Performing Scripture

My previous post explored the challenge of biblical interpretation and focus on learning to “think biblically.” In an age when information and answers are at our fingertips, any approach to truth that accepts even a small amount of ambiguity or difficulty - however honest - can be a hard sell.

Part of the challenge is that much of biblical interpretation these days faces the great need and desire to make the Bible applicable, relevant, practical, personal, etc...If the words of scripture aren’t connected to the rhythms of everyday life, they quickly maintain the irrelevance they are so often perceived of having.

As a result, the Bible is read like a self-help book, scoured for quotable tidbits of wisdom that fit into the cultural desire for quick fixes. Preachers know this as the pressure to arrive at a clear application (e.g. “Let me leave you with three points”). Woe to the pastor who doesn’t produce such relevance for every single passage of the Bible.

Yet much of the Bible isn’t adaptable to such reading. Supposedly clear application isn’t so clear and to force application out of a passage creates a problematic separation between the biblical context and our own. And the results are troubling. One, the Bible gets misinterpreted. Narratives and complex theologies get boiled down to one-line summations that cannot possibly do justice to the mysterious work of God in Scripture and history (e.g. “just trust God”). Or two, the Bible gets ignored. Faced with the complexity of the Bible, it gets tossed aside as culturally irrelevant, outdated, and unable to address the realities of modern life. God’s word in that history has nothing to say to our history.

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Part of the task of learning to think biblically, as I suggested in my previous post, is to explore alternative ways of reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. One such approach is to view our response to the Bible as a performance - performance not in an artificial, acted-out manner, but in the integration of the overall story of God in our lived-out - ”performed” - lives. Sharing on the connection between Nehemiah and urban contexts, Mark Gornik suggests the task for Christians is to read this ancient account “as a story with a distinct ‘narrative world’ that interacts with the contemporary urban narrative world...Imaginatively indwelling the drama of Nehemiah enables community members to bring similar perspectives, responsibilities, and visions to the narrative spaces of the inner city...Such an approach helps safeguard the text from being read outside of its context as Israel's history while at the same time enabling it to creatively serve particular opportunities in the present...Rightly reading Nehemiah, respecting its authority as Scripture, entails in some way its performance. In performing Nehemiah, the priority is in point to the God who rebuilds.”

Application seeks to separate wisdom from biblical texts in order for us to live it out. Performance, however, seeks to participate with or enact the biblical text - a way of living in connection with God’s way in the world. Application, at its worst, uses the Bible as a means to an end. Performing scripture engages the Bible as an end for determining our whole lives.

This is one type of alternative reading of the Bible that can help us shift from using the Bible to think to beginning to think biblically.

**For a fascinating read on the connection between the bible, narrative, and living out our faith, see these two articles by Stanley Hauerwas:
1. “A Story-Formed Community”
2. “Performing Faith: The Peaceable Rhetoric of God's Church” (w/ James Fodor)


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