Education or Imitation? (To interpret Scripture rightly, imitate Jesus), by Curtis Allen
Endorsed by Thabiti Anyabwile and Tom Schreiner.
The earthly ministry of Jesus was all about rightly interpreting and applying God’s Word. We can do the same. No special training required. In fact, right interpretation of Scripture, followed by right application, is the primary way that Christians are to be like God. This is not an issue of education. It’s an issue of imitation. The example of Jesus’ life shows us how.
Curtis Allen is lead pastor of Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland, and moonlights as a Christian rap artist called Voice. He also raps under the name Curt Kennedy. He and his wife, Betsy, have three sons. He can be found at CurtisAllen.net.
“I recommend gladly such an accessible, Christ-centered, and practical book on interpreting the Scriptures.”
—Thomas R. Schreiner
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“Gritty. Real. Straight. That’s what you’ll find in Curt Allen’s treatment of Bible interpretation, Education or Imitation? And that’s what we need because airy, heady, abstract works on Bible interpretation fail to do the one thing they’re written for—teach and inspire us to read, interpret and apply the Bible. If you want it straight, read this book.”
—Thabiti Anyabwile, Author; Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman; Council Member, The Gospel Coalition
“Curt Allen’s book on interpreting the Bible is wonderfully practical and clear, giving believers basic principles for understanding God’s Word. He rightly emphasizes that every believer can understand the Bible. It isn’t necessary to be a scholar or preacher or to know Greek and Hebrew to grasp the Scriptures. Certainly, we are helped by teachers and scholars, but we can understand the Bible ourselves and need to test whatever others say by the Scriptures. Allen also shows that the Bible is Christ-centered. We are only reading the Bible rightly if we are seeing Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, in its pages. At the same time, the Bible is not just meant to be understood but to be lived out in our everyday lives. I recommend gladly such an accessible, Christ-centered, and practical book on interpreting the Scriptures.”
—Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
“I walked away eager to read God’s Word.”
Do you ever approach the Bible and think you just aren’t smart enough to truly “get it”? It can be a temptation to read the Bible and feel like you need an interpreter. Maybe you listen to a sermon or read an article or speak with an intellectual friend and their words seem like their revelation of the Word is just too great to ever obtain. In his book Education or Imitation? Bible Interpretation For Dummies Like You and Me, Curtis Allen has some good news for you. You don’t have to be a scholar, have a seminary degree, or even be remotely smart to know Gods’ Word; Allen suggests it’s about imitation not education.
Education or Imitation? has five chapters: “Why Interpretation Matters in Everything,” “From the Garden to a Grainfield,” “Jesus the Interpreter,” “From Interpretation to Application,” and “From Me-ology to Theology.” He begins the book with a riveting story that tells of his younger days on the streets of Washington D.C. Once you are captivated, and you will be, he begins to make his case that Jesus is the greatest Bible interpreter and we are merely to imitate him. But to imitate Jesus, we must learn how to interpret what he says rightly. In chapter two Allen begins to tell us how to do so.
In the next chapters, Allen lays out bad interpreters of Scripture through biblical references such as Satan, Adam and Eve, Saul the King , and the Pharisees. He walks through various stories and scenarios to explain how each had twisted Scripture. By the fifth chapter he has now turned from explaining to helping us learn how to apply what we’ve read and the proper questions to ask to interpret the Word rightly. One of the most helpful statements was “God’s self-revelation is in the book that we call the Bible. He has matched the content of that book to our capacity to understand, and he has given us the Spirit as Helper.”
Curt Allen wrote this book as if he were speaking to a friend. It’s relatable, encouraging and the language is natural. It’s an easy read yet packed with wisdom and encouragement. I walked away eager to read God’s Word. What I really appreciated most about the book is it is void of criticizing doctrine that isn’t the author’s. Allen’s focus is on Jesus, the Word and how all people, regardless of Christian affiliation, denomination or doctrine, may approach the Bible to learn and be imitators of Christ.
