Exegesis as Prayer
I have long thought that ruminating on the Word of God to be an act of worship. For those who have read my book (with John Mark Hicks) Kingdom Come they will recall an emphasis on Lectio Divina which is a form of prayer using Scripture. Since I have also come to believe that the glorification of God and the sanctification of life constitute the ultimate reason for biblical interpretation I have come to the conclusion that exegesis itself is an expression of prayer.
I recently read an article by Clifton Black titled "Exegesis as Prayer" in The Princeton Seminary Review (vol 33.2 , 131-145). This is not the typical article for a scholarly journal but it was extremely refreshing. Some of the reflection of this post grew in response to that piece I read a month or so ago. Black makes the startling observation that while previous generations were afraid of appearing to "loose" ours is afraid of appearing to "pious." This is especially true, amazingly, of biblical scholars. Yet if exegesis is prayer, and I believe it is, there are three prayerful dispositions for the exegete, these dispositions prepare the interpreter to both hear and be shaped by God.
A Disposition For Holiness
"Who is like You, O LORD, majestic in holiness?" (Exodus 15.11). To interpret Scripture with a disposition for holiness means to release our narcissistic grip on magistry and to reclaim the opposite which is a vocation for ministry. Humility is not self-degradation but surrender of one's self before God's word becoming like the soil from which we were created that is fertile and needs mulching. There is something starkly ironic with the sight of one who is full of knowledge but has no sign of Christian hygiene. To quote Black, "Few spectacles are more ridiculous, or more pathetic, than a seminar whose members beat the hell into one another over differing interpretations of the love command in John."
We come in awe of the holy. We do not quantify that holiness rather it is a mystery. We risk consumption by the holy Love that is a Tiger, not a teddy bear (cf. Hebrews 4.11-13).
A Disposition for Realignment
"For you have died , and your life has been hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3.3). "For the LORD is your life" (Deut. 30.20). Exegesis in the shadow of the Crucified One remembers the People of God, from and for who Scripture was created. Cruciform exegesis resembles petitionary prayer in this respect: if serious, its practitioner is inextricably bound up with its fulfillment (cf. Matt 25.31-46). Life is linked to interpretation. We do not know or understand the text until it realigns our lives. We come to the text with the prayerful attitude that the Lord is our life.
A Disposition for Praise
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the LORD" (Luke 1.46). Exegesis is hard to justify if it does not culminate in gratitude and adoration. Anthony Bloom once wrote that "All the food of this world is divine love made edible" (School for Prayer, p. 41). The same is true for knowledge that feeds the mind and spirit. Merely admiring the skill of Psalmist or rhetoric of the Hebrew's Preacher simply engages aesthetic faculties. Prayerful exegesis takes place when the beauty of Scripture seizes our soul; when "My God!" is the only thing worth saying. The beauty of Scripture is that it reveals the greatest and most loving of Fathers in the Universe. Interpretation finds its goal in our burst in joyful praise. God's word has then penetrated our hearts.
Just some random thoughts from the Stoned-Campbell Disciple.
Soli Deo gloria,