the processes by which the Bible came to be interesting, I don’t find them nearly as interesting – and certainly not as meaningful – as the stories the Bible now tells. I believe God speaks through the Bible; the fact that the text as we have it now was sliced and diced, edited, re-edited, and otherwise manipulated doesn’t interfere with that belief any more than the fact that life evolved through natural selection dissuades me from believing that God is the maker of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible. That doesn’t mean I hear God’s voice in every line, or that I agree uncritically with what other readers, past or present, thought God was saying to them. It doesn’t even mean that I hear God saying the same thing every time I read a given passage. Nor does it mean that the Bible is the only way I believe God speaks.

    I suppose the fact that there are redactors does make a difference to my reading, since I don’t think God dictated every word to the writers. That I don’t hold that belief means I don’t feel obligated to wrench meaning out of every page; I don’t pretend that I’m reading the text in the same way a first century Christian read it. So yea, it makes a difference. It’s just not the driving force behind my reading.

  6. bls

    Thanks for this, Derek – and I, too, look forward to more.

    Your academic-devotional perspective is an interesting one – and I think I ‘m beginning to understand what you mean by “interpretation isn’t finished until habits have been changed.” I was thinking as I read that that implies a lot of reading/study/talking it over – and the last thing, discussion, is an indispensible part of the project, I believe now….

  7. rick allen

    This is a very welcome discussion.

    I have long been dismayed by the Funks and Ehrmans of the world assuring us that the seminaries have been keeping the “truth” about the scriptures away from the poor laity. I am one of those poor layman, and learned much about the historical critical method in a few undergraduate courses three decades back. I also read Schweitzer’s “Quest of the Historical Jesus” as an undergraduate and have happily retained a healthy scepticism about all the new Jesuses of the latest quests.

    I don’t mean to put down the historical scholarship. I’ve found it helpful, though I think it considerably more speculative than its practicioners let on. I just find it mostly irrelevant to Christian faith. To preach it would be like buying a ticket to Hamlet and seeing instead a lecture on Shakespeare’s sources, and his use of irony, and his attitude to gender. All very interesting, of course, but it ain’t Hamlet.

    I remember once, an elderly priest was preaching from Peter’s first epistle, and he said something like, “Here Peter says–well, actually, it probably wasn’t Peter–that…..” I know that the old fellow probably felt a little dishonest if he had become convinced that the apostle didn’t write the letter, and if he didn’t throw in that disclaimer. I felt like I knew why he said it. But I had to wonder, what kind of effect did it have on the point he was making, other than to pull the rug out from under it?

    Some of the previous posters have found some help in distinguishing “authentic” from “pseudonymous,” “early” from “later.” But I find those distinctions less and less convincing. I’ve been reading the scriptures in Greek for 30 years, and in Hebrew for 20, and I don’t find the stylistic changes any more dramatic than those between, say, early and late Chesterton. Most writers do change. Most young Turks, when successful, do become somewhat more custodial when their revolutions start to become embodied in institutions.

    The flip side is that I find that the historical method is used, most often, to dismiss scripture that we don’t like, to say Jesus or Paul or Peter “didn’t say that,” rather than asking, “If they didn’t say that, why was it thought that they did?’

    So I find myself agreeing that most modern commentaries, being primarily exponents of the historical method, are interesting, but not much more. And I also have found, in the last decade, a greater appreciation of the allegorical exposition of scripture (most recently with two arguably controversial figures, in Origen’s homilies on Joshua, and Eckhart’s sermons). There is a great deal of freedom in them, but they are still firmly tethered in the Tradition. For me the exemplify the old maxim that I first learned in Economics 101 in connection with the money supply, “The better your brakes, the faster you can drive your car.”

  8. Brian

    Thank you Bill.
    I feel overall similarly overall. I especially like your analogy of academic analysis alongside reading the missives from God, to the science of evolution via natural selection alongside the overarching primus of the Creator of everything and the ground of being.

    I think too, as ever, part of the process of metanoia leading to habits changing, happens in the public work [ litugy] in the sanctuary [haligweorc].

  9. Bill Dilworth

    I’d like to say a word in defense of one commentary, William Neil’s Pocket Bible Commentary. What I like about it is (1) Neil tried to write it so that it couldnt be read in place of the Bible, but along with it. (2) Neil doesn’t ignore the fact that the Bible was edited from sources written for very different reasons, but he doesn’t privilege them. He points out that a passage might have been originally meant as an explanation for tribal conflict, for example, but he’ll go on to say that it’s original meaning isn’t the reason it was included by the final redactors, which is to tell us something about God.