Trillia Newbell,Women of God Magazine
Blog Review –
“A great benefit to anyone who reads it.”
What does it take to interpret Scripture correctly? Education? A seminary degree? Learning Greek and Hebrew? These are great and helpful things, but argues Curtis Allen, they’re not the secret to becoming a good interpreter of Scripture. The secret is imitating Jesus. “Interpretation of Scripture, followed by right application, is the primary way that we are to be like God,” he writes in his new book, Education or Imitation?: Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me. “This is not an issue of education. It’s an issue of imitation” (p. 21). And through the book’s five short, but powerful chapters, Allen unpacks how “the call of imitation will walk hand in hand with interpretation” (p. 18).
Our problems with obedience begin not with a lack of education, but with bad interpretation. This has been mankind’s problem from the beginning, Allen argues, as he explains how Adam and Eve’s failure to rightly interpret God’s word led to their—and subsequently our—fall into sin.
“The first sin was an arrogance of interpretation,” he writes. “Ever since, mankind has suffered a continual plague of arrogance—the arrogance to act on our own view of what’s good and what isn’t. Adam and Eve chose to take upon themselves a false authority to interpret right from wrong. You and I regularly choose to act on the basis of that same false authority. In a way, we really have become like God, but it’s a cheap, shabby imitation” (p. 28).
By trusting in themselves that the serpent was right and that God was wrong, Adam and Eve took on an authority for themselves that they never truly had to begin with and the result was the interpretive chaos in which we now live. Our first parents’ folly is revisited throughout Scripture in the example of Saul who openly defied God’s command to devote everything to destruction in facing the Amalekites and ultimately in the ultimate earthly foes of Jesus, the Pharisees. The only way to correct our error? By interpreting as Jesus does.
This might seem like a “well, I should hope so,” kind of point, but consider how frequently we try to make the Bible about us, rather than about Jesus? What should I do in this or that situation, we often ask. Yet in doing so, argues Allen, we fail to imitate the primary interpreter of Scripture—who happens to be its primary object. ”Jesus alone knows what all Scripture means because it is about him,” he writes (p. 44). Going deeper into this point, Allen draws a strong parallel between evangelism and discipleship, and interpretation and application. He explains:
We could boil the focus of Jesus’ life down to evangelism and discipleship, both of which he accomplishes by communicating accurate interpretation and urging right application of God’s Word. This reality is often dismissed when it comes to imitating what Jesus did, but some of the most amazing things recorded in Scripture are not actual miracles but the instances when God explains his own Word to people and then shows them how to apply it. This is the pattern of Christian discipleship, and one of the primary ways in which we should imitate our Lord. Interpretation and application of God’s Word is of the highest importance to Jesus. (p. 44)
This is a really helpful way to help people understand the purpose of proper interpretation—it’s a discipleship issue. Jesus gives His disciples the tools we need to correctly interpret the Scriptures; they are not hidden in the whitespace of the Bible, nor are they in some obscure passage. They exist plainly as we see Jesus again and again correct the Pharisees’ wrong interpretation of Scripture and offer right interpretation instead, by pointing back to Himself. This is the pattern we see in Matthew 12′s Sabbath encounters and even in Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. It’s also what we see in the Apostles’ teaching and the Church’s mission to evangelize and make disciples, both of which require interpretation and application of the Scriptures (see p. 79).
The book’s final chapter is one of its strongest as Allen seeks to break our me-centered perspective of Scripture, which reveals itself in selfish expectations (like interpreting God’s promise that He works all things for our good according to His purposes means we get our best life now) and selective attention (reading only the parts that “mean” something to us—see chapter five). We constantly need to be reminded that the Bible is not about us and that if we are to be disciples, we need the whole counsel of God, not merely the parts that give us a warm-fuzzy.
