Reading Scripture as the Church (New Explorations in Theology), Derek W. Taylor. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.
Summary: Brings Dietrich Bonhoeffer into conversation with three theologians concerning how the church reads and interprets scripture.
The printing press, the Reformation, vernacular translations and rising literacy put the Bible into the hands of many more Christians, leading to a rise of personal Bible reading, contributing both to personal devotion, and the rise of idiosyncratic interpretations. The latter makes it ever more apparent that scripture is meant to be read and interpreted as the church, within Christian communities.
Derek W. Taylor explores the contribution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the reading of scripture in community in a conversation with three other theologians: John Webster, Robert Jenson, and Stanley Hauerwas. Bonhoeffer was a leader in the Confessing Church movement that resisted Hitlerian tyranny, and the seminary community at Finkenwalde, a ministry centered around reading scripture within community. The central idea coming through in this volume is that of following this risen Lord who calls his people to follow him in discipleship into his mission in the world. Taylor unpacks this in four parts:
- The church as a creation of the word. Here he draws on John Webster’s idea of the church as creatura verbi. What Bonhoeffer brings to this is the idea of the risen Christ without whom the community of the church cannot exist.
- The church as an institution. Taylor brings in Robert Jenson who emphasizes the importance of reading within the traditions of the church, allowing how the church has read to influence how we read. To this Bonhoeffer adds the dimension of the living Christ who has been leading this church into all truth throughout history.
- Reading as a congregation. Taylor focuses on a leading exponent of ecclesial theology, Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas sees the church’s reading together as enacting the community. Bonhoeffer would counter that the gathered community is the place addressed by the risen Lord, and led by him into discipleship.
- The church as missional community. Here, Taylor doesn’t draw upon a particular theologian but notes that Bonhoeffer’s missional theology is inherent in the question “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” that addresses the community in its given context.
The most significant conclusion to this discussion for me is one Taylor makes in his epilogue. He states:
By examining the church in terms of its identity-defining relationships, I have suggested that this hermeneutic is not a method but a posture and that this posture can be most succinctly summarized as the ongoing act of discipleship (p. 258).
For Taylor, scriptural interpretation can never be codified into the fabric of the church nor its history of interpretation. Rather, the risen Lord speaks through scripture leading his people, forming them as disciples and leading them into mission, helping them to be both ever true, and ever new in their life together and work in the world. Taylor brings Bonhoeffer in conversation with three theological interpreters of scripture, and adding his own insights, offers a rich account of how we might read scripture as the church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.