In his new book, Searching for the Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible, John Mark Hicks shares the story of his relationship with Scripture and the church he loves. We sat down with him to learn more about it. You can purchase a copy of his book here.
What is this book about?
It’s about my journey from what I call a blueprint hermeneutic to a theological hermeneutic. A blueprint hermeneutic reads the Bible looking for a timeless rule-prescribed pattern that obligates all churches in the future. The church in the New Testament followed this pattern; therefore, all churches must follow that pattern. It is essentially the idea that the Bible contains a measuring stick of what a “true church” is and has specific details of what that looks like. I grew up with that hermeneutic, I lived in that world, and I was comfortable with that world. The move to a theological hermeneutic says, “We don’t read this book like it’s a detailed rule book. We read it like it’s a story into which we’re invited to participate. The story is the main thing, not the detailed pattern.” I am a patternist in that Jesus is the pattern. God’s work is the pattern. We want to imitate God and we want to do what God does in the world. Is it a pattern shaped by story, so we enter into the drama or is it a pattern that is a kind of edict that says, “Do these things exactly like this?” That’s what the book is about: the shift from a blueprint to a theological hermeneutic.
Why did you write this book?
I get a lot of requests from people who grew up in the same world I did who are uneasy in it and don’t understand why, or they’re already moving toward a theological hermeneutic but are uncertain about it. They’re fearful of it because they don’t know exactly what it means. They ask me, “Do you have something I can read on that?” and there was little to which I could point that directly addressed it. So, I wrote it for that very narrow niche. Others can get something from it, but this book is for people who grew up in the same world in which I grew up, and hopefully, it builds a bridge to help them move to a theological hermeneutic.
You said, “I wrote this book to my past.” What did you mean by that?
[I wrote it] to help me understand what I was not even consciously doing, necessarily. I think I was moving deliberately, but now I have a better vantage point to know what I’ve been doing. I didn’t know how to tell people what I was doing. I don’t reject my past. I appreciate it; it’s a part of me, informed me, and gave me a lot of good values. I can value what I received there. Even if I received it with a bad hermeneutic, I received good. I think we move forward and build on it.
You emphasize a call to unity while encouraging everyone to think a little differently with the theological hermeneutic.
Yes, I can do that because we believe the same story. We believe and confess the same thing about who God is: God acts in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Because we believe the same story we can unite even with our differences. That’s the unity. We all confess the same story. We can have disagreements – legitimate disagreements – and discuss them and dialogue about them, but we don’t draw lines in the sand about them.
In the book you say, “We tell stories to call others into community with us as disciples of Jesus. We do that by inviting them into God’s story. We move from the question of what does God require of us to what is the story into which God invites us? How can I participate in that story?” What is the community you are inviting people into with the story you tell in this book?
I would say a community that confesses the faith, gathers around the table, welcomes all people to the table, and is sent into the world with others to participate in the mission of God. [We] gather, confess, commune, are sent with mission, and come back.
Any closing thoughts?
I appreciate my heritage and that’s why I stay in it. I stay in it for the sake of transformation – for a church not to become more like a blueprint pattern but more like the living God who lives in us and through us and with us.