The Birds and I
This chapter is the one that explains the title and has a section where Scot suggests there are three ways to approach the Bible. Scot admits that there are actually more than three ways, but he has chosen these to keep the ways simple in order to see the alternatives more starkly.
1. Reading to Retrieve - that is we return to the times of the Bible in order to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today. Some people try to retrieve all of certain ideas and practices when some only retrieve what they feel can be salvaged. Yet Scot acknowledges that it is impossible to live a first century life in a twenty first century world. Scot believes it is undesirable and unbiblical to retrieve it all, Paul didn’t even do that. He refers to 1 Cor. 9.19-23 where Paul says his strategy is one of constant adaptation. If Paul was already adapting first century Jewish ideas to first century Gentile situations, can we expect to do anything else? Paul would not have thought of returning and retrieving everything from Moses’ day, why would we do the same.
Scot states that what we’ve go in the pages of the NT are first century expressions of the gospel and church life, not permanent, timeless expressions. They are Spirit-inspired, but they were and remain first century expressions. We aren’t called to live first century lives in the twenty first century, but “twenty-first century lives as we walk in the light of the revelation God gave to us in the first century” (27).
Those Days, Those Ways – in this subsection of this ways to read the Bible, Scot reveals one of the themes of the book. Basically, God spoke in Moses’ day in Moses’ ways and/God spoke in David’s days in David’s ways, and/God spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways and/god spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways/and “we are called to carry on that pattern in our world today.
What we need is not a return to the first century (or even fourth or sixteenth centuries or eighteenth centuries) but a fresh blowing of God’s Spirit on our culture, in our day, and in our ways. We need twenty first century Christians living out the biblical gospel in twenty first century ways. God never asked one generation in the Bible to step back in time and live the way it had done before. God instead spoke in each generation in that generation’s ways.
The biblical way of retrieving the material of the Bible is not returning to retrieve it all, but it is the ongoing adoption of the past and adaptation to new conditions and to do this in a way that is consistent with and faithful to the Bible.
2. Reading through Tradition – the basic point of this section is: ordinary people need to learn to read the Bible through tradition or they will misread the Bible and create schisms in the church. What we see is often everybody reads the Bible for herself or himself, and everybody does what’s right in her or his own eyes. What we often find out is that not every Bible interpretation is equal.
Scot is saying that we are all called to read the Bible for ourselves, but not entirely on our own. It was the great Reformers who championed the idea of putting the Bible in the hands of ordinary Christians. But the plan of Reformers like John Calvin was not to just give people Bibles and say, “Here, read this! Tell me what you think!” He wanted them to learn the Bible right and to do that they would have to learn some basic theology. We should learn from the Reformers who wanted to provide the readers with a sound method and theology that would lead them to read the Bible accurately. Scot identifies The Great Tradition as the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the importance of justification by faith from the Reformation. These creeds point us toward the non-negotiables of the faith.
There is a danger to this, which is giving too much authority to tradition or traditionalism. Traditionalism is the inflexible, don’t ask questions, do it the way it has always been done approach to Bible reading.
Scot notes that the Bible itself points us away from traditionalism. The biblical authors and the early fathers didn’t fossilize traditions. Instead – and Scot calls this a major moment in the book – they went back to the Bible so they could come forward into the present.
Scot closes this section looking for a way of reading the Bible that returns to retrieve concepts from the Bible which also respects the Great Tradition. He believes there is, and it is the way of ongoing and constant renewal that returns, retrieves and renews by reading the Bible with the Great Tradition.
3. Reading with Tradition – So, how can we read the Bible that is both a “return and retrieval” reading as well as being respectful of the Great Tradition? He suggests we learn to read the Bible with the Great Tradition. We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages (as the return and retrieval folks do), nor dare we fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism. Instead, we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God’s Word in our days in our ways. We need to go back without getting stuck (the return problem), and we need to move forward without fossilizing our ideas (traditionalism). We want to walk between these two approaches.
Scot asks, is this dangerous? Sure, it can easily turn into hyper-innovation. We can avoid this by having a profound respect for our past without giving it the final authority. The final decision should always rest with the Scripture.
Renewal carries forward God’s timeless and historic message in a timely and cultured way for our day. The Bible spoke timeless truth in a contemporary manner in the times that it was written. Our task is to let the Bible speak its timeless truths in our time in a contemporary manner.