Encountering the Living God in Scripture: Theological and Philosophical Principles for Interpretation
William M. Wright IV and Francis Martin
Baker Academic, 2019, £15.99. ISBN 978-0801030956
Review by Neville Manning, Retired Priest in the Diocese of Chichester
The purpose of Scripture is to initiate an encounter with the Living Lord. This is the conviction at the heart of this book. Drawing on the Gospel stories of Mary Magdalene in John encountering the Risen Lord in the garden on the first Easter Day or the two Emmaus Road disciples in Luke encountering the Risen Lord after their extended Bible lesson, the argument of this demanding work is that Scripture, as inspired human discourse, can put us in touch with the divine realities to which it bears witness.
This publication is a deeply scholarly work in which William M. Wright IV, professor of theology at Duquesne University, draws on the work of the late Fr. Francis Martin, formerly of the Pontifical Bible Institute, one of whose roles was enabling priests in their preaching ministry.
As indicated by the sub-title the book is in two parts. The first is theological, with a wide-ranging survey of the Word in Scripture, including the Deutero-Canonical books of the Apocrypha. God’s Word is seen as a powerful and creative Word, especially in the Incarnation. As St. John indicates about his own Gospel account, the Scriptures ‘are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and believing you may have life in his name.’
The second part of the book delves into the philosophical approaches which either undergird this purpose (much is drawn from the thinking of Thomas Aquinas and his distinction between the esse of God and his activity) or in some cases (as with Spinoza with his denial of transcendence and Kant with his rejection of claims about God) tend to undermine it. I have to confess that I found this part of the book rarefied and heavy-going. Anyone reading it would be helped by some awareness of key philosophers. Definitely not for the complete beginner!
It has been said that illustrations in a sermon are like windows which let the light in. Sadly, in this book, they are lacking until the final few pages when we hear movingly of the impact of Scripture on Saints like Antony, Augustine of Hippo, Francis and Therese of Lisieux. If these stories had come early in the book, which could have then unwrapped them theologically and philosophically, much more light could have been shed.
And what of helpful insights for those of us who preach? Like many scholarly works it may help preachers do their work with valuable reserves of knowledge. A key insight about the potency of words does come clearly through as a message of the book. In preaching we are called to be wordsmiths whose efforts, with the enabling of the Holy Spirit, can reach the hidden depths of many a heart. It is humbling to think that our preaching ministry can, and should, have a part to play in facilitating that Encounter of which the book’s title speaks!
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