As I’ve considered the message of Education or Imitation, only one concern has really come up—and it’s (perhaps ironically) one of interpretation. I wonder if, despite his insistence that education is good and beneficial, some might seek to use the book as further fuel for some parts of Western Christianity’s love affair with anti-intellectualism. There were a few times where I found that Allen risk’s call to “imitation over education” was perhaps a bit overstated as education is a part of imitation. The most clearly Allen gets to this is on the closing page of the book, where he writes:
[E]ducation isn’t bad. I encourage you to pursue it if you can. It will make a huge difference in helping you to interpret Scripture. I’m not calling for picket lines in front the local Bible college. If you feel called to that kind of education, go! But if you can’t go, may you grow to read, interpret, and apply God’s Word rightly, for if you are a Christian there is nothing standing in your way. (p. 93)
Regardless of this concern (which is a very minor one), I believe Education or Imitation will be a great benefit to anyone who reads it—especially those who think they’re not “smart” enough to understand the Bible. “If you are a Christian, there is nothing standing in your way” of interpreting and applying the Scriptures. Rejoice and be encouraged!
Aaron Armstrong, Blogging Theologically
Blog Review –
“Education or Imitation? is a great book.”
Is interpretation of the Bible just an academic endeavor meant for the most intelligent of Christ followers? Is it too difficult for someone without the right education to interpret God’s word? Of course, the answer is no. All believers are meant to read God’s word, interpret it, and apply it. It was written to be understood and followed by all people. But still it seems difficult at times.
Curtis Allen tackles the idea of Bible interpretation in his new book with Cruciform Press called EDUCATION OR IMITATION? Allen suggests that proper biblical interpretation is more about imitation than it is about education, meaning that education isn’t necessary to rightly understanding and being transformed by God’s Word.
Allen opens the story with a very raw and real story from his own experience that brilliantly illustrates how we all interpret things in our lives and live our lives in response to those interpretations. Interpretation isn’t foreign to us, and isn’t something we begin to do simply because we pick up the Bible. Allen covers the history of bad interpretation of God’s Word that began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, then he shows how Jesus as the incarnate Word of God is the ultimate interpreter of the Scriptures. He illustrates this with an example from the gospels where Jesus is in a battle over right interpretation with the Pharisees on the Sabbath day. He shows how Jesus rightly interpreted while the Pharisees, in their pride, wrongly interpreted God’s intention for the Sabbath.
The gist of Allen’s book is that interpretation is about imitating Jesus. We interpret the way that Jesus interpreted the Bible. And our application of the Bible falls on the heels of our interpretations of it.
I loved this book and its concept. I think Allen is right on about Jesus being the ultimate interpreter and about the Bible being all about Christ. The only concern I have is that interpretation may still seem difficult to people after reading the book because people may see how he arrived at his interpretation of the Sabbath day event with Jesus and the Pharisees, but they may not see how they could have come to that conclusion on their own. Allen doesn’t reject the benefit of education however, so I still believe the book will be extremely helpful to believers, but a little further education may be in order to show people how they can arrive at right interpretations for themselves.
EDUCATION OR IMITATION? is a great book. It’s short and can easily be read in a day. It makes much of Jesus, and it inspires right living by following the example of Jesus.
I received this book for free for review from Cruciform Press, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own.
Tom Farr, Tom Farr Reviews
Blog Review –
“A great book for those who are taking their first steps into discovering the message of the Bible for themselves.”
My Pastor always says…
The MacArthur commentary states….
Well I heard Piper say…
That’s not what it says here in my study Bible notes…..
Is Bible interpretation only for the experts? Can we, or should we, read the Bible for ourselves?
Curtis Allen, tackles this question in his book Education or Imitation?: Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me. In the course of church history interpretation wasn’t always left to a few scholars. A seminary education wasn’t a requirement for understanding scripture. It seems God gave us his Word so that all could know him. So why do we let others tell us what scripture means?
So, how do I do it?
The answer to this dilemma is that we need to focus on imitation as opposed to education. We need to imitate Jesus. While he walked this earth Jesus rightly interpreted God’s Word, most noticeably in the face of the Pharisee’s wrong interpretation. But why were the Pharisees so wrong?
