Mark Allan Powell’s book, What Do They Hear?, opens up for pastors and laity the differences between how they read the Bible and what they hear when they read it — especially when they are not together. Chp 4 concerns “meaning” and “effect.” (Note to self: I’m not sure Mark always distinguishes between “affect” and “effect.”) This chp presents a very important difference in reading the Bible between clergy and laity.
First, many see “meaning” as “message” and focus on the theological, propositional content. Others see “meaning” as “effect” — what the text does to the person or how it “affects” them.
He had readers look at Luke 3:3-17, Luke’s description of John Baptist’s ministry and message. He asked clergy and laity to answer this question: “what does this story mean?” Here are some conclusions:
1. Clergy consider authorial intent (they say “Luke’s intention”), historical situations, the synthetic message, and find relevance in contextual analogies.
2. Laity consider reader response (affect/effect), contemporary and personal significance, meaning is impact, and relevance is found in unmediated application.
I found this interesting, and I find it interesting because (1) I teach students and laity how to read the Bible and (2) I’ve struggled with the transition of trying to get students and laity to learn how to “objectify” the text so they are speaking about “Luke’s intention.” Now the question arises — sure, that is a struggle. Is that the necessary struggle in order to acquire the skill of learning to read the Bible? Are we sufficiently aware of how “untrained readers of the Bible” read the Bible? Do we too easily skip over the reader response stuff to get to the history, to the analogous, to the original intent?