I became aware of Bradley Jersak’s work less then a year ago, but how I wish I’d discovered him earlier! He makes Christianity feel alive again by returning to our origins and tracing how we’ve departed from them, especially how far we’ve drifted from vital readings of scripture.
His latest book is A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way. It’s part of a trilogy that includes A More Christlike God, and A More Christlike Way.
If you noticed the repetition of the word Christlike in the titles, you’ve found the secret to Jersak’s method. In Christlike Word, he says: “The emphasis of this book … is that Jesus is the Word of God and the Christian Scriptures faithfully testify to him.”
“The Bible an epic story of God’s love,“ shown most clearly in Jesus, he says. Reading it the Emmaus way follows the way Jesus himself modeled interpretation of scripture, as when he outlined it two to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27).
“An Emmaus hermeneutic, in which one reads the Hebrew Scriptures through the gospel lens of Christ, is our primary precondition for reading Scripture,” he states. One implication is that you don’t read Jesus through the lens of the Bible but rather you read the Bible through the lens of Jesus.
That sounds circular, and it surely can be, but it can save you from biblicism and biblioatry. You’re not imposing some fanciful notion of what the Bible is onto the gospel. Rather, you are using the gospel, the Good News of God, to interpret the Bible, from front to back.
If you read something that doesn’t sound like Jesus, you have reason to believe that either you or the author of the passage has misunderstood or misrepresented what God said or meant. “When a passage describes un-Christlike images of God, we must not read them literalistically, because attributing moral darkness to God’s nature or deeds is not worthy of God.”
Again, “The biblical use of words such as anger, wrath, and fury are passions that, when literalized, replace the one true God with an idol and commit a monstrous blasphemy”
You must always read a passage for its literal meaning but be careful about interpreting it literally. Jersak says: “the literal sense is essential to my reading of the Bible. But I believe that literalism and its handmaid, inerrancy, sprout from modernist ideology. Claiming a high view of Scripture, literalism actually undermines biblical authority by pre-imposing on the text a standard of sterile uniformity.”
“The Holy Spirit breathed truth through the authors of Scripture via both ancient worldviews and now-archaic descriptions. This does not make what they said untrue” unless “you force their descriptions to be read literally.”
If you are chained to a literal understanding of the Bible and wonder why it varies so much with the Jesus of the gospel story, now you have an answer to your questions and an avenue for further explanations of gospel truth rather than the fictions of pop religion.
The more you let Jersak’s thesis steep in your mind, the more you will be convinced of its truthfulness, and move closer to the Living Word, who is Jesus Christ.
Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Word: Reading scripture the Emmaus Way (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2021)
A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Speakeasy on the condition that I post a review of it.