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

If we are more concerned about respectability than celebrating God’s gifts, something is wrong.

It’s good to get insights from believers from a range of cultures. We don’t have to agree with one another on every proposed insight, but the more insights we have to consider the better our chances of finding the most helpful insights. (It’s the same reason that we do well to pay some attention to the history of interpretation.) It’s often easier to see a splinter in another’s eye than the log in our own, as Jesus warned. We are so close to our own culture that we are oblivious to some of its faults. Readers of Scripture from different cultures will have different insights, especially when they are closer to the cultures in which the Bible originated. Obviously the closer we can get to the Bible’s own setting, the more accurate our insights can be. But without input from Christians from other cultures, sometimes I don’t even know the right questions to ask. It was studying Genesis with my African wife that brought to my attention issues in rural pastoral culture, midwifed births, and so forth that were foreign to my own experience. When Paul is engaging Greek philosophy, by contrast, I had more to contribute.

Now I know not everybody has these kinds of resources or even friends whose insights they can solicit. I do know that at least a lot of ancient Bible background is available because I wrote a background commentary (InterVarsity) and edited the NT part of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Zondervan). These cannot answer every question one might think of, but they offer a start. One will be well-served so long as one thinks cross-culturally; read the Bible the way you would read a message from another culture, because it is one. At the same time, read the Bible the way you would read about people like yourself, because they are people like we are and most of all, our God is the same God, the one hero throughout the Bible and all history. What steps can Bible schools and seminaries take to help equip their students to hear the Bible as a living book that speaks to God’s people today?

If we ask for His Spirit to reveal His heart to us as we read Scripture, He won’t turn that prayer away.

Craig S. Keener: In exegetical method we sometimes feel as if using the method mechanically will guarantee results. We often think the same thing when it comes to preaching, sharing our faith, serving the needy, or other things we Christians do. We can do it mechanically and get some mechanical results; God may well still work in it. But how much better to recognize His participation with us in these endeavors, to humble ourselves and request His empowerment for them. We may still use some of the same methods, but more fruitfully. We can’t lose sight of the Bible as God’s Word, God’s voice, alive and speaking to us. We should approach God’s Word humbly, with the objective of not just satisfying our intellectual curiosity (valuable as that can be), but the objective of learning from God in ways that transform us. If we ask for bread, He won’t give us a stone; if we ask for His Spirit (Luke 11:13) to reveal His heart to us as we read Scripture, He won’t turn that prayer away.




Editors’ note: Special thanks to John Lathrop for his assistance with this interview.


Further Reading:

Take a course on biblical interpretation with New Testament scholar, Professor Craig S. Keener.

Rightly Understanding God’s Word, in 15 portions (published in The Pneuma Review from Spring 2003 through Spring 2006, with a new introduction added in Winter 2015).

An excerpt from the Introduction:

I arrange this course from the most basic principles to the more complex. Some students may find principles like “context” too basic and may wish to skip ahead. Before they do so, I encourage them to sample the context examples; many will be surprised how many songs, sermons, and popular sayings have taken texts out of their context. In other words, it is one thing to affirm that we believe in context; it is quite another to practice that skill consistently. I have supplied concrete examples to help us grapple with that reality and encourage us to apply our “belief” in context more rigorously. Context is essential because that is the way God inspired the Bible—not with random, isolated verses but with a continuous flow of thought to which those verses contribute.

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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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