Lutherans Reading the Bible? What a Concept!
A conversation Dr. Diane Jacobson, Director “Book of Faith” Initiative, and Michael L. Sherer, Editor, Metro Lutheran
Q. Why is the ELCA suddenly interested in promoting Bible reading and study?
A. A resolution came out of the Florida-Bahamas Synod Assembly saying, “We as Lutherans ought to think about how we read the Bible.” This came to the churchwide assembly in Chicago last summer. Now we have an initiative called “Book of Faith.”
Q. Why don’t people read the Bible much these days?
A. There are lots of reasons. It’s a hard book to get into and to understand. Some people read parts that they find boring, so they quit. Some are fearful of what they don’t know — so they won’t go to a Bible study because they don’t want to end up looking stupid in a group.
Q. Are Lutherans actually interested in reading the Bible?
A. The level of enthusiasm across the church is mind-boggling. I’m out in the synods talking to people. I’ve been to clergy meetings and synod assemblies. Pastors are saying, “My people are interested in understanding the Bible — but they don’t know how to do it.”
Q. But Lutherans have always said Scripture was important. Why do we need an initiative?
A. The evidence is clear. Lutherans think the Bible is important, but they aren’t reading it very much. Reading Scripture is our Christian calling. And, when we have done it, we haven’t done it very well. This gives us a chance to claim our heritage as Lutherans.
Q. If we haven’t read the Bible very well, what have we done wrong?
A. The Lutheran Church has gotten caught between two extremes. Radical secularism says, “The Bible is out of date and irrelevant. Put it on the shelf and leave it there.” On the other extreme, there’s an American biblicism that treats the Bible as a seamless document dropped out of the sky, a sort of answer book. These people read the Bible with fundamentalist assumptions. Lutherans know the Bible is valuable, but it’s a complicated book. Our pastors learned this in seminary, but they’ve been afraid to teach the Bible in honest and empowering ways.
Q. Other Lutherans are pretty dubious about how the ELCA approaches the Bible. Can Lutherans agree about it?
A. I think all Lutherans really do agree about how to read Scripture. We agree that the Bible is the Word of God. We agree that the center of Scripture is what shows forth Christ. That was Luther’s key discovery. We agree that the Law/Gospel dynamic is at work in this book. And we agree that the Spirit is potentially there when we read Scripture.
Q. Do you have to be an expert to read and understand the Bible?
A. I hope not. But reading it in solitary may not be the best way to understand it properly. Reading in groups will help. The initiative will encourage that. And Augsburg Fortress is working on a new study Bible appropriate for use with this new emphasis. It will have all kinds of footnotes and scholarly helps, a lot of it Lutheran specific.
As we prepare materials for the church in this five-year process we want to create questions people can fruitfully ask the biblical text. They’ll be of different kinds — historical, devotional, theological.
Q. Is there a “Lutheran” way to read Scripture?
A. There are some Lutheran insights we need to allow to inform our reading. But we share some other insights with any Christian who wants to read Scripture.
Q. The terms “inerrant” and “infallible” aren’t heard as much these days. Are these terms still important?
A. We don’t need to fight old battles. If we say the Bible is “inerrant,” we need to ask, “inerrant in what sense?” Certainly not in scientific terms. We all know by now the Bible was never intended to be a science book. Is it inerrant in matters of faith and life? If so, then we need to wrestle with the question: How does that work, exactly?