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Should we read the Bible as a legal brief or as an invitation to live in God’s story?


While I like travel shows of places I haven’t been, I especially love the episodes that focus on the places I have seen. 

John Mark Hicks. Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible. Independently published, 2019. 246 pages.

John Mark Hicks. Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible. Independently published, 2019. 246 pages.

For me, reading John Mark Hicks’ Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Biblewas like the latter. In many ways, the book parallels my own journey of discovering what the Bible is (and is not) and what it means to be “a people of the book.” 

I remember entering classes at Harding University in the mid-1970s, eager to study the Bible in the original languages. Both in my upbringing in Missouri and my university years, there was a quest to help the church conform to what we thought was a blueprint in Scripture. It was a heady process —wading through the commands, examples and necessary inferences of Scripture to reproduce the New Testament church. I brimmed with confidence and certainty. 

But for Hicks, and for many of us, there were cracks in the wall of certainty. 

First, we learned there were other groups who claimed to be “Back to the Bible” people. Apparently, that wasn’t unique. And it turned out, we didn’t have the copyright on “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Second, we came to realize that our approach to reading Scripture was naive. We couldn’t just scientifically read Scripture and then put it into practice. The Bible had to be — of course — interpreted. And to many honest Christ-followers, some of our rules for discerning the blueprint just didn’t make sense.

I remember hearing sermons against humming and against clapping during the assembly. We dared not question that at the time because we were following our rules of command, example and necessary inference. We thought we were consistently being silent where the Bible is silent and speaking where the Bible speaks.

Largely through a careful reading of how authors of biblical books read Scripture themselves, Hicks learned to read from a different perspective. “Over the years,” he writes, “I have slowly shifted from reading Scripture as a legal brief designed to provide a specific blueprint for organizing a church to reading Scripture as a story into which we are invited to participate in the mission of God by imitating God.” 

Mike Cope

Mike Cope

I love the perspective from which Hicks writes. He says in the beginning, “I hope you will hear my adoration for God, my respect for Scripture, and my love for the church in these pages.” And one can’t help but hear just that. This isn’t a book condemning others. Rather, it builds on the truths that were passed along to him in full appreciation of their lives.

I love the way he illustrates the importance of moving from an interpretive method that is obsessed with reproducing a blueprint to one that is focused on the trinitarian love and work of God. Hicks teaches us to think theologically with the story of God’s work through Jesus by the power of the Spirit at the center. He guides us to a faith where the ultimate goal is to be transformed into the image of Christ rather than to master a book. (I suggest buying the book just for the few pages about baptism in the appendix alone.)

I highly recommend “Searching for the Pattern” for leadership teams, adult classes and small groups. It’s also great for personal reading. As issues keep popping up in our churches, often bringing division, it is helpful to pull back and ask larger questions about what the Bible is and how we are to be guided by it.

I look forward to more from Hicks. Specifically, I’d like to see him flesh out more fully what he practices and teaches about reading Scripture faithfully in community through discernment. I hope he’ll provide us with more valuable examples of what reading scripture with the Gospel at the center of the interpretive process looks like.

MIKE COPE preached for 35 years for Churches of Christ in North Carolina, Arkansas and Texas. He serves as director of ministry outreach for Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and directs Harbor, the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. 

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Filed under: John Mark Hicks Reviews Searching for the Pattern

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