by C. Clifton Black
Cascade Books, Eugene, Ore. 292 pages
REVIEWED BY BRANDON FRICK AND JON NELSON
Clifton Black describes this book as a “small museum,” and his curatorial talents have made his exhibits always informative, often wonderful and sometimes inspiring. Taking the whole exhibit in, one sees the profound richness and depth of the object. In Black’s museum the object is the Bible, and in each exhibit one sees the profundity of Scripture from varying perspectives — from patristics to presidents.
Black divides the book chronologically, beginning with an exploration of pre-modern interpretation. Drawing upon Gregory of Nyssa, Black develops 10 theses that describe the practical implications of a Trinitarian interpretation of Scripture. Much of its value, he argues, stems from its ability to tear down false bifurcations (e.g., scholarly and devotional reading) and free readers to approach it as a “lover” approaches its “beloved.” Black explores the exegesis of Augustine, who embodies this Trinitarian approach by extolling the rule of charity. This serves as a platform from which Black challenges not only interpreters, but also preachers, of Scripture to do so committed ultimately not to information, but to the transformation it drives. Black also sets forth exegetical lessons taken from St. Benedict’s monastic code (adaptability, humility, Sabbath) despite the fact that the divine hours offer no explicit guidance of the subject!
Black then moves into the Middle Ages and compares/contrasts exegeses of the transfiguration accounts by medieval interpreters and modern exegetes. While it is certainly an interesting cast and his summary perceptive, this chapter feels disjointed, especially given the profundity of the chapters that precede it and the sustained, insightful treatment of Thomas Aquinas’ exegesis of John’s prologue that follows it. This section concludes with a look at the development of Martin Luther’s exegetical method over a 20-year period, which allows readers to see both his continuity and discontinuity with the tradition, and consequently the seeds of modern exegesis.
In the final section, Black looks at early modern interpreters and interpretations. His first endeavor is a comparison of Shakespeare’s King Lear with the King James Bible’s Job; his second, an examination of Charles Wesley’s theology and hermeneutics evinced by his hymns and poetry. Black’s choices convey a sense of playfulness with the biblical interpretation that is often lacking discussions of modern exegesis, giving readers an appreciation for these more “artistic” endeavors. The final chapter is an examination of the implicit and explicit theological and biblical dimensions of George Washington’s “Farewell Address” and Abraham Lincoln’s “Second Inaugural;” this treatment is particularly provocative given the current election year climate in the United States.
Black may object to the claim that the object of his museum is the Bible. He might say it is God. That is, after all, one of the central claims he makes about the Bible — that the whole thing is about God. In a time when many academic and devotional readers alike have made the text about themselves, Black, through his exhibits, exhorts us to attend to Scripture as a book primarily about God. May it be so in those weekly congregational Bible studies.
BRANDON FRICK is associate pastor at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, Maryland. He enjoys the great outdoors and watching “Dinosaur Train” with his son. JON NELSON is associate pastor at Ark and Dove Presbyterian Church in Odenton, Maryland. He is an avid runner and alternative music fanatic.