Willimon on “The Wonderful Thickness of the Text”

The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

“Have you ever noticed that when publishers wish to create a comprehensive guide to a particular subject, they like to employ the term Bible in the title?  The Quilting Bible, The Backpacker’s Bible, even The Jeep Owner’s Bible promise clear, practical down-to-earth guidance on everything and anything related to their particular subject.  If you want to know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, these are the books for you.”

“I wonder, however, if the authors and publishers of these books ever opened the real Bible.  The Bible, you see, is anything but a ‘how to’ kind of book.  Move from one of these know-it-all hand-books to, say, the Gospel of Luke, and you’ll find it hard to imagine why these authors and publishers ever thought they were producing something that can be called a ‘Bible.’  Luke is ‘thick,’ the literature is polyvalent, predominantly narrative, almost never propositional…defying reductionistic reading.”

“If you were to read one or two of these other ‘Bibles,’ and then switch to Luke, you would be apt to feel that the biblical texts are almost intentionally obscure, more difficult and strange than they need be.  The thick, impenetrable nature of these texts may be by conscious design.  A difficult to understand text catches our attention, begs for attention, and engages our natural inclination to figure things out.  On the other hand, the texts may be difficult, obscure, and distant simply because they are talking about what is true, whereas most of what we live is false.”

Later he writes, “The text itself encourages, provokes uncentering, dislocation, and dislodgment.  The very thickness of the text may be part of the text’s strategic assault upon our received world” (William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002], 133-4, 137).

Amen!  Let the text master us, not we it.


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