Raewynne J. Whiteley is tired of sermon prep becoming a burden and intrusion for preachers. She desires to reclaim sermon prep as a time for preachers to engage with God in ways that strengthen their preaching. That is why she wrote Steeped in the Holy: Preaching as Spiritual Practice. Before I talk about it any further I cannot help but mention what Ellen F. Davis says about the book on the back cover. “Preaching like this is serious, holy fun for both preacher and congregation.”
Whiteley proposes that when we open our bibles in preparation for preaching, we need a new way of reading, “one that enables us to find our home in this world of God’s.” That is the primary emphasis we find in her chapter titled “Finding Our Way Home: Scripture.”
She talks about entering the bible as entering a new world. In the bible, we find a world where angels appear, healings take place, visions are common. This is a world where the primary focus is on the relationship between God and humanity. In this world, the intervention of God is expected.
This world exists as a world parallel to another world. A world of computers and friendships and quarrels and cars. A world that is populated with the desires and the fears of our hearts. When Lucy stepped beyond the wardrobe into Narnia, she discovered, not an imaginary world, but a world as real as her own. A world that became more real the more time she spent there. So it is when we enter the world of scripture. It “is not a retreat from reality, but an entering into deeper reality.” A reality that helps us gain perspective on our ordinary realities we live in day by day.
Whiteley suggests there are at least three ways we can approach this world of scripture. The first is as a tourist. When we arrive to a new country for the first time, we might want to visit the famous sites. We want to see and hear the greatest hits. We might memorize details about key places. We are reliant on guides and interpreters. We might gain some new perspectives temporarily, but once we return home our new perspectives are overcome by everyday living.
Approaching scripture as a tourist is no different. We visit the well-known sites, we read about the main characters and well known places. We learn enough of the language to talk about the basics. But we leave the rest to experts. We might talk excitedly about where we have been, but the excitement soon wears off and we return to life the way it has always been before.
The second approach she talks about is the scientist. When we approach a new country as a scientist, we approach it objectively. We may intentionally avoid the tourist attractions. We are more interested in the details. We are observers. We catalog. We define. We analyze. We dissect. We rely on input from our professional peers. We look for patterns. We form a plan to write papers and share knowledge and become experts.
Approaching scripture as a scientist is no different. We are interested in knowledge. We are interested in history and social structure and textual reliability and translation issues. We rely on concordances and dictionaries and commentaries. While there may be some gain from this approach, we can also recognize the danger of becoming an uninterested observer.
A third approach Whiteley gives is that of an immigrant. When we approach a new country as an immigrant, we expect things to be different. We might have to learn new vocabulary, if not a new language. We learn new social norms and expectations. We adopt new lifestyle in order to belong. We do not lose the influence of where we have come from, but we do become more aware of the differences. We develop new relationships and begin to call this new place home.
Approaching scripture as an immigrant is like this. We explore it like new residents. We learn the culture and the language through participation. We become invested in it out of necessity. Such an approach demands a commitment to be people of scripture and faith. We are challenged by this world of scripture. It makes new demands on us. We cannot approach scripture in this way without being changed. And then, as we become more at home in this place, we discover it is our ancestral home. This is our place of origin. This is where we belong.
There are no doubts what approach Whiteley is pointing us toward. In fact, she does come out and say “The third approach to Scripture – and the one that I believe is most useful for preachers – is that of the immigrant.” Whiteley wants to help us to do more than travel to the text and back. More than investigate it for the sake of knowledge. She wants us to live there, to become residents in the land of scripture, to call it home.