Vern Poythress’ Three Ways to Read the Bible
I recently read Vern Poythress’ book Symphonic Theology and I thoroughly enjoyed it. He makes a wonderful case for the validity of utilizing multiple perspectives in developing a robust theology. One of the ways he demonstrates this thesis is by arguing that one should contemplatively read the bible with multiple perspectives in mind. He notes that while the bible is a unified body of literature, it has come to us through a variety of inspired authors, metaphors, and themes. Poythress contends that approaching the text from different perspectives will have implications that are far-reaching for theology and doxology. So what are we to do with this? Well, he advocates for reading with these three perspectives in mind…
- Ethical – Reading the bible to understand our duty focuses on the ethical principles and their implications for daily living and decision making. What are we to do and not do as the people of God?
- Devotional – Reading the bible devotionally is primarily interested in the psychological dimensions of communion with Christ. What is the inspirational thought that will help me maintain a spiritual outlook?
- Doctrinal – Reading the bible for doctrine typically approaches the text asking, what does this passage say about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit? What theological doctrine is being revealed here?
Poythress proposes that many people only read the bible from one perspective. He compares this to the husband who only pays attention to the mechanical utility when he shops for curtains, ignoring their aesthetical appeal. Basically, if we only read with one perspective we may only notice what we are already looking for. But what if there is more? What if we are missing something deeper? Dr. Poythress writes:
“Suppose that [one] reads the same passage of the Bible ten times. Suppose that each time the person adopts a new perspective from the ones mentioned above. Would not that person learn something new about the passage each time? A given perspective can be dangerous or stultifying if we use it all the time. But looking at a familiar passage in a fresh light can make it suddenly come alive again…consequently, each time we may notice something new or something that did not really capture our attention before. If we are to sound the depths of the passage, we need to come back to it again and again…Thus when we use a multitude of perspectives on a passage…we use each perspective to reinforce and enhance our total understanding. “
Dr. Poythress offers free downloads of his books in PDF here.
 Vern S. Poytress, Symphonic Theology, 23-24.