Continuing some thoughts on how we read the Bible, framed by some thoughts from Ron Martoia’s upcoming The Bible As Improv. The first part of Martoia’s book dealt largely his personal narratives/lenses of engagement with the Scriptures, and in the second portion looks at what it means to examine, reflect, and engage how those lenses affect our reading and what it looks like to read the Scriptures through other lenses.
Martoia raises a number of issues often brought up when it comes to understanding biblical texts, centering around the question of deducing which passages are “eternal” and which are “contextual” (or which are descriptive, and which are prescriptive). As an example, he offers the examples of Noah and Nicodemus. In one of these stories, most Christians read something we are “to do” today (be born again in a particular manner that we read into the story) while the other story is rarely (if ever) applied literally (other than picking some themes or secondary details that we can apply to our lives today)?
Instead of focusing on this question of how to decide “which texts apply,” Martoia instead suggests we recognize that the entirety of the Scriptures were written in and to a different culture and context and focus our efforts on asking “How do we let an ancient text shape our life?” (73). With this new question, Martoia suggests, will come new lenses and metaphors for understanding our faith and how we choose to read, understand, and apply the Scriptures to our lives.
With the remainder of Part Two, Martoia explores James Fowler’s work on stages of faith developments and applies them to how we typically understand the Bible. Through this journey of development, one gradually can move from focusing on parts and pieces (and seeing how we can apply sentences and propositions from the Bible to our life) to seeing a larger, more composite view of the Scriptures, and seeing how our worldview and life trajectory can be shaped and molded to fit the story of the Scriptures. Martoia discusses two metaphors for how the Scriptures might be read: (1) as a classic, in which the reader attempts to understand the grand plot movements while appreciating the beauty in the details by having a “transformative conversation” with the text and (2) as a jazz improv, in which we are players less interested in mimicking what has already been done and instead focus on “reinterpretation” and joining the trajectory that has come before us.
I resonated with this section and appreciated Martoia’s question about being shaped and formed by the text. I did not fully track with his analogy of faith development and approaches to reading the Scriptures; it seemed to equate a “conjunctive faith stage” with a certain level of maturity and suggested that it is a stage “rarely experienced before midlife” (94), and was not quite sold on seeing different scriptural hermeneutics as part of natural and normal faith development. That said, I liked the use of various metaphors (classics, jazz improvs, etc.) to describe the Scriptures, and have benefited in my own reading by exploring various lenses through which to view the story of the Scriptures.
In the next few days, I’ll post a final post on the third portion of The Bible as Improv, where Martoia explores more fully what it might look like for a community of people to “improv” on the Scriptures.