For our first monthly Per Sē forum (a lecture to our Upper School students and guests delivered by an outside expert), Dan Brendsel, the Missions Training Academy Director at Grace Church of DuPage, spoke on how to read the Bible as a story, a work of literature. He began his talk with a quotation from John Piper’s book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals that encouraged us to read slowly and ask questions, because when we wrestle with the text of Scripture, we can be confident that we will find treasure there.
Dan alerted us to four important aspects of stories that we should pay attention to while reading the Bible: narrative time, the order of events, characterization and repetition of phrases or sequences. He drew on Acts 13, an episode in Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journey, to illustrate how Luke’s narrative slows down to focus in on one travel stop in a series. By doing this, and narrating in detail Paul’s speech in the synagogue, Luke gives the reader a paradigm of the type of preaching Paul probably engaged in during all the other stops.
He used several passages from 1 Samuel to talk about the characterization both of David and of Goliath, the pretty boy against the frightful warrior, then he linked both in with the characterization of Jesus as divine in several miracle stories in Matthew. Focusing on the order of episodes in Mark, Dan showed how the repeated sequence of bread and boat stories lead up to the strong indictment of the disciples in Mark 8. Noticing these literary aspects of Scripture brings amazing insight, helping us to better understand God’s message to us through his Word.
To close our time, Dan used a quotation from one of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s letters:
“One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the bible God speaks to us… Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible” (as quoted in Eric Metaxas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy, 136-7) .
Watch for coming details about our October Per Sē!