Encountering the Living God in Scripture: Theological and Philosophical Principles for Interpretation By William M. Wright IV and Francis Martin (Baker, 2019).

Upon seeing the title of this work, I hoped it would be a promising read for preachers. After all, preachers want to encounter God in Scripture, and help their listeners do so as well.

But I had mixed reactions to Encountering the Living God in Scripture, the product of a pair of well-known Roman Catholic scholars. In the first place, “Scripture” (mentioned in the title) shows up significantly only in one of the two parts of the book. The other part deals almost exclusively with philosophical and metaphysical matters. In the second place, “Principles,” part of the subtitle, did not really fit the book’s schema: I never saw any principles that I needed to attend to. In the third place, this book is not really about the “Interpretation” (also part of the subtitle) of Scripture. It is more an attempt to enable an encounter with God, mostly in real life, in the universe, rather than in Scripture per se.

The authors’ bias: “We firmly believe that it is very important for interpreters of Scripture to be familiar with philosophical and theological thinking” (6). Very important? In the abysmal dearth of hermeneutical thinking about Scripture these days (and these decades and centuries and millennia!), I would rather interpreters, particularly preachers, be familiar with language philosophy, especially pragmatics and how authors do things with what they say in Scripture, for without such an acquaintance with this all-important matter, there can be no deriving valid application in the sermonic undertaking. And Scripture, if I may say so, was primarily given to be applied, so that the children of God would be conformed into the image of the Son of God. So when Wright and Martin “hope that this book will serve a practical and pastoral purpose” (9), I remain unconvinced. A philosophical and apologetic purpose perhaps, but decidedly not pastoral. I doubt if those taking to the pulpit week after week have time to delve into the matters addressed in this work, however substantial they may be.

In the first four chapters of Part 1, the authors distinguish (rather inappropriately and naively, I thought) between “the Word spoken directly by God,” “God’s Word given through human intermediaries (e.g., prophets and apostles)” (13), and “the Word of God as given in inspired written discourse” (references in Scripture to its own writings, e.g., Heb 4:12, etc.) (79). Wright and Martin show how these facets of Scripture address divine power and presence. These chapters made up about 40% of the book, but there was nothing new here. The sacred writ, entirely mediated by Spirit-inspired humans (without differentiation), does evidence divine power and presence; readers of this Journal will have no question about that.

To me the next four chapters (making up Part 2) were the most interesting sections of the book, albeit divorced from “Scripture,” “Interpretation,” and “Principles.” There is an absolute distinction between God and the world, “a matter of … otherness” (114), the ramifications of which are critical: God can “‘enter into his creation without suffering limitation in his divinity’” (115); “God’s relationship to the world is one of “‘noncompetitiveness’” (116); “human beings cannot think or speak about God in the same manner that we do about things in the world” (118); and the fact of the “giftedness of creation,” the graciousness of a Being that did not need world (119). Borrowing from Aquinas, the authors also point out the entailment that “God is the source from which all things continually receive their own act of existing” (135). And they establish, pace Kant, that humans can “possibly get beyond their historical and cultural circumstances and cognitively access ontological truth as it is on its own terms” (176). Good stuff, I thought, but not particularly relevant to homiletics—but that’s just my bias.

“What remains is for us to approach … sacred Scripture … with a faith-filled, receptive, and obedient heart” (248). Wonderful concluding words … but how is this obedience to be accomplished? For that matter, what exactly in the text are we to obey? Unfortunately, the absence of any recognition of authorial doings or textual pragmatics leaves preachers (and their listeners) hanging, for without those essential interpretive modalities, valid application (and thus obedience) cannot be accomplished according to the A/author’s textual agenda.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 20.1 (2019): 102–104

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