Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community
Anna Carter Florence
Review by Ben Kramer
What is the subject?
What’s the difference between a desert and the way a long-time Christian reads the Bible?
One is dry and lifeless while the other is dry and lonely.
I’ll let the reader decide which is which.
The truth of the matter is that most Christians encounter the Bible primarily as a solo exercise with the intent of understanding the characters and historical context to create meaning from the text. After a while, the people, and places, and stories become so familiar that it’s hard to see them with the fresh perspectives needed to continue to learn and grow.
In Rehearsing Scripture, Anna Carter Florence offers a different path to interacting with Scripture through focusing on its verbs rather than its nouns while experiencing them together in community.
Who is the author?
Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary. Her background in theatre informs her teaching as a seminary professor which leads her down some creative paths in biblical reading and interpretation. She has a heart to help followers of Jesus enter deeply into the life of God’s people through challenging and life-giving encounters with Scripture.
Why this book?
Because Sunday School curriculums all start with Genesis every year.
Because we tend to skim texts in an “F” shaped pattern and miss the details.
Because like in any long-term relationship, with Scripture reading, we can fall into the habit of taking things for granted and slowly drift into lifeless patterns built on familiarity.
Most Bible study methods, whether for small groups or personal reading, focus on the nouns in the text – the people, the places, the things. Although this is the cornerstone of most historical/critical methods of studying Scripture, it’s far from the only way to engage with it. In fact, it may not even be the most historically common.
Rehearsing Scripture encourages people to read Bible texts together with others. Florence invites readers to answer important questions about the text’s meaning and significance for each other through focusing on the action words rather than subjects. (This isn’t offered as a wholesale replacement for noun-based studies, but rather as a way to see, hear, and play out familiar texts with fresh eyes, ears, and hearts.)
Florence’s book offers guidance for how to read the text well, how to interact well as a community of readers (the “repertory” church), and what kinds of questions to ask in interpretation.
For most people, reading and studying the Bible is done as a solitary practice. This isn’t necessarily negative, however, it tends to breed a familiarity with the stories and messages in the Bible that develops a false sense of knowledge and security. The same voices tend to dominate conversations, leading people down familiar paths, and tend to wind up at the same destinations.
We can’t blame Gutenberg for everything, but I blame Gutenberg. Rehearsing Scripture is a call to hearing the Bible in a new way, through the breadth of the voices of the Christian community, while calling people to declare what is true and good from God and for the world.
Intersection with Confession of Faith
Article 2 of the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith affirms that, “The…Spirit guides the community of faith in the interpretation of Scripture.” This book is a call to embracing that in its messy fullness. It encourages throwing open the doors to Bible reading and interpretation to the broad membership of our faith communities and inviting everyone to offer what grabs them in the text, why it does, what they see about God in it, why our community needs to hear it, what we want to say about it, and what we hope that truth will do.
It’s not to say that all interpretations are valid; rather, it encourages studying the Bible together in the hopes of hearing God’s Spirit speak forth what is true and good through his people.
Who should read it?
The book would serve as an excellent resource for pastors and lay-leaders alike.
Small group leaders could use it as a book study for their group and then follow its methods to breathe new life into Bible study together.
Pastors could use it to “rehearse” future texts for preaching as a way to gain insights from their broader congregation.
Sunday School teachers could use it to read familiar texts with new insight and engagement.
There is certainly a place in the life of the church for reading the Bible through its verbs.
“There’s nothing to eat at church. We’re hungry; we want some Scripture. Not the Good Samaritan story again; we’re tired of that one. Make us something else, something we like.” And if there’s a preacher on hand, and the preacher capitulates, you’re off and running with another generation of entitlement-driven folk who are always hungry, always hanging around the fridge, and always thinking that the preacher’s primary purpose in life is to wait on them.
When the groups change, the questions change. And you can never assume that one group will ask all the questions that are possible and important to ask.
Midian is not our home. Maintenance is not our work. Our call is to find a path to the mountain of God, over and over, so that even in the middle of wherever we are, we can be interrupted by a great sight and another sending.