Why is this necessary? The Bible is a large book, and even careful readers can interpret it in a variety of ways. But not all of these ways are Christian ways of reading Scripture. For example, one can read the Bible in a way that sees the God of Israel as a judging God, as the antithesis of the God of Jesus, who is supposedly only a gracious (not judging) God. But this is not a Christian reading of the Old or New Testaments. In the early centuries of Christianity, the rule of faith helped make sure that Christians held together the Old Testament with the New—that the God of creation and covenant is also the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
The new world into which God brings us via Scripture is wide and spacious, but it also has a specified character. It is a journey on the path of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit in anticipation of the final, culminating communion with the triune God.
The Bible Is For All Disciples
Does the theological interpretation of Scripture require specialized training? While those calling for a theological reading of Scripture (Vanhoozer, Joel Green, Stephen Fowl) encourage us to engage pre-modern commentators and modern biblical criticism, they have great confidence in the ability of ordinary congregations to approach the Bible as God's Word.
Two dynamics are often overlooked in contemporary biblical interpretations. The first is the work of the Spirit in illuminating Scripture, and the second is interpreting the Scripture "in Christ." Congregations around the world cultivate a sense of these two realities as they pray for the Spirit's illumination, worship the triune God, and apply Scripture to their community of discipleship and witness. Of course, these practices don't guarantee faithful biblical interpretation, but they are indispensable dynamics for interpreting the Bible as Scripture. The indwelling of the Spirit in the Christian community, as one located "in Christ," uniquely equips the Christian community to interpret the Bible as God's Word.
Of course, a theological reading of Scripture can have pitfalls as well. But the solution is not to surrender the Bible to scholarly experts. Rather, it is to regain a sense of the place of Scripture in God's drama of redemption, and to enter into the task of reading Scripture with openness to being reformed and reshaped by God on our path of dying to the old self and living into our identity in Christ.
Still, we should avoid another extreme: interpreting the Bible alone, without others. In our day, some assume that the individual is an omni-competent biblical interpreter. No need for commentators, no need for a community of faith. Just me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit.
While sometimes the slogan "sola scriptura" is used to justify such an approach, it is a serious distortion of that Protestant principle. The key Reformation exegetes consulted exegetes through the ages, as well as refined their knowledge of biblical languages and other critical skills of biblical interpretation.
The theological interpretation of Scripture movement has sought to reunite what modernity has divided: discipleship and critical study of the Bible. This is in line with what Augustine wrote in On Christian Teaching: Jesus Christ, as the incarnate God-human, is the "road" to our heavenly homeland. Thus, all Scripture is interpreted in light of Jesus Christ. All scriptural interpretation must lead to our growth in love of God and neighbor.