Whether we’re believers reading the Scriptures for our personal devotions, pastors preparing to preach sermons to our congregations, or Christian writers seeking to form our readers, our reading of Scripture is always an attempt to hear its voice speaking to us within the resonance chambers of our lives, communities, and cultural contexts. This is a necessary task, yet one fraught with challenges and dangers. Virtually every reader of Scripture comes to its texts with a set of pronounced cultural stories. We have a sense of the things that are wrong with the world, the errors that need to be addressed, the goods that need to be protected, and the questions that need to be answered. We have a sense of the things that are of pressing importance and the things of secondary concern.
While we need to hear the Scriptures speaking to us within our contexts, we can all too easily make our contexts a straitjacket for them. Even when our interpretation of our cultural contexts and moments may be informed by the Bible in various ways, it’s very easy for our reading of the Scriptures to become subservient to or even conflated with our more immediate cultural concerns and stories. Coming to the Scriptures with the pressing concerns, questions, and frameworks of our immediate contexts, we can force the Scriptures into an alien mold. Rather than putting our own questions, concerns, and expectations to one side and listening attentively and receptively to the Bible’s own voice, we may merely be listening for whatever within it answers the concerns that most animate us. Approached in such a manner, we’ll make it very difficult for ourselves to be surprised by the Scriptures, to hear the complex character of its witness, or to perceive the balance of its teaching.
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