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Listening for God’s Voice and Heart in Scripture: A conversation with Craig S. Keener

New Testament scholar Craig S. Keener speaks with about his new book, Spirit Hermeneutics. Please define for our readers what you mean by “Spirit Hermeneutics.”

Craig S. Keener: Spirit hermeneutics is listening for God’s voice and heart in Scripture. Obviously I do believe in doing our homework, exploring cultural background and understanding the context as best as we can. But at the end of the day, it’s not just an academic pursuit separated from life. We want to submit our lives to be transformed by Scripture’s message. Otherwise we’re like someone who sees their face in a mirror and goes off forgetting what they look like. One theme that you stress in the book is the importance of reading biblical texts in their contexts. In view of its importance why do you think that many Christians do not read the Bible this way?

Spirit Hermeneutics is listening for God’s voice and heart in Scripture.

Craig S. Keener: In our Western culture we’re addicted to shortcuts; we want everything instant. So we settle for verses out of context because somebody we look up to quotes them. We’ll never get at the heart of the biblical texts without paying attention to how God inspired them originally—and He inspired them in their literary context, and also in addressing particular situations. Hearing how God addressed people in their concrete situations helps us when the Spirit leads us to apply the same principles to our different yet equally concrete situations today. Why do Christians frequently have difficulty hearing God speak to them through the Bible?

Craig S. Keener: Some Christians don’t realize that this is partly what the Bible is for, but sometimes also we don’t recognize that God can speak to us in a lot of different ways. We should pray that we will hear Him, then read the Bible (in context, etc.) to see what we can learn about God and how He acts in real human situations. Some of those will surely relate to us and to the world we live in. Some passages do show us His heart more than others, or perhaps in more concentrated ways; we find that most clearly in the message of the gospel, the message about Jesus’s death and resurrection for us. What the Spirit speaks to us will be consistent with His heart as already revealed in the gospel; the Spirit helps activate that in our lives. (Of course, I am not saying that the Spirit does not guide us in day-to-day ways as well. But being grounded in Scripture helps us recognize His voice and His character.) Please give a couple of examples from Scripture to demonstrate that biblical texts are meant to address and have application to situations outside of their original context.

Craig S. Keener: For one example, continuing the above-mentioned topic: the Spirit tells Philip to run up to the chariot where the African court official is (Acts 8:29). That fits a consistent theme in the Book of Acts: the Spirit leads the church across cultural barriers. Ancient historians and biographers wrote to communicate accurate historical information, but information that was framed in a way that also taught moral, political, or even theological lessons. One lesson here should be pretty obvious from Luke’s inspired vantage point: we need to continue to depend on God, and God will lead us to cross cultural barriers to bring the gospel to others. Many of us live in communities where God has brought people from other cultures to us, some of them unevangelized in their homelands. Okay, that was just the first example that came to my mind; it might not actually be one of the examples in the book!

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2017

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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