Eugene Peterson: “Exegesis is the farthest thing from pedantry; exegesis is an act of love.” Pedantry is slavish attention to rules, to detail. Exegesis is an act of love. Most pastors are trained to execute good and effective exegetical skills. Any pastor who works, to whatever degree, with the original biblical languages knows that she has to pay close attention to details—grammar, semantic range of meanings of terms, context, etc. Any good exegete knows that he cannot make up his own rules. All of us have to “learn the ropes” of exegetical acuity to the best of our abilities. But I dare say that most budding pastors rarely heard the word “love” mentioned in the exegetical courses in seminary. Peterson writes, “[Exegesis] is loving the one enough who speaks the words to get the words right. It is respecting the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right. Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says. God has provided us with these scriptures that present us with his Word. Loving God means loving both what God speaks to us and the way God speaks to us. … Lovers savor the words, relishing every nuance of what is said and written.”
What happens to exegesis when it becomes love?
For all our evangelical belief that Scripture is the inspired Word of God and it means what it says, we cannot seem to agree on what it says. A major evangelical publisher is known for a series of books titled “Four Views of You-Name-It.” Women in ministry, end times scenarios, creation/evolution, kingdom of God, inerrancy, justification by faith. The list goes on. As I reflect on this state of theological affairs, I wonder if we are not observing exegesis as an act of power. We don’t seem to really mean it when we cavalierly say, “Let’s agree to disagree.” No, the theological discussion gets adversarial very quickly and degenerates into “I’m right; you’re wrong.” As long as theological inquiry takes place in this evangelical adversarial atmosphere, the exegesis of power will generate strained, if not hostile relationships. In the context of adversarial theology, motives get impugned and characters sometimes slandered. Perhaps we pastors could lead a revolution that returns the church to exegesis as an act of love. I mean, Scot McKnight has waved the banner long and high: “The Jesus Creed: Love God, Love Others.”
I don’t envision any time soon an atmosphere of theological unity on the vast array of topics popping like corn in our exegetical kettles. I do envision a time when loving God in, through and with our exegesis, we may demonstrate a Christ-like civility that helps us as pastors and theologians to love one another deeply from the heart. Theological disagreements in themselves are not bad. Properly acknowledged, differences can spur more inquiry and, perhaps, reveal greater common ground than we thought possible on the hot-topic issues.
Speaking of our interactions with the Bible, EHP writes, “Keeping company with these words, we begin to realize that our words are more important than we ever supposed. … Our words accrue dignity and gravity in conversations with Jesus. For Jesus doesn’t impose salvation as a solution; he narrates salvation into being through leisurely conversation, intimate personal relationship, compassionate responses, passionate prayer, and—putting it all together—a sacrificial death. We don’t casually walk away from words like that” (emphasis added).