I've been digging into the Book of Exodus lately. Spoiler alert: no significant insights coming in this post. But one thing leads to another. Digging deeper into Exodus led to a review of my commentaries on this book and the judgement delivered is, "Negligible." In remedying this paucity I have purchased a commentary I know to be somewhat more famous than other commentaries, Brevard S. Childs' commentary on Exodus.
Childs on anything in the Old Testament is always good, not least because he goes a bit against the grain of a lot of 20th and 21st century scholarship on the Old Testament which tries to read the books within it, if not the Old Testament as a whole, in its own right, divorced from its appropriation into the Christian Bible. The citation below captures how Childs wants to read the OT scriptures,
"as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church."
In other words, Childs is a determined Christian reader of the whole of Scripture, intent on reading Scripture as rule or canon and understanding it within the creedal faith of the Christian church.
Although no one told me about Childs when I was growing up within the evangelical Anglican movement, it is difficult to think that Childs and his writings would in any way have diminished the seriousness with which I learned to approach Scripture as authoritative in word and practice of the Christian life.
The more so when we read the fuller passage from which the citation above comes, words which are the very beginning of Childs on Exodus:
"The aim of this commentary is to seek to interpret the book of Exodus as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church. As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored. Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."
p. xiii, Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library) Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1974.
Here is the thing which (in my memory) was not so well worked out in my experience of evangelicalism (generally) and Anglican evangelicalism (particularly): the "how" of Scripture as authority including the integral question of the "meaning" of Scripture.
It would have been good to have spent more time discussing,
"As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored."
Why? Because looking back I think we assumed certain divisions among evangelicals without reflection on how such divisions could arise if Scripture was straightforwardly authoritative. Baptist evangelicals and Anglican evangelicals differed on baptism of believers' children (we knew that ... of course!) but we were both reading the same Bible. Later (in my experience) charismatic evangelicals and non-charismatic evangelicals differed on baptism in the Holy Spirit, but we were both reading the same Bible. What ( I do not recall) we did, say in Christian Union discussions about Scripture and its authority, was discuss how Scripture was authoritative when we didn't agree on its meaning.
Childs, above, challenges us to engage with the question of meaning in relation to authority:
"Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."
Of course this could be a licence (in evangelical perspective) for a liberal approach to understanding Scripture, not least because following Childs at this point means an openness to "fresh" meaning, finding the relevancy of Scripture to "the contemporary situation of the church" and allowing God's Spirit to help us appropriately appropriate the message of Scripture. From an evangelical perspective "Spirit" desperately needs definition lest we follow the spirit of the age rather than the Ageless Spirit!
Actually - I can now see - differences between Baptists and Anglicans relate to engaging Scripture with "each new generation" (Anglicans, for example, baptise children of believers because that is the right thing to do when the second and third and fourth generations of believers come along - something the NT does not pause to address).
When charismatic renewal came upon Anglican and Baptist churches in the 1960s and 1970s, there certainly was a "contemporary situation of the church" to be understood in the light of the "word" of Scripture as we were addressed by it and, those of us who embraced this new movement of the Spirit felt we were anticipating "a fresh appropriation of [Scripture's] message through the work of God's Spirit." All the while, resolutely not conceding for a moment that anything "liberal" was involved in our thinking!
I won't offer further analysis of the 2020s situation, suffice to say that in many and diverse ways, evangelical Anglicans continue to freshly appropriate the meaning of Scripture for today.