It has been a while since I last read a book by Miroslav Volf and his work Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection reminds me why he is one of my favorite theologians. His reflections are rich and rooted in the deep questions that arise from everyday living. Here is a wonderful quotation from the book that shows well the confrontation we people shaped by modernity have with the Bible, or any sacred text:
Many people today, especially scholars, approach the Bible with suspicion. This is not surprising. For one thing, we are modern men and women, individuals standing on our own two feet, masters and mistresses of our own choices and destinies — or so we like to think. For others to insert us into their story and envision the proper end of our lives, define for us the source and substance of human flourishing, and tell us what we should or should not desire, is for them to violate us as self-standing individuals. The Bible as a sacred text, however, does just that. (32-33)
In Captive to the Word of God, Volf praises academic Christian theology’s return to biblical reflection after decades of essentially ignoring Scripture. He also offers his arguments for how theologians can use the Bible to help shape their reflections. For Christians and others who have not studied academic theology, it may come as a surprise to hear that academic Christian theology did not focus on the Bible, but let me assure you, it is true. Volf is right when he argues that academic theology began to look more like the discipline of philosophy while biblical studies departments looked more like history departments. I remember reading systematic theology books in school and thinking, “Interesting, but where is that in the Bible?” Similarly, I recall reading biblical studies books and thinking, “I’m glad to know the historical issues in that time and place, but can we please deal with what this text says about God?” Recently, thankfully, there has been a change in which theologians are once again reflecting on the Bible and biblical scholars are once again interested in the theology of the texts they read. (For most Christians, separating theology from the Bible would seem strange, because, frankly, it is.) In this way, Volf’s book is a bit of an intramural discussion among theologians working in the academy or those who continue to watch what happens in seminaries and divinity schools. I have found, however, wonderful insights that are helpful to any Christian, or anyone interested in how Christianity thinks about things.