Theological Vision Guides

7. Using Scripture: Interpreting the world, directing our worship

Key Theme: Using Scripture

We are to promote creation’s good – but how do we know what that is? Is there even such a thing as the ‘good’? Conversely, we are to trace creation’s signposts to the praise and worship of God – but how do we know that we’ve traced them accurately or even taken them to the right god?

In both aspects of our twofold mission, Scripture has a vital role to play in our interpretation of God’s creation. It is as we read the world through the lenses of Scripture that we can best identify the way God has designed creation to flourish. And it is as we see the Christ revealed by Scripture that we learn how he both fulfils and subverts the longings of each culture, and how the signposts of creation – and of our academic field – do indeed point to him.

Using Scripture in this way, we affirm that it can be reliably interpreted and is intended to be used to interpret creation. Indeed, ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’. This refers to there being a unity in the complexity of Scripture that enables us to interpret one part of Scripture in the light of the whole. Its narrative trajectory, which moves from creation to fall to new creation, has a coherence that teaches us how to read it. The key to its interpretation is Christ himself, whom God reveals in Scripture through the work of the Spirit and the faithful teaching of the church.

Christ’s fulfilment of the Old Testament calls us to read the Bible’s timeline both forwards and backwards (diagram 13). As we look forward through Scripture’s story – which is the true story of the world – we see how his first coming and saving work fulfilled all the earlier signs and prophetic patterns which went before him. These all pointed ahead to him, and so in the same way the New Testament teaches us to anticipate Christ’s second coming, and to look ahead to him as the ultimate goal of creation. Conversely, Christ teaches us to look backward through the story – his life and teaching reaffirms and clarifies the moral teaching of the earlier Mosaic law, and in the same way, before that, God’s original ordering of creation in this age, which was ‘very good’.

Scripture can bear the weight of these readings because it is authored by a God who declares the end from the beginning, and who also determines the history that the story describes. From the moment of Adam’s fall, Scripture’s story is structured by a pattern of promise and fulfilment, in which God teaches his people to trust him. We see a cumulative series of promises with recurring patterns of micro-fulfilments, which take place before they all find their macro-fulfilment in the person and work of Christ. So between Adam and Christ we see figures such as Abraham, Israel and David. There are recurring stories of exile and return from Egypt or the east. Each of these episodes functions both as the fulfilment of an earlier promise and as a signpost to the promise of a greater fulfilment. So the Mosaic law’s ordering of the land of Canaan under God both looks back to our original purpose in Eden and looks forward to the hope of new creation. The unity of the story combines the linear movement of a single timeline with recurring cyclical patterns throughout – a kind of helix or upward spiral. These episodes can be meaningfully compared with one another, enabling interpretation within the unity of the whole.

The complexity within recurring patterns – traced through 66 books and all the episodes of Israel’s history – provides a very high resolution for the Bible to be used as a lens through which to read the world.

In general terms, the Bible teaches us to read itself as the New Testament clarifies what the Old was always about, and as the Old Testament points ahead to the hope of the New Testament. Reading the Bible backward and forward in a hermeneutical spiral trains us and grounds us for the broader hermeneutical task required by our twofold mission (diagram 14). As knowing Christ is the key to reading Scripture, so Scripture is our key to reading God’s world. We look at creation in this age through the lenses of Scripture, seeing how its teaching clarifies the way creation is designed to flourish. Similarly, reading it forwards, we see the way Christ fulfilled the Old Testament (sometimes in surprising ways) in his first coming, and this helps us look at how the longings of creation are also subversively fulfilled in the gospel.

How does this relate to our workplace? Although the institutional authority of the local church does not extend into our local workplace, the same limits do not apply to Scripture, which speaks into all things because it is the true story of the whole world. Our responsibility is to understand how the Bible frames and addresses the field in which we work, so that we can more effectively contribute to its fruitfulness. Conversely, we are called to trace a line from the insights and questions of our field to the gospel of Christ as revealed in Scripture. In doing so, we bring God the praise he is due as we explore how everything really does exist both from Christ and to Christ for the ultimate glory of God.

Diagram 13: Scripture

Diagram 14: Our twofold mission


Consultation Exercise

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