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Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Learning to Read again. . . . . in worship.
The way we approach and read Scripture may be the single most important factor in Christian worship. Most often, I experience Scripture being approached in worship services like a treasure chest. It's highly valued and the task is for the leader to reach in and pull something out that is relevant to our every day lives. We approach the Bible as a functional text, like a handbook or worse, a rulebook. I call this the extraction approach. I'm searching for the immersion approach. 

Rather than asking what we can extract from this book to make our lives work, what if we asked a different question: How might we become immersed in it's Story, swept up into its movement, captured by it's central character and enthralled in its mystery. It's a different way of reading, altogether. "It's a different way of reading, altogether." (pardon the airplane joke if you didn't get it.) Consider this keen observation:

The apostolic way of reading and preaching Scripture is to see Jesus Christ as the subject of the entire Bible, the subject of all history. He is the single overarching story of all time. He is the meaning of the entire narrative of human history. He is seen everywhere. He is in every event. . . . The Bible nourishes us . . . because it reveals Jesus Christ . . . who now lives in us and calls us into the new humanity.
Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 119-120.
How might we do this?  First we must rediscover the wisdom and beauty of the ancient patterns of reading Scripture in worship, most notably the use of time-tested, pre-selected weekly texts centered around Jesus.  Second, we have to recapture a way of following Jesus through the totality of his life in the midst of our "real time." If his story controls, our agendas fade. This is the only way our agenda can be subverted. The best way I've seen this unfold in worship is through ordering our entire sense of time around this story. (i.e.  our calendars and our clocks). We need to rediscover the wisdom and beauty of the ancient ways of doing this and find creative ways to contextualize these practices in our 21st century reality. 

posted by John David Walt | at 1/27/2009 03:01:00 AM



Anonymous guy m williams said...

I think Willimon is the best example of the immersion approach in contemporary Methodism, maybe the Church. He's got some great stuff to say on this in his podcast. There's an address he gave to the 2006 Festival of Homiletics that nails some of this.

He distinguishes between a contemporary (mostly evangelical) approach to preaching that seeks to distill Scripture into applicable points and preaching that seeks a storied encounter with Jesus, lamenting that while he has come to expect us mainline Methodists not to handle Scripture well, he expected more from evangelical churches. The main flashpoint of this is that in the first, we can say of the text, "Yeah, I get it," whereas in the latter we come away saying, "It's got me."

This strikes me as a helpful way of talking about the extraction vs. immersion approaches.

While I would agree there is some value in the movements of time in the lectionary year, I am reticent to embrace it fully, in large part because it seems to me that the lectionary tends to extract texts from their location in the canonical narrative and functionally disembodies them. I'm not suggesting that evangelical or mainline self-help style preaching series are the answer. Quite the contrary. I don't know that I have the solution, but I do think the bible churches are on to something since preaching through the bible book-by-book is in the service of the canonical shape of the scriptural narrative and does not functionally rearrange or re-narrate the biblical Story in the lives of the people.

11:59 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever been to a Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church? You might want to check it out. After looking at several of your posts it sounds like all the things you are hoping/trying to integrate into worship can be found there. I hope you and your family are very well. It gives me a lot of joy to have found you on the Net and find out what you've been up to.
-a convert to Orthodoxy, your old friend, James Hall (still in Houston)

12:23 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

Guy-- I guess what I'm contending is that it's all about learning to read. It's clear that even the Hebrew people had a lectionary that shaped their reading and hence their interpretation of Scripture. Didn't they?

The revised common lectionary would teach us to read the Bible through Trinitarian lenses and in the primary frame of Jesus Christ. It's that Emmaus Road way of reading isn't it?

I've just seen way too much old and new testament preaching that has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. Is it biblical? one could certainly make the case it is. Is it Christian? again-- often it buttresses Christian teaching and doctrine. But is this a truly Christian way of reading the revealed Word of God? I'm not so sure.

Isn't it fair to say, and what you and I believe, that in order to read Scripture canonically (said Christianly) we need the wider canonical (or Christian) tradition? I'm not talking about extra-biblical literature, nor am i implying that tradition is on par with Scripture. I am saying that even though we proclaim Sola Scriptura we don't come to the Scriptures tabla-rosa or empty handed. We come through Jesus in the Spirit and we come by the rule of faith. don't we?

