For Pastors & Pastor-types: What I’m giving up for Lent…

I’m giving up reading bible commentaries for Lent.

Ok, before you judge and condemn me of committing pastoral suicide, hear me out. First, I value scholarship and the insights that come from them. Systematic Theology helps us in that it assists in deepening an understanding of God, bolstering our own theology (we all have a working theology, which are simply notions of who God is and how and why God acts). But, theology is NOT God’s Word.

I differentiate God’s Word from “where God speaks.” God speaks through not only scripture, but the tradition (theology) and personal witness as well. But, I think one of the problems I have with my tradition is the emphasis that gets placed on systematic theology that comes from high intellectual scholarship. And I’ll be blunt: God’s Word is not the same as the words of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Rolf Jacobson, Andy Root, David Lose…..the list goes on.

That’s not to say I don’t value the insights of these folks, but I’ve discovered recently, in my preparation for preaching and teaching, that I gloss over the biblical text, and then go straight to the commentary or exegetical study, usually written by someone else. And when I don’t do that, I start with my own notions of what I think the text is saying, and look for it in the text. And honestly, that is a BAD thing….because it shows a lack of trust and faith in God’s Word to say something meaningful on its own on my part.

Lent’s theme is often one of repentance, which is simply, “turning towards, or orientating one’s total self, to God.” And I think reading biblical texts only will be beneficial in that way, and in a number of ways.

– I have to struggle with the biblical text.
– I have to reflect on who God is and what God is doing with respect to my life, the lives of others.
– I have to reflect on what God may or may not be saying with others, actual living people, who may or may not agree with me, and will actually talk back to me.
– I run the risk of engaging other theological traditions, and actually seeing what’s beneficial in them.
– I have to actually fully engage the Biblical text as God’s Word.

Assumption/Disclaimer here: For those of you on the more “liberal” side of our Liberal, Mainline, Protestant tradition, I equate God’s Word with the Bible. In the Lutheran tradition, scripture is the “norming norm.” Read: it’s not infallible, not without error. But it is inspired, it is normative for Christian faith and interpretation.

And if that’s the case, then I suppose it’s not necessarily a horrible thing I give up commentaries for Lent….

PS: Also, my internship congregation is using the Narrative Lectionary. We’re studying the Parables in Luke for Lent, so perhaps my Lenten discipline is a perfect way to engage and be surprised and amazed by these stories anew!!


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