Reading Scripture: What's the Point?
Fourth, self-understanding comes more in responding to questions than in learning new facts about some state of affairs in which one finds oneself. Questions are more important than answers, but not more important than responses. Self-understanding comes in responding to the questions that scripture asks me.
Fifth, self-understanding is unavoidably an ongoing project. It has no final point, at least not for mortals.
Sixth, I assume that repentance comes about when a person or a church is genuinely engaged in self-understanding. In that it continually helps us repent, scripture study is an important part of continuing revelation.
Seventh, the questions that bring self-understanding are rarely those with which I begin because I seldom know already what I need to learn about myself. Rather, I begin with questions that come to me from the text.
Most often, these questions arise when I focus on the details of the text rather than on the big questions that I am always tempted to ask at first. Questions like "What principle or doctrine do these verses teach?" are last in my scripture study because (1) those questions too often tempt me to revert to repeating "what everyone knows" about the passage I am studying; because (2) beginning with the principles I find in scripture moves me too quickly to the general when what I need are things directed at me in particular; and because (3) by paying attention to the details of the text (particularly its "story line," even when it isn't narrative), I will often be asked questions that I wouldn't have thought of otherwise.
Finally, the most important thing one can have when reading scripture is imagination. And perhaps the most important question one can ask to set imagination to work is "How can I read this passage otherwise than I usually would and yet remain true to the text and true to the gospel preached through its on-going revelation?"
Scriptural theology can be interesting and is helpful to some. But in my experience, few things are more important to spiritual life than scripture study, whether or not it is part of an effort to do scriptural theology.
Scripture study isn't merely scripture reading. It certainly isn't scriptural contestation between proponents of different theologies or sects. It is allowing the canon of scripture to call me to repentance and to teach me what it means to live a Christian life.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.