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Jonathan Pennington: Reading the Gospels Wisely

Interaction with the scholarly literature abates in chaps 9–10, as Pennington outlines a reading strategy for the Gospels. Rather than a haphazard reading method, Pennington proposes a narrative model using Luke 7:11–17 (the raising of the widow of Nain’s son). He is careful not to undermine his own thesis by providing a reading model: If we subject the Gospels to analysis—even his analysis—the experience is robbed from us. Nor are we merely to be fact or idea hunters, discarding the story’s particulars as husk. Here Pennington follows Leyland Ryken: “To reduce a story to its ‘ideational content is to rob [it of its] power, distort its true nature, and make it finally unnecessary’” (180). Chap. 11 instructs on teaching and applying the Gospels, and the hermeneutic in chap. 12 makes a lot of sense. Pennington sees the Gospels as a canon within the canon (230) playing “a skeleton-key role in unlocking the understanding of the whole Bible” (247). The Gospels are the keystone, with the Old Testament on one side with the crucial word being fulfillment. The New Testament is on the other side, and the Gospels provide the starting point for understanding it (253).

Pennington argues for a paradigm shift. “Rather than emphasizing a separation and distance between us and the texts of Scripture—a distance that can be transcended only by an elaborate set of exegetical tools—we must come to see that the biggest difference is our lack of knowing and loving God; the real divide is between us and God in the text” (137). This goes beyond even the newer literary and narrative criticisms (or even reader-response criticism). It self-consciously blends a literary reading that is not ignorant of historical-criticism but adds a love for God and posits the Bible as Holy Scripture. Pennington articulates many things that I have been wrestling with in the areas of history and theology. Rarely do I read a book that ‘reads me’ so well. I highly recommend this text, especially for those who have been fed a cold diet of higher-critical books and methods. We must develop a “posture” or “habitus” because, “Our goal in reading Scripture is not merely to understand what God is saying … but to stand under his Word” (137). The text would be improved with a bibliography.

Reviewed by David L. Ricci

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Category: Fall 2014, In Depth

About the Author: David L. Ricci, MA (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), PhD (ABD), is an associate professor in the Bible and Theology Department at Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He has served as an evangelist for many years, served on a pastoral staff, has been a marketplace chaplain, and had two radio shows in Rhode Island. He and his family live in Kingston, New Hampshire.

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