I mean-- I can draw (and have) biblical insights all day long from Nehemiah that are wise and relevant to being a good corporate leader and maybe a biblical one. . . . . . . . but is that really why Nehemiah is in the bible? does being a Christian and preaching that or adding a little Jesus overlay really make it a Christian sermon? these are my questions. I would much rather hear and preach a message on Nehemiah and company making connections with the condition of exilic existence and the place of longing and lament and rebuilding the ruins of a kingdom through mercy and justice and signs and wonders in preparation for the return of the Messianic King and the final consummation of his Kingdom.

that's enough on that. i am contending that as Christians we must learn to read backwards-- by the power of the Spirit through the person of Jesus leading all the way back to the recapitulation of Eden centered around the throne of God. I just don't think a book by book genesis through revelation approach to hermaneutics and homiletics will get it done. Isn't it Matthew who points me to Genesis after all? I mean, but for Matthew, (who writes under the inspiration of the Spirit) how would I even know Genesis existed, Gentile that I am?

James Hall-- great to hear from you. I think what I'm after is a steady and contextual diet of orthodoxy within the wide and wild stream of Protestantism. thanks for the invite. stay tuned. ;-)

2:32 PM EST  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

I absolutely agree that when we preach (and thus, corporately read and learn to read Scripture), we must be Christocentric and engage in it "Trinitarianly". I'm not into "sola Scriptura," in part because it is the Tradition that has told me which books are Scripture and which ones are not.

For me (as I'm trying to work this out), I see preaching the bible Christianly as including preaching the bible in a way that proclaims Jesus as the center of the whole Narrative. It seems to me that preaching the bible with more of an eye toward it's canonical location than its lectionary location seems to have a better shot at this. That said, I do find some of the lectionary movement through time of great value; I just have reservations about being slavish to the prescribed readings. For one thing, go to textweek.com and tell me which of the 5 lectionaries I'm supposed to view as coming to me from "tradition".

To borrow a phrase from Webber's title... Who gets to narrate the scripture story? The lectionary shape or the canonical shape?

In truth, its seems to me that how we preach the bible (whether Trinitarianly/Christocentrically as you and I agree, or as principles for life, or some other way), the issue most at the forefront is the formation of the preacher for their role in the community.

I don't see myself preaching the 66 books of the bible in order through my career, but I'm so sure why doing so restricts me from employing the hermeneutics and homiletics of immersion that we're talking about here. That approach certainly doesn't constrict one into the extraction paradigm by its very nature, does it? I can't see how that could be the case if the nature of Scripture itself is a narrative that calls for immersion in its Story for formation in Christlikeness.

Put slightly differently, if the canon of Scripture has a nature, then preaching the canon of Scripture in a way consonant with that nature is our calling and task. I don't think re-shaping the narrative in a way other than the canonical shape is necessary to accomplish the task. For the record, I do think "the" lectionary can work fine, but again, it has more to do with the formation of the preacher in the sort of hermeneutics and homiletics of immersion that we're espousing here rather than simply with the use of "the" lectionary.

What happens in practice is usually not going from Genesis to Revelation and back again, but working up one's own "lectionary," or plan for reading. Again, the formation of the preacher is the important thing here.

4:27 PM EST  
Anonymous scottL said...

Check out the Jesus Storybook Bible for children. Absolutely incredible. One review said every pastor needs this book in his/her library. Its a Chronological telling of God's story for children and it always ends by pointing the reader to Jesus.


6:20 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

thanks guy-- (and scott)

i think we are on the same page. I too agree that a slavish loyalty to the lectionary is not advisable. I think of the lectionary as providing wise guidance as opposed to strict governance. I follow it most closely through the advent-christmas-epiphany cycle and through the lent-easter-pentecost movement.

I suppose this is my overarching and underlying lectionary-- the conception, birth, life, words, signs, deeds, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, reign, kingdomtide, return, and final consummation of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.

He leads us to the Father, sends us the Spirit and causes the Word of God to burn in our hearts like a living fire. In him we live and move and have our being.

isn't this the spirit and intent of the lectionary? so I guess I'm saying, Jesus is my lectionary. how's that?

10:02 PM EST  
Anonymous guy m williams said...

Well, if Jesus is my homeboy, he should be my lectionary too!

This actually gets us to the next step in the conversation. If we are best formed as persons and communities by travelling through time patterned by Jesus (the movements of the liturgical year), then how can we faithfully preach and teach the whole canonical narrative of Scripture, which happens to be Jesus' story. In particular, how does preaching the OT happen in this Christocentric immersion paradigm for Scriptural engagement?

2:38 PM EST  
Anonymous elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Growing up in the household that I did, you know that I'm all about being immersed in the "story." Hey J.D. and Tiffany. It's elaine of elaine and billy fame from back in the day. We're doing great in eastern NC and would love an update on your life as time allows.

Love your thoughts here on our study of God's Word. Sacred ground, indeed.

I'm celebrating my 1st year anniversary of blogging and would love for you and/or Tiffany to stop by.

God bless you both. Hug the holy city for me today. I miss it so.

peace~elaine killian olsen

12:45 AM EST  

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