June 5th kicked off the combined Sunday school program for this summer which will feature 10 talks on the theme, “Reformation: Past, Present and Future.” A family beach trip prevents me from being at the first lecture, but I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Susan Hylen and Dr. Brent Strawn about their talks before I left.
Based on my conversations with each of them, it sounds like the theme is a productive one – and edifying too, an opportunity for fresh considerations of scripture and different perspectives on familiar stories.
Dr. Hylen kicked off the series with her talk entitled, “Reshaping Scripture: Reformation Interpretations of the Gospel of John.” She said she planned to point out how modern interpretations have been strongly shaped by the Reformation, which influences how we understand the Bible. Her view is that interpreters have perhaps been more inclined to distinguish themselves from Catholics, and less toward making a genuine effort to understand what a first century author may have intended.
That shift changes how we understand the Bible today. Using Jesus’s statement, “I am the bread of life,” as an example Dr. Hylen explained that modern interpreters typically say Jesus is spiritual bread, better than manna. This overlooks the fact that New Testament authors thought of themselves as Jewish. Opening up the language and looking at Jesus as manna, we get a connection to Moses and even to communion. This kind of inclusivity – vs. the “throw it all out” mentality reformists apply – she sees as being a truer expression of our faith.
Dr. Strawn views the theme through the lens of the Old Testament. His lecture this Sunday (the 12th) will consider how external threats faced by Israel in Exodus lead to internal reformation. It’s entitled “The Old Testament and Re-Formation, Part 1: Exodus and Pharaoh, King of Egypt,” and in it he’ll consider how this episode reveals Israel reforming itself and its understanding of itself, transitioning from being slaves under Pharaoh to being something different – to purifying itself or recapturing something important from its past.
That external threat prompts a key internal shift, he says, and he wonders what re-formation in that context may mean for us individually. Why is re-form necessary? Why do institutions always need reform? Why can’t they just exist?
I hear those questions and think it’s because we’re fallen and have to keep on getting back up over and over again. I remember Dr. John Freeman’s sermon, “Welcome to What?” and think about how the Bible calls us to rejoice in suffering (Romans 5:1-5). Why can’t we just exist without suffering and continuous reform?
I’ve got nine more lectures this summer to consider that question. Dr. Strawn presents “The Old Testament and Re-Formation, Part 2: Deuteronomy and (Other) Kings on June 19 and Dr. Hylen will continue her exploration on June 26, when her lecture will be entitled, “Reshaping Scripture: Reformation Interpretations of Galatians.”
Hope to see you there!