Peopled by the Book
When I was at Wilfred Laurier University for our church’s 2012 Synod Assembly my friend Tim Hegedus handed me an article and said “you have to read this.” I’m so glad he did. It was by our mutual friend, Allen Jorgenson, who is assistant dean of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, and a professor of systematic theology there. It turned out to be one of those pieces that are wonderful to spend time with….interesting, provocative, and thoughtful. Like a really good conversation that leaves you thinking and maybe even changed.
Allen believes that scripture is not just something that we can take or leave, assent to or feel guided by, but that the relationship is much more dynamic and – more to the point – much more guided from THAT side (the side of the scriptures) than by THIS side (the side of us readers). Thus his title: “peopled by the book.” As he says “Scripture…cannot be construed as a bill of goods that we accept – or not – rather, it is the communal means by which we are spoken into being by the God of life.”
He also speaks in the article about how we are all “predisposed to relate with those who think like we do”, so perhaps I should admit that some of the reason I liked the article so much is that many of these thoughts are similar (if better expressed) to thoughts I have been turning over and over for years. One of the chapters in my doctoral dissertation was on Ricoeur’s ideas about rhetoric “creating worlds”(based in turn on Gadamer, at least, as well as I understand him) and I tried to bring this view of the creative power of words to bear on Paul’s use of rhetoric in 1 Corinthians. As well, I’ve been especially aware of the specifically creative power of scripture since reading Hans Frei’s “The Eclipse of Biblical Theology,” which makes a similar point to Jorgenson’s article, again however, with much less elegance. Especially Frei-like (in thought, at least) was the phrase in his conclusion: “Not only is this a book that we read, but it is a book that writes us into the book of life by including us in its very plot. Scripture scripts us.” I will be reflecting on that quote for a long time.
There are tons of memorable, well-turned and descriptive phrases here. I love the idea that scripture equals “the visitation in the present of the church catholic” and that “empowerment is at the heart of the redemption that is reading scripture.” And the image of scripture being “rather like a lung” is a jarring and original idea that really helps explain the back and forth of the process he describes.
I was glad that Tim Hegedus (himself a professor of New Testament at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary) passed on this article, and very happy to have spent some time with its thoughts. There’s been some talk at Concordia’s Dept of Theological Studies where I lecture recently about how we have Biblical Studies and we have Theology, but we don’t talk much anymore about Biblical Theology. It seems to me that such an article is really very important for our understanding of Biblical Theology, which is after all, at least in my opinion, what Luther was all about. Perhaps that’s one of the gifts we Lutherans can offer the wider church and academic community both.
Allen G. Jorgenson. “Peopled by the Book,” Word & World. Vol 29, no 4, fall 2009: 325-333.