I participated in a “scripturalreasoning” training session earlier this summer at the University of Virginia.
I had been introduced to scriptural reasoning through a class that focused on analyzing and evaluating different ways in which Scripture is read.
Scriptural reasoning can be described as a form of interfaith dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths, but it is more than that.
Instead of being an interfaith dialogue in which participants tell and explain what they believe, scriptural reasoning brings Muslims, Jews and Christians into an intimate conversation over the Scriptures that define and shape the very fiber of their being.
Scriptural reasoning has become popular in England through scholars at the University of Cambridge. Prisons and schools have utilized this practice to inform and educate people about traditions not their own.
In the states, Peter Ochs, professor of modern Judaic studies at the University of Virginia, has largely propelled the practice.
What makes this practice so intriguing is the focus on Scripture. Participants, be they Jew, Christian or Muslim, are drawn into a conversation over a particular text from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament or Quran.
Exodus 2:23-25 was our primary text in the first group session. My group discussed these three verses for an hour and a half.
Questions arose over the details that were included, along with the information and detail the three verses lacked.
In limiting yourself to a particular passage, that passage supports and guides your conversation. As individuals import their own traditions and beliefs, they are required to relate them back to the text in front of them. Traditional doctrines like original sin and the trinity must be shown in the text rather than taken as a given.
This practice requires participants to be patient when reading and charitable when listening. Christians are encouraged to embrace their Christian-ness when reading the Quran, and Muslims their Muslim-ness when reading the New Testament.
Christians could find notions of original sin in the Quran, or Jews and Muslims find notions of the oneness of God in the New Testament, providing they ground these notions in the text.
The Quranic readings were extremely difficult for me, but it gave me the opportunity to think about how Christians should read. How does my Christianity define how I read a text that is not my own?
I found myself that weekend in disagreements with members of my own Christian tradition, yet in agreement with Jews and Muslims. Instead of defining ourselves by our preconceived ideas, the Scriptures defined us.
In one of the breakout sessions, Ochs suggested that scriptural reasoning requires us to cherish every sentence, every detail, every word of the limited text in front of us. He described our need to “hug every letter.”
This sentiment was echoed by a group member as he remembered Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” In the book, Wiesel describes how Jews in Nazi concentration camps were so grateful to receive small slips of Scripture because it meant they were able to study Torah while in captivity.
I never thought I would achieve a greater appreciation for Scripture from this practice, but I was wrong. We were just a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims essentially trying to figure out what it means to be a child of Abraham.
I encourage fellow Christians to seek not just an understanding of the “otherness” of Judaism and Islam, but rather a relationship with that otherness. Reach out to study, talk and pray with members of the Jewish and Muslim traditions.
Andrew Gardner holds a PhD in American Religious History and is the author of “Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists” (Nurturing Faith Publishing).