My time and passion have been utterly consumed of late with beginning of the year ministry stuff here at Harvard, but I hope to start up a  fresh series or two on this blog soon.  In the meantime–and in lieu of any genuinely original thoughts of my own or the freedom to pursue them–I thought I’d post some classic insights from (mostly dead) theologians more adept and godlier than I am, thoughts that I hand out to students at the start of the semester as we stand at the threshold once more, ready to approach God’s inspired Word and find life through it in the Lord Jesus.  These excerpts all relate, of course, to how we dig into these holy Scriptures.  They focus more on the disposition of our heart towards God (faith, humility, distrust of self and world, etc.) than technical expertise.  Which is to say–they focus on what we need most:

“Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them in such a way that it [i.e., his interpretation] does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand the Scriptures at all.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine)

The goal of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (I Timothy 1:5)

“For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation of him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from anyone who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability.” (John Owen, “Pneumatology: Or a Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, Works of John Owen, 4:121-234)

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

“See to it that you fasten your attention on God’s Word and stay in it, like an infant in a cradle. If you let go for one moment, you have fallen away from the truth. The one intention of the devil is to get people away from the Word and to induce them to measure God’s will and works with their reason.”  (Martin Luther)

“To be sure, hard intellectual labor has not always led to a healthy church. Sometimes, in fact, the pursuit of learning has been a means to escape the claims of the Gospel or the requirements of God’s law. Yet, generally, the picture over the long term is different.  Where Christian faith is securely rooted, where it penetrates deeply into a culture to change individual lives and redirect institutions, where it continues for more than a generation as a living testimony to the grace of God—in these situations, we almost invariably find Christians ardently cultivating the intellect for the glory of God.” (Mark Noll, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” Christianity Today 37.12, October 25, 1993, p. 30)

“There were two exegetes who prayed as they entered the library to work on understanding a biblical text. One was a biblical scholar and the other a common lay preacher. The biblical scholar, on route to deep seclusion in the collection of recent monographs, prayed like this: ‘Lord, I thank you that I am not like other exegetes– the youth ministers, authors of popular devotional literature, mass production book publishers or even this lay preacher. I study the Scriptures for hours every day– in their original… and several other languages, not to mention my work in ancient history and historiography, literary theory, social-scientific research, the most important commentaries, the most recent monographs and dissertations, and the most scholarly periodicals!’ But the lay preacher, trying to remember how to use the complicated cataloging system to find an understandable commentary on a passage of Scripture, prayed thus, ‘God, please help me, a mere preacher, find something to help me understand Your word.’  I tell you, this person– who desperately needed it– received help from the Lord.”

Craig G. Bartholomew and Robby Holt, “Prayer in/and the Drama of Redemption,” in Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 350.