ANNA CARTER FLORENCE, Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, Georgia, in the United States, wields a nifty metaphor. Here she does it while exploring the ways people today encounter scripture — or, rather, the ways in which we fail to encounter it.
Her first metaphor is of a grumpy teenager, peering into a well-stocked fridge, complaining there is nothing to eat. The reality, of course, is that there is plenty to eat. The teenager just doesn’t know what to cook or how to cook it, and expects a parent to do it for them. In the same way, Florence says, we expect professionals to master the contents of scripture and serve it up with endless flavour and variety. Our part is to be waited on and grumble occasionally. In other words, we have professionalised the handling of scripture, relegating the faithful to the status of passive recipients.
Florence’s second metaphor is the popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Reading scripture, she says, should be an unpredictable adventure. It should take us where wild things are. An encounter with the Bible should involve putting on wolf-suits and shouting, “Let the wild rumpus start!” In other words, we usually expect scripture to be dull.
Her third metaphor highlights her proposed remedy: a repertory theatre. Not only do we read scripture passively and tamely, she says, we do it in isolation. By contrast, a repertory theatre is a small band of actors who grow to know and trust each other. Their task is to wrestle with a text and ask new questions of it, with a view to interpreting and performing the text in the real world. Similarly, she says, a richer way to explore scripture is to rehearse it together, to be “repertory church”.
Much of the book is suggestions for what this rehearsing of scripture might look like, such as exploring together the verbs in Bible passages. While biblical nouns can baffle and highlight cultural distance (all those cubits, manna, and Nephilim), verbs convey a shared humanity. In the verbs we see our own lives. Incarnation is God’s coming to share our verbs. The author gives examples of this approach, exploring verbs in various passages, including a difficult Old Testament “text of terror”.
The result is a stimulating, culturally engaged book, with the potential to enlarge the ways people engage with scripture — and with church, too. And all the better for being written with a twinkle in the eye, by an academic in a wolf-suit.
The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for Church Army and author of the new Why on Earth . . . ? apologetics resource for home groups.
Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s word in community
Anna Carter Florence
Canterbury Press £17.99
Church Times Bookshop £16.20