    It’s an old work (1961), so it misses a lot of more recent scholarship, it’s not an exhaustive exploration of the scholarship available (which the title gives away), and since Neil does not seem to be a heavy hitter in Biblical scholarship I’m sure there are other problems. Probably the fact that he believes the purpose of the Bible is to tell us something about God marks him as terribly naive in some circles. I don’t always agree with him, but I especially like it because it gets me looking past the different sources at the unified text without having to pretend that those sources aren’t there.

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  11. Jonathan

    As a first year mdiv on the path towards ordination in the Episcopal church, I’m very much enjoying and learning a lot from these topics and discussions. Thanks for adding to it!

    I will say, at my seminary, I’ve felt pretty good about the way my professors are presenting these tools in our intro courses- not just the beginnings of the basics of how to use them, but also an eye towards why they might be useful in the context of our pastoral and preaching responsibilities and how to utilize them towards that purpose. I’ve been moved and convicted by many lectures I’ve had, in the way that one can feel after a strong and effective sermon. I’m not called to vocational academia, but I’m really loving getting to spend a little time dipping my toe in and, so far at least, I feel like I’m learning about it, as you say, as one tool for specific tasks in my larger toolbox for priestly ministry.

  12. Derek Olsen

    The whole question of sources, authorship, and interpolations is an important part of my second part.

    Yes, bls, it *does* require both thinking and discussion.

    Bill, that’s not a commentary I’m familiar with, but I’d agree that it sounds quite useful.

  13. Christopher

    As someone who find himself providing soul care to seminarians who find their faith coming unglued in follow up to intro scripture courses, such as when it is pounded home to them that Is 7:14 isn’t about the Virgin Birth and the correct meaning relates to Hebrew politics/community of the time, it is so helpful to remind us again and again that Scripture is not reducible to a singular, “right” meaning so quickly and hardfast-edly or is that hamfisted-ly. This is, unfortunately, a dominant academic approach, and it mirrors a fundamentalist tendencies it claims to oppose.

    In my experience, academic scholarship of the Bible has its limits. It’s greatest limit in my opinion is its inability often to help folks pull together the pieces of faith again. And too often professors are not interested in helping students through this deconstruction in which scripture is to be completely understood outside of its interpretive matrix in liturgical community by positing another community, an academic community, as the interpretive authority. That is not to say academic scholarship of scripture is not of value, but simply that it cannot be the end on its own for either Christians or Jews.

    Moreover, both Christians and Jews have had sciences for interpreting the scripture long before modern approaches, and it isn’t always clear that what emerges through these sciences is of less value to the human soul and community.

    So walking students though being disturbed to learn that the Hebrew translates as “maiden,” and that the LXX translates “virgin,” and that the early Christian community went with the LXX in Mt 1:23. That the Christian Jewish community is in a process of interpretation that will become distinct from shared roots with Pharisaic Jewish kin…that the doctrine that arises from Christian interpretation, especially in light of the Resurrection, namely, Virgin Birth, has multiple theological meanings and implications of its own, physically in Jesus and spiritually in us…that being watchful about claims to singularity of interpretation that mirror one another end up themselves reducing scripture in ways that neither honor the riches of the texts, nor can edify….

  14. bls

    Just wanted to offer here that I experienced no cognitive dissonance whatsoever in using Bible criticism. I was glad to know more about how people thought it all worked – and I agree that this seems all rather speculative and quite subject to change, as is speculation in every other academic field – but I never thought that there could possibly be any other explanation for what is clearly a compendium of stuff from various sources and times and places. I’ve never had any problem, either, with accepting that certain sections of the Bible are literary and were never meant to be understood in any other way.

    I have a hard time believing that isn’t pretty much true of anybody who’d join the Episcopal Church in particular – and actually of the vast majority of people who might join most varieties of the church going forward. I mean, Catholics have no issue with this, either, that I know of. So I think that whether they are coming from another religion, or from the growing ranks of “nones” – most people will not come with assumptions about the text that make it difficult to accept critical methods. It will be obvious to them going in.

    It will be the faith aspect that people will find difficult, I’d say, so I’d think that is where some attention might be paid.

  15. Derek Olsen

    Thread spam disposed of.

    Christopher raises a good point. Some profs are so used to the idea of academic methods that they forget what a scandal they can be to some students who come with an admittedly naive perspective of the texts based on children’s Sunday School piety. Other profs take entirely too much delight in shattering such assumptions and don’t help clean up the spiritual crises they thus engender.

    My first exposure to higher criticism as a freshman in college created quite a crisis for me.

