Theology Update for the Week of September 30

Dear friends in Christ,

Out of Egypt: Reading Exodus Theologically

On September 30 at 10 a.m., the Sunday class continues its study of the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. Following the giving of the “book of the covenant,” the Lord begins the instructions for constructing the Tabernacle, the place in which the Lord himself would dwell during the Israelite wandering in the desert. But first he gives Moses “tables of stone,” on which were written the law.

In addition to being a record of the central event in Jewish history – the exodus from Egypt and journey toward the Promised Land – Exodus also provides a prime case study of the benefits of a utilization of the traditional “four senses” of scripture: the literal, the typological, the moral, and the mystical.

NB: There will not be a 10 a.m. class on Sunday, October 7 due to the activities around the organ dedication.

The scriptural imagination

The class on Exodus has been going on for quite a while – this Sunday’s class is the 19th session in the series. That is not as long as the Friday Bible study examined the Gospel of St. Luke, however; I believe that journey lasted two years. The Exodus class has been a deep dive into this narrative of the genesis of the Hebrew people, as the Luke class was a deep dive into the genesis of the Christian people.

Recently I ran across an article written by C. Kavin Rowe, professor of New Testament at the Duke Divinity School, that helped me think about the importance of these kinds of protracted studies of scripture. (The article is here.) Rowe suggests that this type of study is integral to the formation of a “Scriptural imagination.” He explains that “imagination” in this sense doesn’t mean fantastical play or creativity. He writes:

Imagination … is thus not something that exists only in our heads or is used only for particular activities such as artistic depiction; it is also practically dense, or lived. The shape of our lives both testifies to and influences the way we imagine the world, and, conversely, our imagination helps to structure the concrete patterns of daily, lived existence.

That is, immersion in the Bible shapes the way we come to interpret all other experiences. Optimally, our lives become formed by the narrative of God’s revelation in Scripture.

This suggests a few things to me. The first is the importance of taking time with the Bible, paying close attention, going slowly, resisting the urge to complete one thing in order to move on to the next. Some may find this difficult to the point of impossibility; I certainly do. The formation of a Scriptural imagination can’t be rushed, however, but is the product of sustained attention.

The second is the helpfulness of other perspectives, and the artificiality of relying on oneself alone for interpretation. Self-reliance isn’t a virtue in this case. Rowe illustrates this with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8 (here). The eunuch is reading the Scriptures, and Philip asks him whether he understands what it is that he is reading. He responds, How could I, unless someone helps me? Indeed, we all need other people’s insights, other people’s assistance. Luckily for today’s Church, that assistance abounds. Rowe suggests learning Greek and Hebrew, which I find a tad ambitious. However, help can come not only from contemporary commentary-writers and supportive fellow members of Bible study groups, but also faithful readers of generations past, going all the way back to the first few centuries of the Church. Thanks to the internet, all manner of commentaries and Biblical research are now widely available, from the patristic era up to the present day. Some of it is totally nuts, certainly, but there are some gems out there, too.

The third thing the article reminded me of is how extraordinarily fortunate we are to have a local community with whom to read, study, and interpret scripture, alongside the communion of saints across time and space. Not everyone does. In a culture that is largely indifferent to scripture, a community that values the Bible and tradition is all the more important. It is something for which we should give thanks daily.

Yours in Christ,