I’m in a Parables class right now. I know. I’m obsessed with school. Even when I try to quit, I just end up right back in another degree program. But, what else is new? Anyway, one of THE primary objectives of this class is to explore the historical context of Jesus’ parables. And we’re reading N.T. Wright, who as I’ve already mentioned, interprets a good number of the parables as Israel’s story of exile and restoration.
You want to know what happened today in class discussion? 95% of the students completely ignored the historical context and mentioned only what the parable spoke to them regarding their own personal lives. One girl started crying. And I promise you I am not making fun of her. I sat in my seat somewhat baffled at first but then I just started to smile. And finally I became deeply moved.
Because it really hit me. The bottom line is that you can stuff historical critical methodology down students’ throats all day long (and this is a worthy pursuit, I believe) and STILL a good majority of them cannot help but see themselves directly addressed by the text. Yeah, they recognize the parable has something to do with first century Palestine but ultimately they believe God’s speaking to them and not even the Ph.D. in the room is going to convince them any differently. The Professor can tell them “actually, this time this text is about Israel, NOT about you…it has very little to do with you” and still they cannot resist this acute sense that the text is personally addressing them, confronting them, and even rebuking them. It’s remarkable, even uncanny. At some point you just gotta ask: “For real, what is going on here? What is the nature of this text?”
If I’m anything, I’m passionate about historical critical study of the Bible so I don’t mean to undermine its value at all. Far from it. But it’s important to me to at least make note of this observation. For over ten years I’ve been involved in biblical studies at various academic and theological institutions. I’ve been told precisely how the Bible works, how legit interpretation works. I’ve been taught lots of hermeneutical rules. And yet, I cannot escape this very real sense that there is something substantially more to Bible reading than my theological education and hermeneutical models have taught me.