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A Reply to Michael Davis of Mira Scriptura

Matthew Whitman

Last week Michael Davis of Mira Scriptura put together a very fun and very complete review of the Ten Minute Bible Hour and, well…me. He did a lot of homework and posed some good questions. It was so thorough that I figured I’d respond with a blog post of my own. So here goes...

The bread and butter of Michael’s blog is this thing called Mirror Reading. I’ll let you check in with him to get a clearer picture of exactly what he means, but the long and the short is that he thinks the Bible makes more sense when readers fill in the other side of the conversation. And he’s right especially when reading the Pauline epistles. It seems like Michael’s doing a great job of taking a look at all persuasions of Internet authors, but I’d guess he views me as someone who’s closer to his spot on the spectrum. I don’t know that I’d call what I do “mirror reading,” but any time I interpret any cultural text I try to figure out who the author is writing to and what concerns that audience might have based on what the author chose to emphasize or downplay. At the end of his post Michael asked what I thought about mirror reading, and I guess I’d say it’s intuitive and I dig it especially where there’s reasonable evidence to support conclusions about the invisible side of the conversation. That said, there lots of great tools for unpacking a biblical text, and I think an over-dependence on mirror reading could lead to some hard-to-defend conclusions that are little more than fun speculation.

I like reading and thinking about the Bible, but I’m not an expert. Those are just my thoughts.

But enough about biblical interpretation; let’s get back to talking about me!!!!! (It was and still is odd for me to read so much content about me and my work, but I’ll do my best to play along.)

Michael has a good point in calling out my church’s website. It was bad. We’ve been in the process of updating and I’m proud to say that it’s way less bad now (still a work in progress). I also appreciate his review of my bumbling attempt at managing my social media accounts. I’ve botched enough there for multiple lifetimes, but I’ve made some great connections with people I’ve enjoyed getting to know as we chat it up about the big things and the little stuff.

One point of contention I had with Michael’s post has to do with narrative. He writes:

"Although I completely agree that the Bible is not a story where I am (or you are) the main character, I think it may be misleading to call the Bible a story.  I may be nitpicking here, but the Bible is a library of different genres. Some of them aren’t stories at all.  Some of them are narratives, but the purpose of the narratives is not to tell a good story.  If you read a narrative in the Bible and expect it to be like a story in a movie, you’ll be disappointed, and it will likely inhibit your understanding.  Have you ever watched a movie that uses the Bible as a script?  They’re incredibly boring. Robert McKee's "Story" explains many of the different aspects of a story: a protagonist that has an object of desire, forces of antagonism, character development, climax, resolution.  Many of these aspects are lacking in the Biblical narratives.   That’s because they weren’t written to be good stories. They were written as a response to a specific situation, and their mainpurpose was to correct false teachings. We are missing half of the “real story” that’s behind the books of the Bible, but we can reconstruct the other half through mirror-reading the narratives."

Hopefully no one is reading the Bible like a Hollywood script, but it does have a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle, end, and promise of more to come. What’s odd about it, and the reason it doesn’t translate well to film is the human characters come and go very quickly. They aren’t robustly developed, and that’s because they serve the purpose of helping readers understand how things unfolded and what God did.

But Michael’s critique demonstrates my concern with leaning to heavily on mirror reading. He’s right that the Bible wasn’t written to be just a good story, but it wasn’t all written exclusively as a reaction either. Each genre has its own motivations, and trying to force mirror reading to the front of the interpretive line with all of them won’t always work best.

It’s been fun to get to know Michael and how he comes at the Bible a little bit by reading his posts and by noting what jumped out to him about my work. We’re both concerned with the original audience and it was fun to see the slight differences in approach to getting at that.

Check out Michael’s work at mirrorreading.com.