CHRISTIANS HAVE LONG claimed the Bible as a central source of authority for faith and life. Yet church members are often at a loss as to how to interpret the scriptures. While academic biblical scholarship has flourished since the 17th century, there is a troubling disconnect between seminaries and congregations, between what hermeneutics specialist Hans de Wit calls “professional readers” and “ordinary readers” of scripture.
So, for example, master of divinity students at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, where I work, gain skills in literary criticism, socio-historical analysis, Hebrew and Greek language, source criticism, and canonical criticism, among others, with the expectation that they will become leaders who are “grounded in and continuously formed by the Bible,” according to the program’s stated goals. But at the same time, today’s North American Mennonite church members often exhibit a widespread lack of familiarity with biblical interpretive tools and in many cases a lack of regular engagement with the Bible.
AMBS professor Alan Kreider wrote, “The estrangement of many North American Mennonite Christians from the Bible, their sense that they know the book, that it’s overfamiliar or irrelevant, and their captivity to American ills of individualism, consumerism, and over-busyness—all of these make it hard to indwell the ancient text and make it life-giving today.”