Putting on our Jesus glasses

Bible project invites us to read Scripture through Anabaptism’s Jesus-centered lens

Nancy Heisey of Harrisonburg, Va., participates in discussion during the Anabaptist Bible launch event. — Jace Longenecker/For Mennomedia Nancy Heisey of Harrisonburg, Va., participates in discussion during the Anabaptist Bible launch event. — Jace Longenecker/For Mennomedia

Bible scholars like to talk about a “Christocentric hermeneutic.”

A typical church member would call it “Jesus-centered biblical interpretation.”

A pastor looking for a memorable metaphor might invite us to “put on our Jesus glasses.”

All would be talking about the same thing: the way that the Anabaptist ­Bible project wants us to read Scripture.

Let’s take them up on the invitation.

Collectively, we will cover all of it — the “why is this even here?” puzzlers, along with the parts we love — and always with our Jesus glasses on.

Pegged to the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism in 2025, the project gives everyone a chance to contribute. This reflects the spirit of the 16th-century Anabaptists, who believed the Bible was meant to be read and interpreted by ordinary people.

At a launch event in Des Plaines, Ill., on Aug. 26-28, a participant called the project “gutsy.” He was right. Not only because getting 500 study groups will be a stretch but also because the Bible is a battleground.

“Western Christians are hitting a wall with the Bible,” said Meghan ­Larissa Good, pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., and author of The Bible Unwrapped, at the launch conference. “We are in a bind. We have wildly different interpretations of the Bible, and we don’t know what to do with it. We can’t even talk about why we are disagreeing.”

She’s observed people with three attitudes toward Scripture:

— Those who are sure of the right interpretation and will “go to war” for it.

— Those who think the Bible is outdated and irrelevant, keep the core message of love and skip the rest.

— Those who’ve stopped reading because they’re confused and don’t know what to take from it.

Yet Good believes Scripture can still inspire and transform. A key is to read it through the Anabaptist tradition’s distinctive lens.

“It is my conviction that we are on the cusp of a new Reformation,” she said. “One of the key features of this Reformation is a new understanding of authority and our relationship to Scripture.”

The authority comes from Jesus, and the relationship is with Jesus.

But not only Jesus. Also the person sitting next to you in the pew.

“What does authority look like in this next Reformation?” Good asked. She believes it looks more collective now — neither individualistic nor decreed by popes and preachers.

These principles — Jesus-centered interpretation, discerned through ­Spirit-led interaction with our peers — are the foundation of the Anabaptist Bible project.

How does a Jesus-centered reading differ from other typical ways to interpret?

Good said one of the other ways is to add everything in Scripture together and create a composite portrait of God. Jesus’ compassion in the Gospels plus divine wrath in the Old Testament adds up to who God is. Then, faced with the question of how to respond to an enemy, the answer is . . . what? Somewhere between turning the other cheek and burning the house down.

You could find biblical support for almost anything.

“There is a better way, and the early church knew it,” Good said. “Jesus is the principle by which the differences are mediated.”

But Jesus is much more than a ref­eree who arbitrates when biblical voices clash.

The point of the Book is to get to the Person.

“Jesus is the goal of Scripture: a living relationship with a living person,” Good said. “The Bible shapes a new imagination of the world. What desires are being shaped in me? What is worth chasing? . . . The Bible still matters, because when we read it, God shows up to be encountered.”

That’s a pretty great incentive to open our Bibles together.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. Read More

Anabaptist World

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