I’m currently working on a book by Shannon Nicole Smythe called Women in Ministry: Questions and Answers in the Exploration of a Calling. It’s an important book, I think, because the issue is one still dogging evangelicals. Smythe approaches it in a helpful way. Rob Wall, in the foreword, writes:
Dr. Smythe offers readers a careful selection of sacred texts because she has a bone to pick; that is, the dialogue between selected biblical passages and her core belief in the triune God guides her to where theological goods are mined that most likely will help her readers engage in their process of discernment. But they are also selected with a full awareness that a primary reason why people disagree over this topic concerns how to read the very passages she has selected to study. While the reasons for these disagreements are complex, often involving social worlds as much as linguistic analysis, the practices for doing so are properly communal. This is a book that encourages interested people to read, study, and discuss Scripture together. Worshiping God and studying Scripture together cultivates those characteristics that enable earnest Christians to resist the tendency of allowing disagreements between them to harden into non-negotiable positions that occasion harsh and hurtful accusations of others on the other side of the divide. This provides a context for both understanding and reconciliation.
Wall’s foreword has some great reflections on theological interpretation. In addition to calling attention to the book itself, highlighting Wall’s words is the purpose of my post today. Here are some longer excerpts I found especially good given my own ongoing interests in theological interpretation:
A theological interpretation of Scripture does not bring a particular modern “criticism” to the biblical text but, rather, a range of theological interests as ancient as the church. Strong students not only recognize that Scripture bears authoritative witness to God’s saving work in history, they expect that a faithful reading of Scripture targets the loving relationship between God and God’s people. That is, if Scripture is approached as a revelatory text, then any Spirit-directed application by its faithful readers should result in a more mature understanding of God’s word whose effective yield is a more satisfying life with God.
The practical problem of such a task, of course, is the abundant surplus, not scarcity, of theological resources at the church’s disposal in its Scriptures. In fact, one could say that the Bible, from beginning to end, is about the relationship between God and God’s people: what does it truly mean to be God’s people and do as they ought? In part, this is because the Bible is the church’s holy Scripture, shaped and sized from beginning to end in the company of the holy Spirit to size and shape a holy church that is also one, catholic, and apostolic. Toward this end, every Scripture is God-breathed to inform, form, and reform God’s people into a covenant-keeping community, a light to the nations.
This book is deeply grounded in the church’s confession that its Scripture—every bit of it—is God’s inspired and inspiring word. Any attentive engagement with what Scripture says, especially if it demands our repentance, as I think this book does, not only recognizes the holiness of the biblical texts that are studied—even those well-known “texts of terror” such as 1 Timothy 2:9–15—but their proper reading and application within the economy of grace. That is, Scripture is the sanctified auxiliary of the holy Spirit who teaches us God’s word and draws us into loving communion with God and with all our neighbors. The practice of studying biblical passages together commends the belief that Scripture’s authority cannot subsist apart from an engaged community of readers who carefully and prayerfully wait upon the Spirit to disclose God’s truth to them.