Scot McKnight: Bible Maestros
The Bible has multiple books with multiple authors for a reason.

The great Reformer Martin Luther famously found the letter of James to be a strawy epistle because, in his judgment, it did not teach enough Christ or faith or grace. It had too much law for him. Most of us have forgiven Luther for overcooking his confidence, but he illustrates how many of us often read the Bible. We fasten upon a "maestro" ? and Luther's maestro was clearly the Apostle Paul ? and make the rest of the Bible fall in line with our maestro's lens of interpretation. Let me trade a moment in a few stereotypes.

Protestant liberals, Anabaptists, and Red Letter Christians have all made Jesus the maestro of their Bible reading. Everything is seen through the angle of the words "kingdom" and social justice as "discipleship." We are tempted, of course, to forgive anyone who makes Jesus their maestro, but the wisdom of God in giving us a canon - a list of 27 books that included Paul and Peter and John and Hebrews and Jude - which renders making even Jesus the maestro suspect.

Conservative evangelicals and the (strongly) Reformed have made Paul their maestro, at times a bit like Luther. In their view the rest of the Bible either anticipates or clarifies "justification by faith" and "soteriology" and "grace." Paul's theology, it must be admitted, is gloriously rich and his categories breathtakingly clear and the implications profound. But the wisdom of God was to give us a bundle of books and a bundle of authors. A fully biblical approach to reading the Bible reads and accepts each author and each book.

Maestro Bible reading is an alluring temptation for a number of reasons:

-It is simpler to master one author and let the others chime in where they fit;

-It is safer to have it all figured out;

-It is more challenging to work out our faith when we invite multiple voices to the table;

-It is easier to fit into our church tradition if we just let the tradition shape what we believe, and many traditions are shaped by maestro Bible readings.

But we must guard ourselves against the temptation to make one biblical author our maestro.

In college my favorite Bible teacher was a man named Joe Crawford. He once told me that though Calvin was a Calvinist, when it came to his commentaries he let the text say what it said. Apart from a few lapses from this principle (and apart from the timeliness of his concerns), I have found my teacher's observation about Calvin to be true. And I would hope the same is true about us today.

Recently my friend Lincoln Hurst, a New Testament scholar, passed away too soon. His greatest contribution to biblical studies was an act of love for his teacher. Lincoln completed, when his teacher also died too soon, G.B. Caird's marvelous New Testament Theology. The genius of that volume was the imaginary invitation of each of the authors of the New Testament to the table to give an account of their understanding of the gospel and theology. (Except that the voice of James, under the influence of the Reformers, was rarely heard.) The genius of Caird's approach is to emphasize and relish the admirable diversity of New Testament theology. For Caird there was to be no maestro.

January 08, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments

Cliff Barbarick

January 15, 2009  9:42pm

Thank you for bringing attention to Caird's innovative approach to New Testament theology. Caird tried to avoid choosing a "maestro," but, of course, that has one unfortunate side-affect: Caird himself became the maestro. By choosing what questions to ask the various NT writings and choosing how to phrase those questions, Caird himself became the "maestro's lens" through which the NT is understood. I'm not sure this can be avoided, but it is a pitfall of which to be aware.

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Travis Greene

January 09, 2009  3:25pm

I think when Scot suggests we shouldn't take Jesus as our maestro when reading the Bible, he means Jesus as presented by Luke (or John or Mark or Matthew). Of course Jesus is our maestro in life, as Scot talks about all the time on his blog. He's just saying we need the whole canon, and without an artificially imposed hierarchy.

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Chris (Jesdisciple)

January 09, 2009  2:17pm

I'm trying to understand what this is about. No apparent contradictions are mentioned, and indeed I didn't ask for a list because the question seemed off-topic. But this seems like a much to general topic... Why are we talking about how we need to fit all the perspectives together but not actually attempting it? Granted, that would result in debate, and intellectual division. So I walk away only wondering what kind of division that is... Should it be embraced, avoided altogether, applied in moderation, or applied at will but only with the correct attitude?

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Samuel

January 09, 2009  10:27am

Chris Smith, From which Augustinian work are you quoting from?

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Melody

January 09, 2009  8:20am

Augustine said in 397 A.D. that the "most expert investigator of the divine scriptures" will both have read all the Scriptures and also have "a good knowledge" of them. This will protect the interpreter so that others "will then be unable to take possession of his unprotected mind and prejudice him in any way against sound interpretations or delude him by their dangerous falsehoods and fantasies." Unfortunately, very few Christians actually do this. They simply choose the theologian most closely aligned with the way they already think and let him dictate.

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Chris Smith

January 09, 2009  5:47am

It is probably more accurate to say that white Western evangelicals have taken captive evangelical theology and doctrine. In my travels around the world and involvement with the underground church in closed countries, I find while we have much to share in the way of discipleship and training, we have much to learn in the way of deep, life-controlling faith . . . the kind of faith that comes not for those of us living in prosperous cultures but from those in persecution and suffering. A book that I think addresses the topic of this article but has been unfairly maligned is Daniel Fuller's "Unity of the Bible". This book provides a depth of viewpoint that incorporates all the books of the Bible. However, it appears to offend white Western theology. It has been accused of promoting salvation by works, an accusation which is unfounded and derived from a superficial reading, much as one might derive the same from James. Both present the importance of works as evidence of faith, not as a means to salvation. This can become a stumbling block to some for whom salvation of faith is threatened by any mention of works, but it is imnportant. There is a difference between good works to earn salvation and good deeds that flow naturally from a heart that is saved. If we throw out the concept of good deeds entirely, which James also puts forth so well, we must throw out much of Jesus' own words about works and obedience.

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Viktor

January 09, 2009  2:19am

Why only "invite to the table – African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, ..."? Why not some real Africans, Latinos, Asians, and perhaps - dare I say it - some good old Europeans ("where history comes from") and new-era Australasians?

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Jonathan Brink

January 08, 2009  11:42pm

This is one time when I'm remiss at the blogging and commenting platform. I really wish you'd explain your thought process better regarding Jesus. Your statement "which renders making even Jesus the maestro suspect" leaves me terribly wanting for an explanation because at face value it's absurd. But I too recognize it was not the point of this post, so I hope you would follow on with a better understanding of what you meant.

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RDM

January 08, 2009  9:27pm

Two words Holy Spirit

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Dale C. Miller

January 08, 2009  7:56pm

I agree that we need to hear all the voices of the Bible and the Christian community in all its variety. The church would be richer and spiritually deeper if we could get past our own biases and listen to the Spirit through others. Today, I was reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy and he talked about normal (vs. insane) humans being those who allow the world to be bigger than themselves. The mad construct a world that they are the king (or messiah) of. I fear that as we have maestros, we become somewhat insane. Listening to other voices makes us healthy spiritually (testing the spirits, of course.) Also, what about the OT voices? Should we hear from Moses, David, Isaiah and others about our faith? They informed Jesus, Paul and the others.

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