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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

No ultimate, absolute distinction He begins by reflecting on the primary purpose of the Bible. It was given “that we might be brought to that knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ which is eternal life”. It shows us “how we might glorify God and live in a right way before him”. He arrives at the conclusions that “scripture is central in our faith and devotion”, that it is “sufficient for its purpose” (which is to provide the true knowledge of God) and that it is “clear in its main message”, which is only what we would expect if the Bible is given to reveal to us the way of salvation. He attaches certain caveats to each one of these assertions. The essential point, however, is that Scripture is “the vehicle of the divine revelation” for the purpose of bringing us to know God. “To approach the study of Scripture on any other terms is to come to God in the wrong attitude”. We must come to receive God’s self-disclosure in reverential faith. Consequently, “the principles of our Bible study must then be as consistent as the principles which govern our whole relationship with God”. This means that there can be no “absolute distinction” between “academic” and “devotional” study of the Bible, for both should be seeking to receive and revere its message, which entails an involvement of both heart and mind, “always seeking to uncover the true meaning of the text”.

An improper distinction between academic and devotional Bible study Cupples concedes, however, that “how we treat Scripture in class and in our private devotions” is different. “There are real differences in approach to Bible reading”. The question is, “how can we distinguish the two emphases yet insist that in practice they ought to be inseparable”. A common and, Cupples believes, an unhelpful distinction, is grounded in the method or principles of how we interpret the text. Academic study is said to use “the scientific method” and devotional reading is expected to adopt “a kind of ‘intuitive’ approach” (which, perhaps, is seen to hold the monopoly on “spiritual value”). Cupples objects to this distinction because “it places them in too sharp an opposition and makes them both dangerous”. Academic study becomes dead and devotional reading becomes fanciful.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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