Book Club Channel
Luke: The Gospel of Amazement: A Book Excerpt
Though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand. ~ Luke 8:10 NIV, from Isaiah 6:9
When we hear these words of Jesus, something inside us shudders. We wince at the thought of someone—anyone—who has the ability to see and hear and yet stubbornly refuses to perceive and understand. Our greatest fear is that inwardly we might be just that person.
He had just told the parable of the sower. And we will learn in Luke that a parable demands the use of the imagination. If we are to take our place alongside the disciples as ones to whom these "secrets of knowledge" have been entrusted, then we too must learn what it means to read, to perceive, to understand the Bible with our imaginations.
It is impossible, when a seed is planted in you, to know just what sort of fruit it will eventually produce. Almost thirty years ago, when Dr. William Lane smiled at me over his crooked glasses and said, "I am going to teach you how I read Scripture," how could I have known that I would spend the rest of my life in pursuit of his stated goal: reading the Scriptures with my imagination.
"We must learn to read the Bible at the level of the informed imagination": this was how he encapsulated his approach to studying God's Word. In the years that followed, he never once explained how we were supposed to do this. Instead, he simply did it. That is, Bill incarnated for his students a deep interaction with the biblical text by means of his remarkably informed imagination. A Ph.D. from Harvard, he spoke fourteen languages. You saw his imagination when he simply opened the Bible; it seemed to tremble in his hands. You heard it when he read with his booming voice, usually from the New Testament. You saw it in your mind's eye when he used primary source backgrounds to paint the image of Jesus the rabbi. Sometimes you even smelled it when Bill recounted a scene like the anointing of Jesus' feet. "'The smell of the perfume filled the house' [Jn. 12:3]: now, why do you think John included that detail?" he would ask, his voice modulating for effect.
In our own way, those of us who studied with Bill in the religion department of Western Kentucky University adapted and adopted this luminous approach. We absorbed the primary sources for ourselves: Suetonius, Eusebius, Tacitus, Josephus and the rest. We learned to ask the same sort of questions he might ask of the text: "Why is this detail there?" "What does it mean?" "How would the first hearers of this document have understood this?" "Why did the writer leave that out?" In time, on our own, we would learn to ask even better questions . . . questions of our own.
Precisely because he neglected to present this method as a full-blown system, we were left to struggle on our own. His refusal to provide a systematic, didactic outline had a powerful purpose: we were left to engage with Scripture at the level of our imaginations, by ourselves.
Michael Card is an award-winning musician, writer, and performing artist who is perhaps best known and most appreciated for the meticulous biblical study that supports the themes and lyrics of his creative compositions. His newest book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, is the first in his new Biblical Imagination Series.