A good book of essays will work both as individual pieces and as a whole. Wrestling with the Text is such a book. Each of the stories in this collection is interesting on its own terms. The essays together, however, transcend the disparate voices to provide a partial, but fascinating and multi-layered, answer to the question of how Scripture forms us as the people of God.
As a Scripture teacher, I have participated in the laments that Keith Graber Miller references in the introduction. I have had many conversations with students, church people, and colleagues that touch on an anxiety that we are losing our sense of the biblical text. We fear that we are losing the use of the Bible as a resource for faithful living. We talk about biblical illiteracy and wonder about an eroding dedication to discover the Living Word within the Word.
What these stories reveal is that we are not losing our sense of the text even as our sense of how we relate to the text is changing. Change is, of course, the birthright of every new generation. If a tradition is to remain vital, it must be owned and owned anew, owned in unconventional and sometimes disconcerting ways, by those who carry the tradition forward. I encourage readers to read these essays with an openness to how the Spirit is moving in the interaction of these young adults with the biblical text. If Scripture is, as I believe, like music that must be performed to be known and understood,1 then these young people are performing with their hearts as well as their minds. These stories are honest and courageous; they have much to teach us.
Let me suggest two ways I think the Spirit is moving through the pages of this book. One is an emerging view of the authority of Scripture, a concept that we have likely used badly as often as we have used it well. Biblical scholar Ellen F. Davis has suggested that we might think about teaching the Bible confessionally. To read confessionally, to put Scripture at the “functional center” of our lives as believers is to orient our conversations, our programs and our discernment to the challenges and comforts of Scripture. “Reading the Bible confessionally,” she says
means recognizing it as a word that is indispensable if we are to view the world realistically and hopefully. We acknowledge it as a divine word that is uniquely powerful to interpret our experience. But more, we allow ourselves to be moved by it, trusting that it is the one reliable guide to a life that is not, in the last analysis, desperate.2
The young adults writing in this book, I believe, help us move toward that healthier and livelier concept of the authority of Scripture.
A second way I think the Spirit is moving through the pages of this book is the window the stories give us into how a scriptural tradition is carried from one generation to the next. In the response section of the book, Nancy Tatom Ammerman makes the important observation that if the biblical canon matters to the church, it is essential that we build a core of experience and meaning around these texts that we have agreed to share. She also observes that the faith tradition from which and in which these young adults find their voices has not only told them the biblical stories that fund their imaginations but has given them space and opportunity to raise questions about the text and to debate the text. Ammerman is right, I think, but as an insider I would never have been able to identify and celebrate the gift so clearly.
This is a generous book. The younger writers are generous with their experience; the older commentators are generous with their nurture of that experience. It is a book that gives me heart for the rest of my journey as a Scripture teacher in the church.
—Mary H. Schertz, Elkhart, Indiana
Professor of New Testament, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary
1..In The Art of Reading Scripture, ed. Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 3.
2. Ibid., 9-10.
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Copyright © 2006 by Cascadia Publishing House 10/18/06