I was thinking yesterday that a robust sense of Scripture is something like a fourth dimensional view.
1. Most readings of the Bible, in my view, are two dimensional. Yesterday, my spiritual formation class was reading from a book by Samuel Rima called, Leading from the Inside Out. Lots of good tips in the book and its occasional look at biblical figures comes up with helpful insights for leaders. But the Biblehead in me always sighs with the two dimensional view books like these usually have of figures like Moses, Elijah, or Abraham.
I could say the same for other Christian books that use biblical figures to illustrate modern truths, as well as most preaching. The assumption is that these people thought like us and lived in cultures more or less like ours, not to mention that we are getting something like a videotape in the biblical narratives. They are flat, mostly literary readings of the Bible. They are mirror readings that God uses because we see ourselves in the stories.
Again, God uses this way of reading the Bible and you don't need to know hardly anything about the background of the Bible to read the Bible this way. You're only in the text, seeing yourself in it. It is the primary, pre-modern way that people have read the Bible throughout history.
2. What I'm calling a three dimensional reading of a biblical text is a historical reading of a particular text. You bring the "world behind the text" into play with the "world within the text." Now I realize how different a prophet like Elijah would have been from any preacher I know. I begin to understand the political dimensions of the northern and southern kingdom and the complexities of Yahwism in the northern kingdom.
One of the most crucial features in such historical-cultural readings is the socio-cultural background. I begin to see my own cultural assumptions, such as my individualism, my assumptions about family structure, my assumptions about modern nation-states. I begin to appreciate the distance between these texts and myself, that they were not written originally to me but to quite different people who lived a very long time ago.
3. The fourth dimension to which I refer is a sophisticated biblical theology, a theology that maps the individual, historically-interpreted texts in the Bible to each other from a coherent theological perspective. Time and the diversity of texts is taken into account, including the increasing theological precision we find when moving from the Old Testament to the New.
So we are reconciled to the texts after the distantiation experience of reading the individual texts in historical context. Now we see salvation history and a three-dimensional God moving through history (rather than the flat character of God in so many two-dimensional readings). Now we have a robust understanding of Scripture, one that is fully integrated with a mature Christian theology.
We have moved from a flat reading of one book with flat characters to real people walking with God in other cultures to a mature, theological understanding of God walking and saving his people over time, culminating in the incarnation and looking forward to the restoration of the cosmos.