Learning to Discern What the Spirit is Saying to the Church
Craig S. Keener
Reviewed by Brad Sumner
What is the subject?
This is a book about how we approach and how we understand the Bible. As the title suggests, Keener is a proponent of more than simply a technical, historical or academic approach to Scripture. He is advocating for “ways of reading the Bible that are faithful both to the Spirit-inspired biblical text and the experience of the Spirit within a believer or among believers as an interpretative community.”
Who is the author?
Dr. Craig Keener is a professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and a prolific writer. He stands within the global charismatic tradition as a scholar and he also serves as a pastor and proponent of ethnic reconciliation in the USA and Africa.
His body of work is simultaneously rigorously academic (he has authored numerous commentaries with methodically researched source material from the ancient world) but he also produces publicly accessible works such as his Bible studies and sermons in seven languages which he makes available for free at www.craigkeener.com.
Why this book?
The topic of our upcoming study conference is “Interpreting Scripture Today: Spirit and Community, Bible and Culture”. This book is on the recommended reading list and for good reason.
Keener lays out various “lenses” that he asserts will help us gain faithful insight that ought to lead us toward obedience.
One lens is reading experientially, which Keener asserts is not only inevitable but also desirable and biblical.
Another lens is reading in solidarity with the global and historical church. Keener takes on the issue of appropriate contextualization and delves into case studies on how different traditions interpret things like divine healing and evil spirits.
He invites a thoroughgoing assessment of the composition of the cannon and ancient meanings while also dipping his toes into the water of epistemology and historical critical analysis.
In short, it’s easy to see why the book became so long and has over 200 additional pages of excellent endnotes and bibliographical citations.
Comment on the book’s theological perspective in light of the MB Confession of Faith
One of the things that Keener asserts strongly is the Christocentric nature of the process of interpretation. This aligns strongly with our historic and contemporary emphasis within our Confession of Faith.
Article 2 (Revelation of God) also provides insight into the connectivity between the Spirit’s work in inspiration and application: “We believe that the entire Bible was inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit guides the community of faith in the interpretation of Scripture.” To this assertion Keener would offer a hearty “yes and amen!”
It’s hard to pick one key insight from such a multi-faceted work but if pressed, I would say that Keener’s push for us to read the Bible “experientially, eschatologically, and missionally” is both the book’s thesis and unique contribution. Other works focus narrowly on one aspect of this, but Keener works out this tripartite thesis in case studies and with textual analysis.
The other gift he brings is the de-centring of the twenty-first century white North American reader by inviting the reader into deeper conversation with the global and ancient church.
Some may find the language of Pentecostalism too bold or too narrowly defined for them. But Keener is not asking for people to adopt a particular denominational hermeneutic, but rather a hermeneutic of hospitality and generosity that allows for the work of the Spirit in both the inspiration of as well as the understanding of the text.
Who should read it?
For those who are not able to attend the study conference, I would strongly urge them to pick up a copy of Keener’s book and engage with it. It will push you to think carefully about things you may not have considered. And please, don’t be put off by the sometimes academic language or the length of the book. It is an excellent resource for any thinking person’s library on the complex and necessary topic of biblical hermeneutics.
Insofar as we believe that God has spoken to us in Scripture, we should pay attention to the Scripture God gave us, not the sort of Scripture we want God to have given us.
The more effectively we hear [biblical] texts in their first contexts, the greater confidence with which we may recontextualize the principles for other settings, and the greater our shared basis for dialoguing about what the texts say to us today.
The reason God gives us Scripture as well as the Spirit is to provide a more objective guide & framework for our personal experience of God; it defeats the purpose of having a Bible if it simply becomes a mine for what we hope to find there anyway theologically or experientially.