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Read and mark — it’s the key to morality

16 January 2008

The Bible addresses us in new and surprising ways, says John Rogerson

Singing the Ethos of God: On the place of Christian ethics in scripture
Brian Brock

Eerdmans £18.99 (978-0-8028-0379-5)
Church Times Bookshop £17.10

IF WE find the Bible strange, the fault lies not with the Bible, but with our estrangement from it, and from the God who speaks through it. That, roughly, is the subject addressed by this book.

It is illustrated by the analogy of someone, such as an anthropologist, who visits a totally unfamiliar culture and has to learn its language and imbibe its social customs. It discusses various strategies that have been employed to overcome the estrangement, including those of Stephen Fowl, Richard Hays, J. H. Yoder, Brevard Childs, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The main bulk of the book is devoted to an exercise in “reading with the saints”, which amounts to very detailed accounts of interpreta-tion of selected Psalms by Augustine and Martin Luther. The point of this is to illustrate the interaction between the Bible and Christian faith and doctrine which was at the heart of their use of scripture.

An important point to note is that the phrase “Christian ethics” which appears in the title does not refer to attempts to define what Christian teaching on various moral issues might be. It refers, rather, to the quest for Christians and the Church to be remade and renewed by God through attentive reading and use of scripture, especially in worship, so that life can be lived morally and responsibly in obedience to God.

In the last part of the book, the author gives his own exposition of Psalms 130 and 104, in order to illustrate and exemplify his assertions about the relationship between Christian doctrine, worship, commitment, and exegesis.

This is not a book for the general reader. It will likely be of greatest interest to theologians who operate in the neo-Barthian/Reformed traditions, in which the work seems to be situated. This reviewer must admit to finding these traditions as strange as some people claim the Bible to be; and could not avoid feeling that too great an attempt was being made to privilege a particular theological tradition as offering the only way of approaching the Bible “authentically”.

The Bible ultimately resists all attempts to cosset it or place it in a doctrinal straitjacket. Against all the odds, it retains the power to address us as and where we are, in new and surprising ways.

Canon Professor Rogerson is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University.

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