I’m reading a fascinating book recommended to me by my good friend Thomas Lyons titled Wesley, Wesleyans, and Reading Bible as Scripture, edited by Joel B. Green and David F. Watson. It’s of interest due to some of the similar challenges that we are facing in the Vineyard… issues related to the functional authority of Scripture, hermeneutics, etc.
My favorite essay in the book is Elaine A. Heath’s, “Reading Scripture for Christian Formation.” Heath provides a look at how John Wesley approached Scripture and, I think, persuasively argues that Wesley never read Scripture in a dualistic manner.
Here’s what I mean. In some American circles, the Bible is either read in an intellectual manner and approached in a scholarly way that seems to only care about the ancient historical setting. In this manner, the Bible is treated simply as informative, largely based on a commitment to the idea that “knowledge is power” and “knowledge equates to transformation.” This approach tends to be more about facts than anything else and absolutely loves the historical-grammatical approach to the Bible.
In other circles, the Bible is more a devotional book and people read it simply for inspirational quotes. Praying Scripture and allowing it to spontaneously speak to one’s heart is the name of the game in this approach. Scripture tends to only be read using Lectio Divina and little regard for the ancient cultural context is given.
I join John Wesley in saying, “NO!!!!!”
The dualistic approach to the Bible where sometimes we read the Bible to understand it’s original meaning versus reading the Bible for formation is a false choice. We should always read the Bible to understand both it’s original meaning and how it functions to shape and form us today. They are both important aspects of reading Scripture. As Robert Wall notes:
“… the bifurcation of academic biblical studies from spiritual formation-oriented readings common today would have been unthinkable to Wesley.”
The Vineyard and Scripture…
It’s probably too much to address here on a blog, but in looking at the history and development of the Vineyard movement, I wonder if many of us have bought into these two different approaches to Scripture. Given that our early leaders were “conservative evangelicals” with the Holy Spirit, they seemed to approach the Bible in the same way typical of that tradition. Early leaders such as Don Williams, Bill Jackson, and Rich Nathan have stressed reading the Scriptures in the typical evangelical way, focused on authorial intent. There was definitely a concern for reading Scripture in a scholarly way that cared deeply for the original intended meaning!
More recently, the Vineyard movement seems to be focused on encouraging the reading of Scripture for the specific purpose of formation. The last five Vineyard conferences I’ve attended have placed a great deal on Lectio Divina and have taken time to read Scripture in community using this method. Perhaps this is a corrective to the over-emphasis on the authorial intent?
I suspect that while there has likely not been a concerted effort to approach the Bible in these ways, the Vineyard is experiencing the pendulum swing due to various reasons (e.g., cultural shifts, changing theological influences, church challenges, etc.).
Information and Transformation!
Of course, lest I be misunderstood, I love reading Scripture using the Lectio Divina model. I do it daily! I just want to emphasize that reading Scripture in its original context and aware of its original meaning is an important aspect of reading Scripture for formation! They go hand in hand, I think. It’s difficult to understand what Scripture means today if we don’t attempt to understand what Scripture meant then.
So we should read Scripture to grasp and understand information about the self-revelation of God and we should read it to be shaped and formed because while we read Scripture, the Holy Spirit is shaping and forming our humble hearts!
What do you think? I’m purely thinking out loud and would love your thoughts!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.