In his book Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God, Vern Poythress discusses reading the Scripture from three perspectives: the normative, the situational, and the existential. He recommends this way of approaching the Bible for a number of reasons, but the one I find most compelling is that it brings us back to the mercy of God:
When we encounter God, we are never in charge. We never master a passage…The use of a “method,” even as simple a method as three steps of questions, can tempt us to think that we have a guarantee: we tell ourselves that, if we use the method properly, we will achieve our goal. And the goal in this case is to know the meaning of the passage. We think we can master meaning, if we succeed in staying loyal to the method.
Over against this reliance on “method,” I propose reliance on God and his mercy. In this, I aim to call us forward toward a fuller rather than a lesser engagement of our minds–with our hearts and souls. Using our minds fully includes recognizing the unfathomable mysteries in interpretation, rather than thoughtlessly (mindlessly!) establishing a false confidence in our ability to master meaning without the help of God’s presence and mercy.
Whether or not we understand the slightly confusing language of Poythress’ multi-perspectival approach, his dependence upon the mercy of God in understanding Scripture is something we can–and should– appropriate. Each of us comes to God only because God is merciful, and each of us knows God only because God has revealed himself. When I read the Scripture and come away encouraged, challenged, convicted, or sanctified, it is because God is at work, not because I have brought anything to the table.
This is our aim at the School of Discipleship. Not that we would give up on thinking through what we read, but that all our thinking and striving to understand and apply the text of Scripture rests ultimately where it should– on the free and unconstrained mercy of God. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).