The Art of Christian Reflection: A Review

Ellen Davis suggests that an interpretation of Scripture should be judged by its beauty. She writes,

Interpretations of scripture are not just right or wrong, although at times such categories are useful and necessary. A more adequate way of judging our readings might be the way we judge works of art—according to the standards of beauty. To what extent do our readings reveal the intricacy, the wondrous quality of what the biblical writers call maasei Adonai, “the works of the LORD”?

Ellen Davis, Christian Century, “Beyond Criticism”

I think this is an important insight. “Right” and “wrong” are “useful and necessary” at times but they are insufficient for grappling with the biblical writings. This is something, I think, that great artists who’ve taken up the task of interpreting the Bible with brush or chisel have always intuited more ably than those of us who write our interpretations. Someone like me, who works mostly in prose, is tempted toward explanation, toward epistemic concerns. Artists working in images and other mediums are not so concerned with what way of understanding the story is right or wrong but how the story itself might lay hold of us. What detail, what peculiarity, what character might prove gripping when seen in a fresh light? The artist reads a story with a different guiding question than the common biblical interpreter, namely, “What about this story is so beautiful that it must be rendered?”

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