  16. Vicki McGrath


    Thank you for a good and thorough job. I’m reading this after teaching the session in our Adult Inquirer’s Class on how we (as Episcopalians) read and understand Scripture. And, one way or another, many of your points came up in our conversation. It’s helpful to think of your approach (which I share, but wouldn’t have thought through all the details you have) as neo-patristic – continuity and connectedness to the tradition, faithfulness to both the text and human experience, and leaving lots of room for the Holy Spirit.

    My own first acamdemic Scripture experience as a college freshman (a NT class) was a bit of an exercise in stubborness. I had heard from others that the professor was dismissive of “Christian” readings of the Bible; and I had one classmate who argued strenuously with the professor in almost every class (it became very distracting!). But I took it as a challenging spiritual exercise, and actually ended up praying my way through the class, always looking for what God might be saying (and saying to me) through what I was learning. And understanding that my mind and intellect was an important part of my faith (I guess that comes from having had a rector who had a science PhD and was acollege chaplian before he became a parish preist!). Ultimately the academic study was, as you say, a helpful tool, but certainly not one that would be sustaining for any kind of spiritual life or relationship with God.

  17. rick allen

    It may be some comfort to know that these are not entirely contemporary experiences.

    This is from one of Evelyn Waugh’s essays:

    “During the first World War many university dons patriotically volunteered to release young school-masters to serve in the army. Among these there came to my school a leading Oxford theologian, now a bishop. This learned and devout man inadvertently made me an atheist. He explained to his divinity class that none of the books of the Bible were by their supposed authors; he invited us to speculate, in the manner of the fourth century, on the nature of Christ. When he had removed the inherited axioms of my faith I found myself quite unable to follow him in the higher flights of logic by which he reconciled his own skepticism with his position as a clergyman.”

  18. John-Julian, OJN

    A few simple words: It seems to me that the “problem” occurs when Scripture is treated as source rather than commentary. I’m remembering that almost everything in Scripture was probably written not to be taken home and studied and dissected, but to be read (or possibly even chanted) aloud in the liturgical Assembly. I’m 79 years old and decided to be a priest when I was 8 (with a rector, by the way, who sent 24 people to the priesthood in 27 years)—and I never even HEARD of a “Bible Study” in an Episcopal Church until I was ordained and 30 years old and had moved to New England from the Midwest.

    Now I’ve been a contemplative monk for thirty years and have reaped immeasurable harvests from lectio divina and extended, deeply-concentrated study of Scripture—but it is all still commentary—and its practical application is devotional and has nothing to do with either my systematic or moral theology. I do not believe anything “because it’s in the Bible”—but everything I believe is enriched, adorned, elaborated, and warmed by Holy Scripture, like an old family photograph album. It gives me perspective and context and experience, and I truly love it with all my heart—although it is not the place I would generally look to define my faith.

    But then, I’m only an old codger edging on to senility…..

  19. Christopher

    bls, neither did I experience such dissonance in criticism, but that isn’t as common as those who do. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t because it does mean I do not have an “inside” on how this affects others. I had several undergrad courses in OT, NT, and intertestamental literature prior to seminary. The professor, who I liked a lot, was a strident nonbeliever. I remember a friend and I coming to classes early and the Evangelicals in the class gathered in circle praying for his soul. Somehow she and I escaped what he taught being faith-shattering, and took him in stride, but his style caused real faith crises for others. Many seminary professors are more sensitive than that and nevertheless do not always recognize the pastoral need when navigating knowledge that often is at odds with what is received in the parish.

    We have a responsibility in such matters to rebuild where we tear down.

  20. bls

    You are right, Christopher. After I posted, I realized I was probably wrong about the assumptions I made in it. What I really was speaking to was my own situation – people who have little contact or experience with the church, and thus no ideas about things going in.

    And actually I think people like us are in the distinct minority, at least at present – and may be for the future, too. The Episcopal Church does seem to pick up defectors from other traditions more than folks like me, off the street.

    So, I retract! You’re completely right about what you said above.

  21. Bill Dilworth

    I wish we did more to get people off the streets, instead of centering an evangelism strategy of waiting for people to get fed up with their home church.

  22. Michael S

    In my Intro to Biblical Interpretation class at a Dominican school, probably half the course was historical-critical, and the other half was minority-liberation-criticism. When I asked why we didn’t address at all the historic interpretations of the church, I was told we didn’t have time. :-/

    I would very much like a neo-patristic introductory text!

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  25. Jonathan Jarrett

    I’m in the same camp with the early medieval monks; the interpretive process has not been completed until someone’s habits have changed.

    No pun intended, presumably… (Sorry!)

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