Binz on the Bible

Stephen J Binz is a Bible scholar who bridges the Evangelical-Catholic divide. In hisAncient-Future Bible Study Series he gives us a series of great Bible studies on various characters in the Bible. With studies on Peter, Abraham, Women of the Torah, Women of the Gospels, Paul and David, these studies for either individuals or groups highlight several principles that are vital for dynamic Bible study.

First of all, what I like about them is that they focus on individuals. Benedict XVI has said, “The Scriptures can only be interpreted in the lives of the saints.” We often forget that the story of salvation is the story of God working in the lives of real people. The Bible is best understood as God’s encounter with individuals down through history, and that encounter has changed the course of history.

Secondly, I like these studies because they are based in the Catholic tradition of lectio divina or “holy reading”. This tradition, which comes to us from the Benedictine contemplative tradition of prayer helps us to “pray the Scriptures”. Too much Scripture study is purely academic, intellectual and critical. If it is not academic and critical it is subjective and sentimental. Who of us has not endured a long evening with earnest Christians with Bibles open on their laps while the leader says, “And what did verse seventeen mean to you Edith?” 

Lectio divina allows for the work of the Spirit in the individual heart, but it is a private and intimate exercise–not one which is immediately accessible or applicable to the group. At the same time Binz’ Bible study guides are scholarly works. They are well researched, carefully balanced and open to modern critical methods while not allowing them to become reductionist, destructive or critical for their own sake. His studies are prepared to help Christians in both Evangelical and Catholic traditions to read our shared Scriptures with insight, intelligence and inspiration.

This is the final reason why I like them–they’re produced by Brazos Press–a division of Evangelical publishing house Baker Books–an imprint with the express intention of nurturing a shared and intelligent and respectful dialogue between Christians of the three great traditions. Instead of an extended book review, I got in touch with Stephen Binz and conducted an email interview. Here’s the result:

DL: Stephen, your series of very interesting Bible study guides is called “Ancient-Future Bible Study”. Why the intriguing title?

SB: “Ancient-Future” expresses the connection between ancient wisdom and future possibilities that I want to create in this series. The term is used in the arts to emphasize a blending of tradition and innovation. Ancient-future music and dance fuses centuries-old traditions with contemporary genres and technology. By learning from the world’s great traditions and ancient practices, artists create cross-cultural expressions that are richly profound yet also widely appealing. In this series, I combine the ancient art of lectio divina with contemporary Bible study to produce work that is richly traditional and attractively engaging.

DL: I noticed that the Bible study guides can be used by individuals or by groups. What sort of groups do you think would benefit most by using them?

SB: These books are ideal for Bible study groups who want to do more than understand Bible passages. These pages lead users to a deep listening to Scripture, meditation, prayer, and witness. The Patristic writers teach us never to be satisfied with an intellectual understanding of a biblical passage, and the spiritual masters teach us how Scripture can lead us to a deeper relationship with God. I also encourage parishes who adopt one of these studies to offer it to everyone in the parish. Often those unable to join a group can participate in the experience by working through the book on their own. A parish that studies the Bible in this way will experience the kind of personal and communal transformation encouraged by lectio divina. 

DL: I’m a Benedictine oblate, so I was delighted to see that you were inspired by the tradition of lectio divina as a way to study the Bible. Can you say briefly what lectio divina is and why it is important?

SB: Lectio divina is an ancient way of reading Scripture in which the inspired text becomes a gateway to encounter God. I incorporate five movements from within the tradition in these books. Lectio is reading the text with a listening ear; meditatio is reflecting on the meaning and message of the text; oratio is praying in response to God’s word; contemplatio is quietly resting with God; and operatio is faithful witness in daily life. In this practice we create a heart-to-heart dialogue with God by listening to God speak his word to us through the text and then responding to God through prayer. The process is guided by the Holy Spirit who leads us to trust in God’s living word and its ability to transform our lives.

DL: As a former Evangelical, now a Catholic priest, I am always interested to discover new ways the Reformation tradition and the Catholic tradition can influence and complement each other. How do you think your Bible study series helps to do that?

SB: I imagine my own work as that of a bridge builder, as you can see from my website: (Bridge-Building Opportunities). My speaking and writing emphasize the link between East and West, study and prayer, ancient tradition and contemporary experience. And this bridge-building work certainly includes connecting the Catholic and Reformed traditions of Christianity. Although I have written Bible studies published by a variety of Catholic publishers, I am proud to publish this series with the Baker Publications Group, an Evangelical publisher. Its Brazos Press imprint promotes “a robust renewal of classical, orthodox Christianity” across the Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions. So, Ancient-Future Bible Study attempts to do this by bridging the practice of lectio divina, rooted in the ancient Fathers, with the Evangelical emphasis on Scripture and the mandate of the Second Vatican Council that “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 131). 

DL:  The Catholic tradition of lectio divina is something non-Catholic Christians can glean from the Catholic tradition. What does the Protestant tradition have to offer Catholics?

SB: The Protestant tradition continually offers Catholics the challenge of striving for personal engagement with Scripture. We certainly have much to learn from the traditions of one another, but I think the most important thing we can do is to explore together the ancient church. There we find the apostolic tradition, the patristic tradition, and a richer understanding of Scripture, sacraments, liturgy, creed, and prayer that can unite us. Of course, many Catholic have had the experience of being invited by their Protestant neighbors to their Bible study groups, and many Catholics have found there a rich engagement with Scripture. I think it’s about time that Catholics start inviting their Protestant friends to Bible study, and I hope that what I have produced can be an instrument to create that kind of ecumenical hospitality.  

DL: The books I have received are on Father Abraham, the Women of the Torah, the Women of the Gospels, Peter and Paul. I was especially interested in your studies on Peter and Paul. Why did you choose these two apostles? Why are they important to Christians today? Read More