They focused all there interpretive powers on finding themselves in scripture. They wanted to know what was right and wrong for them. (well, mostly for others!). They wanted to see their role in this world. They fell into the error of believing the Bible was written about them. So who is it about?
God of course! The scriptures reveal God and more specifically Jesus as the fulfillment of all scripture. When we seek to understand the Bible without looking for and to Jesus, we begin to see things that aren’t really there.
Education or Imitation? is an easy to read book, pointing and encouraging us towards a firsthand and correct interpretation of God’s Word. It seeks to remove fear and equip us to take up the message of the Bible for ourselves. He walks us through some of the dangers as well as through some good examples, showing us how to walk on our own.
This is a great book for those who are taking their first steps into discovering the message of the Bible for themselves.
Brandon Lehr, Living Hope
Blog Review –
“This book is a terrific read & one that I recommend every new believer read.”
Curtis Allen has been an acquaintance of mine for a number of years now. I came to know him because of his work as a Christian rapper under the stage name “Voice.” With several theologically heavy hip-hop albums under his belt, I quickly became a fan. Rap is not all that Curtis is known for. After attending the Pastor’s College, Curtis became a pastor at Solid Rock Church (a Sovereign Grace church in Prince Georges County, Maryland). Using his spiritual gifting as a pastor & his ability to break down weighty truths in a manner that is easy to understand, Curtis is now ready to tackle his first book titled Education or Imitation: Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me.
The book is published by Cruciform Press, a publisher that is all about releasing books that are: short, clear, concise, helpful, inspiring, and gospel-focused. This book from Curtis fits right into that mold and tackles the topics of biblical hermeneutics & exegesis. While the title may catch you off guard, it is quite succinct & sums up the book’s contents quite nicely. Broken down into five chapters, the book seeks to drive home the point that whoever you are you can understand the Bible, and you do not have to go to Bible college or seminary to do so. The Bible is meant to be understood by its readers, and you’ll be confident that you will have the tools needed to understand the Bible after you’ve finished reading this book.
In the first chapter of the book, Curtis shows the reader that interpretation is vital in every aspect of our lives, not just when it comes to reading the Bible. As an illustration, Curtis uses a vivid story from his life before he came to know the Lord and how even then he was interpreting things. As the subtitle for the chapter seeks to drive home, what you don’t know can kill you; this is true too when it comes to the Bible. It may not kill you, but it can definitely harm you spiritually or stunt your growth. In the second chapter, you are given a history of what bad interpretation looks like and how we’ve gotten to where we are now. This is a vital chapter, as it shows you some of the areas where you can go wrong in interpretation, which is vital for knowing how to make the correct interpretation.
It is in the third chapter that you begin getting into the meat of the book, as you start looking at the life of Jesus Christ. Why Jesus Christ? Well, this book is titled Education or Imitation for a reason. The point being, correct interpretation is more about imitating the example that Jesus left for us than it is about needing a seminary-level education to understand & interpret the Bible. The fourth chapter moves to the next logical step, which is making application of what you’ve read. Moving from interpretation to application is key, as you have to apply to your life everything that you’re learning from Scripture. Then, finally, you learn in the final chapter that the Bible isn’t all about you and fulfilling your needs, but it is about theology & focusing on God. Me-ology versus Theology is the final word of this book. Simply put, you’re reading the Bible not for your own benefit (although you will), but to put you in a better position to know & worship your God.
All in all, this book is a terrific read & one that I recommend every new believer read. It is one that I will make sure that anyone I disciple reads very early on in their walk. While going deeper in your studies is worthwhile, it is not needed to understand the Bible, and that is the message that is clearly driven home by Curtis in this book. Bible interpretation is more about imitating Jesus than it is about having some deep theological background. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Bible interpretation is some secret left for pastors & scholars to unfold; every Christian can read & understand the Bible. Bible interpretation is indeed for dummies like you AND me.
LaRosa Johnson, urbanscholar