In this issue of the Perspective we are focusing on the Evangelical tradition—the Word-Centered life. In “Growing Together” Lynda Graybeal guides us through the maze of English translations and paraphrases of the Bible. Then in a special insert entitled “The Jogging Monk and the Exegesis of the Heart” Jim Smith shares his experience of learning to pray the Scripture.

The centrality of the Bible—sola scriptura—is a prominent aspect of the Evangelical tradition, and it is vital for us to work this message deep into our hearts. Sometimes I think that many of the controversies over the Bible arise because it is easier for us to debate the Bible than it is to submit to it.

A Well of Wisdom

Let me tell you about a little experiment I am having right now with Scripture. For a time I am giving attention to the wisdom literature, particularly focusing on the book of Proverbs. After reading some background material, I went through Proverbs slowly, highlighting random sayings that struck me for one reason or another. (It is possible to do this with Proverbs because this genre is meant, for the most part, to be taken as independent wise sayings. This approach is not appropriate, for example, with historical books, or prophetic writings, or pastoral epistles, where logical progression and contextual considerations are crucial.) I did this reading on a plane flight from Denver to New York and back.

Next I put these individual proverbs on 3×5 note cards. Now, every morning during a brief twenty-minute time of stretching exercises, I ruminate on one of those proverbs. I may stay with a single proverb for several days or even weeks. I make no attempt to memorize them, though their very structure makes retention easy.

Sample Insights

I have been struck by many things through this little exercise. For one thing I am interested in the number of times wisdom is connected in one way or another with prudence, e.g. “I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion” (8:12). Prudence, as you may know, is one of the four cardinal virtues that forms the cornerstone of Greek wisdom writings. In essence it refers to good common sense—”horse sense” as we used to say. And to have this connected with the Hebrew notion of sophia—wisdom—well, it is intriguing.

Then I am impressed with how some proverbs make no moral judgments whatever—they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. For example, 22:7 reads, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” The sage states this as a simple fact of life, refusing to comment on whether this fact is good or bad, right or wrong. This perspective is useful because it is so easy for us to turn the Proverbs into exacting rules that proscribe every aspect of our lives.

Values Transformation

Over lunch yesterday I shared my little experiment with a friend. He asked me how this process leads me closer to God or to experience Jesus more fully. It is a good question for ultimately this is the goal. But at present I have no adequate answer to his question. For now it is enough to soak in the wisdom of the ages, for somehow its perspective is slowly, slowly changing what I value.

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