Review: Interpreting the God-Breathed Word

Interpreting the God-Breathed Word, Robbie F. Castleman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018.

Summary: A book for all who want to be students of scripture focusing on how to study and understand the texts employing inductive study, speech-act theory, and canonical interpretation.

Robbie Castleman, not unlike this reviewer, discovered the joys of studying and understanding the meaning of scripture through what is known as inductive Bible study. She eventually became a biblical studies professor at John Brown University. This book reflects both her joy of discovering scripture and additional practices that address some of the ways inductive study may go off the rails in interpretation unrelated to what the passage meant for its intended audience, interpretation that fails to account for the rest of scripture and the framework of biblical theology.

Castleman begins with one of the great strengths of inductive study–careful observation of the text. She speaks of the attentive disciplines involved in hearing the God-breathed Word. Reading it over and over (including aloud!), printing out and marking up the text, asking questions of genre, setting, who, what, when, where, and how, and using our senses. One is looking for what the text says and how it says it. She shows the difference between exegesis and eisegesis–reading out of rather than into the text. I love the image of being careful to not cast our own shadows onto the text. She offers another image–that of studying as a surgeon rather than a pathologist, studying something alive to which we are attentive rather than something dead over which we assert mastery.

Castleman addresses the story or narrative character of much of scripture, and how important the particularities of time and space are. It is vital to grasp the “there and then” before we consider “here and now.” Drawing upon speech-act theory, she calls our attention that scripture is a God-breathed record of how God has spoken and acted out his will in those particularities of space and time. But something else is at work as well. Through God’s Spirit this Word of scripture speaks into our present, accomplishing God’s intentions in our lives as well.

The next three chapters further develop this idea of the three voices. The first is the actual event in which God speaks and acts that we only know indirectly through the biblical record, a voice we must listen to by faith, as we attend to the details of the text. The second voice then is the voice of the writers of the text, the time, and the circumstances in which they wrote as God breathed upon them. She uses the four gospels to illustrate this idea, accounting for both the distinctive voices and the one Lord to whom they attest. With the third voice, we step into the story as we grasp through the Spirit’s illumining work the “here and now” implications in the second voice’s “there and then.” She also shows how “third voice” dynamics work within the canon as later Old Testament writers act upon earlier material, and likewise, as the New Testament writers reflect on the Old Testament voice in light of Messiah come. Using the language of theatre, we must pay careful attention to our lines, and then step up onto the stage, loving the one who has spoken so much that we even risk “flubbing our lines.”

In the final chapter, Castleman advocates the importance of canonical interpretation, speaking of the centrality of creation, the gospel of Christ, and biblical theology as shaping how we read all of scripture. She uses C. S. Lewis image from “Meditation in a Tool Shed” to speak of how we look both at the light cast by a passage of scripture and along it, seeing how it is connected to the whole story of scripture. She then concludes with an epilogue reminding us that the God who has spoken is a fire before whom we take off our shoes and bow and listen, that scripture is not a vending machine to dispense the answers we want, and that our interpretation of scripture is music best made as we play in sync with the rest of the orchestra, stretching back to the earliest fathers, not a solo act.

There are several features that make this book a valuable resource for the person wanting to grow in reading and understanding scripture. One is the author’s warm love of scripture, that breathes in the pages. Second is the distillation and integration of some of the best practices of good hermeneutics into a brief, 120 page text. Finally, she offers numerous examples and praxis exercises that show and then allow us to practice what we are learning. This is both a good introduction for the student learning to study scripture and as well as the Bible teacher who wants to review and sharpen his or her understanding of how to lead those instructed, not only to understand the God-breathed Word but to heed and obey the One who has spoken and is speaking.

Review: Story-Shaped Worship

Story-Shaped Worship
Story-Shaped Worship by Robbie Castleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robbie Castleman contends that worship that is pleasing to God is worship that is shaped by the story of God–a story where God, and not me (or us), is the hero! What she sets out to do, and accomplishes, in this book is to explore the resources in the Old and New Testaments, and in Jewish and Christian practice through the centuries that may inform the shape of our worship today. How worship shaped by God’s story appears may look very different in different times and cultures but there are some underlying contours that distinguish between God-pleasing, and human-centered worship.

The first part of her book explores the biblical pattern for worship. She begins in Genesis with God, creation, fall, and what she calls the first “worship war” between Cain and Abel. She goes on to explore worship patterns, the matter of sacred space and the importance of sabbath in Israel’s worship and identity. She then identifies a seven-fold pattern of worship that emerges in the liturgical patterns of ancient Israel that she believes has continuing relevance to story-shaped worship: God’s call, praise of God, confession, declaration of the good news of our forgiveness, the Word of the Lord, responding to the Word, and Benediction. She proceeds to talk about worship by the book, that we are not free to improvise any way we wish or turn worship to other purposes than the glory of God. Worship is to reflect an obedience grounded in the grace of God. She concludes this first part with looking at the rise of the synagogue and the pattern of readings and prayers that was carried over into Christian practice.

The second part considers structures of worship in the patristic, reformation and contemporary periods. In the patristic period the church worked out in its liturgy what it was clarifying in many of the early battles around the Godhead, the person of Christ and his work. The reformation was a period of both confirmation and correction–reaffirming patterns that were true while modifying practices of the eucharist (and baptism) around differing understandings of the meanings of these ordinances. In the contemporary period, the issue is avoiding falling into a subjectivism of worship where everyone does what is right in their own minds, while adapting the resources of scripture to develop God-honoring worship that is faithful to his story.

Each chapter includes a “workshop”–a series of questions that may be used by worship leadership teams. The book concludes with a chart of the Christian year showing how this is another way of shaping worship around God’s story. An extensive glossary and bibliography is also included.

Robbie Castleman is a former work colleague. A personal memory of Robbie is her strict commitment to spend time speaking to and listening to God before she participated in any other conversations in her day. This passion for God, and God’s story runs through this book, which offers helpful resources for the theology and practice of worshiping God for any who share her passion for God.

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