The Episcopal church in the twentieth century took advantage of the general availability of publishing to good advantage, compiling through several auspices different collections and teaching series, the latest of which was only completed a few years ago. There have been 'unofficial' collections of teaching texts, such as the Anglican Studies Series by Morehouse press, put out in the 1980s, as well as an earlier teaching series. However, each generation approaches things anew; the New Church Teaching Series, published by Cowley Publications (a company operated as part of the ministry of the Society of St. John the Evangelist - SSJE - one of the religious/monastic communities in the Episcopal church, based in the Boston area) is the most recent series, and in its thirteen volumes, explores in depth and breadth the theology, history, liturgy, ethics, mission and more of the modern Anglican vision in America.
This third volume, 'Engaging the Word' by Michael Johnston, picks up where second volume leaves off. Whereas Ferlo in the second volume looks at the Bible as a document in practice and development, Johnston's emphasis is on interpretation and meaning.
The first several chapters of this look at narratives - stories. How does one tell the story? What are the important aspects of retelling the story, and of receiving the story? How do we adapt the story to our own situations and make it our own? There are key stories in the biblical text - the Abraham cycle, the story of the Exodus, the gospel stories of Jesus - identifying these and the worlds they came from are key steps. Re-reading to grasp aspects of community is also a critical step - Johnston uses the example of the gospel of John and the Johannine relationship with the more-dominant Jewish culture to show the complexities that can arise. These first three chapters can be considered strategy sessions.
The next chapters look at methods and uses. Johnston discusses some of the more recent hermeneutic processes, as well as methods for tying things together to make general sense. These can then be turned to answering critical questions such as 'Who is God?' and 'Who is Jesus?' The key purpose to all of this is to build community and find the place of Jesus. In his epilogue, Johnston focuses upon two particular pieces from the Emmaus text (Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:30-31) that locate Jesus for us; we must also find and form ourselves in process with these.
Anglicanism is sometimes accused of not taking the Bible seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this text will indicate. The Anglican church requires no particular hermeneutical framework, nor any particular translation of the text to be used. However, this freedom is accompanied by the longer traditions of the church that give respect and authority to certain kinds of interpretation over others.
Michael Johnston is an Episcopal priest who has taught Bible study and classes in lots of parish groups. He has also taught at Seabury-Western (the Episcopal seminary in Chicago) and his diocese's school for deacons.
Each of the texts is relatively short (only two of the volumes exceed 200 pages), the print and text of each easy to read, designed not for scholars but for the regular church-goer, but not condescending either - the authors operate on the assumption that the readers are genuinely interested in deepening their faith and practice. Each volume concludes with questions for use in discussion group settings, and with annotated lists of further readings recommended.