Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reading Scripture with the Reformers - Timothy George




The story of a book that changed the world

Reading Scripture with the Reformers
Author: Timothy George
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 268

Reading Scripture with the Reformers by Timothy George is the story of a book. It is the tale “of how the Bible came to have a central role in the sixteenth-century movement for religious reform that we call the Protestant Reformation” (11).

Three recurring tensions arise centered around the following: Scripture and tradition, making the Bible available to everyone in the language of the people, and the use of the Scriptures in the life and worship of the Protestant churches.

George brings a balanced perspective to these issues. “The reformers insisted that the Word took precedence over the church,” he writes. “But it was never simply a question of Scripture or tradition, holy writ or holy church” (13). George avoids simplifying throughout the book, which makes his observations valuable, and I appreciate the irenic tone.

I have often seen his name in print and read a few of his articles, but I am pleased to finally read one of his books. The back cover refers to him as a renowned Reformation historian and the author of Theology of the Reformers. He is also a contributor and part of the Editorial Council of Christianity Today, a favorite publication. He is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and the general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series, which is worth checking out.

George’s writing in this volume is scholarly but accessible. He enriches historical accounts with the kind of detail that makes them not only informative but fascinating. Calvin has a bad name in some circles, but as in the case of each individual covered, his life is multi-faceted. His story was so interesting that I did not want to stop reading.

Whether by history, community, individuals or geography, George expertly traces the development of the Scriptures into the vernacular of the people. Other key figures in the process include Erasmus and of course, Luther, but many others as well, including lesser-known individuals.

If like me, you have an interest in the various texts and translations of the Bible, this is stimulating reading. The same goes for students of history. There is a wealth of historical information that is applicable to our own day. It is a rich resource for interested readers, those in ministry, and academics.
One surprise, which is relevant for interpreting the Bible, is a similar outlook between Postmodernism and the reformers. George writes, “Postmodernism has emphasized the relational character of knowledge, the role of the community (for Christians the church), in interpretation and the situatedness (language, gender, culture and historical particularity) of every interpreter. This requires that all texts, including the Bible, be approached with humility from a posture of receptivity, not with the aim of mastering or dominating what is encountered. Postmodernism calls for us to recognize our limitations, our finitude. As it turns out, these are habits of reading already deeply embedded in the Christian tradition. They are found, among other places, in the hermeneutical legacy of the Protestant Reformation” (37).
Further on George summarizes a much-needed perspective, “From the reformers we learn that the true purpose of biblical scholarship is not to show how relevant the Bible is to the modern world, but rather how irrelevant the modern and postmodern world―and we as persons enmeshed in it―have become in our self-centered preoccupations and sinful rebellion against the God who spoke and still speaks by the Spirit through his chosen prophets and apostles” (42).
The research is broad and judiciously applied. There is so much here that I will profit from any future perusals. This is an excellent reference.
The reformers reverence toward and use of the Scriptures kindles my own devotion. If this book succeeds in leading readers to a deeper love of God’s word it will have served a valuable purpose.
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