My Assumptions for Studying and Teaching the Bible

Here are five assumptions that undergird my own study of Scripture and all my teaching at Northeastern Seminary. I first came up with this list when I was just beginning my tenure at Northeastern in 2011, and I’ve been sharing it with incoming students ever since.

The Bible tells one complex, coherent true story.

The Bible is a complex collection of literature that nevertheless is framed in terms of a coherent story of redemption that is meant to guide our lives. The coherence of Scripture holds true despite many differing theological emphases, and even the presence of dissonant voices. We ignore both the coherence and the complexity of Scripture at our peril.

The biblical story is holistic.

The biblical God is the creator of all and everything that God made is good. While the fall is radical (both deep, to the heart, and broad, affecting every corner of life), Scripture proclaims God’s intent to redeem all creation (human and non-human) and to bring this world to the destiny for which he created it. The biblical worldview acknowledges no sacred/secular split.

The Bible is temporal and contextual.

While the biblical message is applicable to all times and places, revelation is given in particular times and places, and is definitively marked by its historical contexts. Attending to this temporal and contextual character of Scripture is crucial for responsible interpretation.

Humans are granted a significant role in the Scriptures.

Not only is the Bible pervaded by the perspectives of its multiple human authors (through whom revelation has come), but Scripture recounts the decisive role of human characters within the biblical story at every turn as significant contributors to the movement (whether forward or backward) of the story of redemption. We must attend to the complex divine-human relationship in the pages of Scripture.

Serious study of the Bible should itself be a process of transformation and discipleship.

It is not enough to say that studying the Bible should lead to transformation and discipleship. This often means that study about the Bible (or someone else’s summary of the Bible or sermons on the Bible) is substituted for our actual engaged grappling with Scripture. Nor is this reducible to lectio divina, valuable as that practice is, since this can artificially separate our spirituality from our cognitive attempts to understand the Bible, in its full complexity. Rather, it is the process of grappling with the detailed complexity of particular texts (even texts that we find challenging) that draws us into the biblical story as engaged dialogue partners with God and as committed participants in God’s mission to redeem creation.