Mind the Mindset: How do I hear scripture for all it’s worth?

Move-In Day at any university or college is brimming with energy and excitement. Bright eyed, overconfident, and often insecure first year students set out into independence and higher learning. For three years of my seminary career I was a live-in residential chaplain (a sort of dorm pastor) at the university. In our digital age, many young men wanted to establish their internet connection in their room before even putting sheets on the bed or hanging their clothes. A common question on Move-In Day was: How do I log onto the wireless internet? It was a great question and almost always one I declined to answer. Why?

If you ask the wrong kind of question, then even if you get a correct answer it isn’t likely to be very helpful.

The residential hall I worked in was opened in fall 1960 and hadn’t had many updates. Except in the common study rooms there was not wireless internet in the residential hall. It was too old to establish a wireless network in each room efficiently. So every room had Ethernet connections, but not wireless capability. I could have merely answered the student’s question, but I knew it was formed from a current mindset imposed on a building designed for a different age. I instead would tell them they needed an Ethernet cord and direct them to the bookstore where they could purchase one if they had neglected to bring one.

If you ask the wrong kind of question, then even if you get a correct answer it isn’t likely to be very helpful. Most of us, including myself, struggle with this all the time when trying to hear scripture for all it’s worth.

We read about marriages in biblical times and might assume they are always based on romantic love. We read about households and might assume they must mean two parents and children kind of households. We read about the gospel and might equate it merely to the plan of salvation, rather than the more robust way the gospel proclaims the Story of Jesus, the Messiah King, who completes the story of and fulfills the promises made to Israel to bring redemption and restoration to the whole world. (I’m paraphrasing Scot McKnight for that last one).

Consider Ephesians. Ephesians 1:3-14 begins with an introductory ‘berakah’ or Jewish blessing. This blessing is a form of prayer used in Jewish corporate worship, family blessings, and private prayer. Second Corinthians (1:3-7) is the only other letter ascribed to Paul that begins in this fashion. Peter, another follower of Christ steeped in Jewish faith and heritage begins First Peter (1:3-9) in similar fashion. If we import our 21st century meanings and perspectives into the terms Paul uses in Ephesians, then we are likely to answer questions in a way Paul may have not intended. Ephesians might prime us to ask a question like: In what sense is Christ’s death part of God’s eternal plan?

John Duns Scotus understood the incarnation as God’s eternal plan for relating to humanity, even before humanity sinned. God’s work in Christ addresses our sin, but is far bigger and grander than our sin. Jesus the Messiah is not merely a reaction to human sin, but God’s masterpiece and original intention from eternity.

Ephesians often leads to all sorts of theological questions and debates around predestination and free will. We (in America) often start from the perspective of a 21st century western individual, rather than the perspective of a first century Jewish Christian. Since most of us don’t have much experience as first century Jewish Christians this is quite understandable. But…

How might understanding this passage as worship or blessing shape the way we interact with it?

How might understanding the questions first century Jewish (and non-Jewish) Christians were wrestling with possibly change our reading of the scripture?

How does God in Genesis and Exodus choosing the people of Israel (corporately) challenge the individualism we bring to Ephesians?

How does the understanding that God is bringing ALL things together in Christ, both on heaven and on earth, shape our understanding of the relationship between the physical and the spiritual? The eternal and the temporal?

These are questions that might not have easy answers. But perhaps just asking them and others like them might help us to hear scripture for all it’s worth. Not just in the lives of first century Christ followers, but in our own lives as well.

What questions would you ask of this scripture? What questions does this scripture ask of you?