As I read yesterdayâ€™s text from the David O. McKay reader, â€œJesus Christ: â€˜The Way, the Truth, and the Life,â€™â€? I was struck by its repeated injunction to apply Christâ€™s words to our livesâ€”and, more boldly, to extend that application into the world. I frequently hear admonitions of this sort urging me to liken the scriptures to myself, and inasmuch as this means merely that I must be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, I think I get it. But once I get down to the actual business at handâ€”that is, reading the scriptures and figuring out how they bear on my lifeâ€”I confess Iâ€™m often at a loss: what does it mean to apply the scriptures to oneâ€™s life?
I love studying the scriptures, I really do: commentaries, topical study, cross references, notes in the margins, the whole bit. When Iâ€™m faced with moral choice in my everyday life, though, I have rarely found direct guidance in the scriptures: the large and small dilemmas and decisions of my world, embroidered as they are on an early-21st-century life and lifestyle, seem far more susceptible to the strictures of my temple covenants and the pronouncements of present-day prophets than to the (wonderfully rich, marvelously polyvalent, breathtakingly beautiful, but ultimately temporally removed) scriptures. The problem may lie partly in my expectations, partly in my method: perhaps I misunderstand what â€œapplicationâ€? means, or perhaps the generic hybridity of the scriptures requires me to expand and adapt my repertoire of reading strategies. In hopes of accomplishing the latter, a brief anatomy of scripture-application methods (or hermeneutics, if you prefer):
1. Personal proof-texting. I have a question about, say, disciplining my three-year-old; I go to the Topical Guide, look up â€œFamily, Children, Responsibilities,â€? and try to glean from the half-column of references a solution that makes sense in my circumstances.
2. Catalyst to personal revelation. I pray about the problem, then go to the scriptures (perhaps even at random) where a particular passage (perhaps even regardless of its context or meaning) seems to jump out at me with particular clarity: the Holy Ghost transmits a personalized answer using the scriptural text as a medium for inspiration.
3. Prophecy. A small percentage of scripture consists of prophecy to be fulfilled in the latter days; I determine that it is only this portion of scripture that is intended to be applied to latter-day life.
4. Moral law. Some small proportion of scripture consists of direct commandments, and some proportion of those commandments is still in effect; I determine that it is only this subset of scripture that is directly applicable to my life.
5. Casuistry. I take scriptural narratives to embody â€œpure casesâ€? of good or evil behavior, from those cases I distill principle, and from that principle I extract a solution to my particular â€œimpureâ€? case.
6. Critical meta-reading. As Julie suggests, I consider scripture primarily as text in order ask what challenges or dilemmas it presents to the reader; from those challenges or dilemmas I draw some moral principle (perhaps even unrelated to the content of the passage) that bears on my life.
One would think that I, as a professionally trained reader, could make at least one of these methods work for me. On its own, though, each of these methods leaves me cold in one way or another: 1 and 2 require too much disregard of historical context and difference for me to feel comfortable; 3 and 4 rarely yield specific principles that bear on my life; 5 and 6 require too much sophistication from the reader to seem fair to untrained readers of the scriptures. What have I left out? How do you liken the scriptures to your life?