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Stephen E. Fowl


A Piety of the Word

John Burgess's Why Scripture Matters: Reading the Bible in a Time of Church Conflict is not an abstract account of biblical authority (though some such account is presumed). It is not a book on hermeneutics (Burgess does not propose a particular method of interpretation). Rather, Burgess wants to re kindle a passion for Scripture among Christians—mainline Protestants in particular. He wants them to return to their first love. Neither more books on biblical authority nor more sophisticated hermeneutics can accomplish this act of reconciliation. Instead, Burgess seeks to revive what he calls a "piety of the Word."

Burgess's concern is that apart from a renewed piety of the Word, the Bible will primarily function as a weapon in the hands of warring parties within the church:

We must become much more intentional about resisting the temptation to wield Scripture simply as a weapon— to lift it up and wave it at our opponents—and more intentional about learning instead how to open Scripture as we would a good gift, standing before it together and in anticipation of hearing God's voice.

Having laid out these sorts of challenges, Burgess then goes on to diagnose the reasons behind mainline Protestantism's Scripture-weariness and illiteracy. This is perhaps the least satisfying chapter in the book. The rise of technology and the priority of information in Western culture, Burgess suggests, have undermined our sense of the poetic. This has led Christians to treat Scripture as a book of information, instantly accessible and straightforwardly applicable. While the chapter purports to offer something of a diagnosis, both eccleisal and cultural, of the mainline's scriptural malaise, this never really comes to pass.1

By emphasizing the "poetic" aspect of Scripture, Burgess seeks to show that Scripture has both a definite content and multiple layers of meaning. Scripture cannot be made to mean absolutely anything. It does, however, have "layers of meaning" which "find ...

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