Trembling at the Threshold of a Biblical Text

James Crenshaw, Eerdmans, 1994

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Thresholds function as a barrier between outside and inside, separating those who dwell within a residence from persons outside it.  Ancient Canaanites associated thresholds with demons who were thought to lurk underneath and to attack hapless persons disturbing their rest.  Anyone who endeavours to understand a biblical text encounters a threshold under which lurk untold ‘demons’.  The text has been granted a privileged position above every other human production.  We spend countless hours combating the demons released on an unsuspecting society by stepping across the threshold of our canon. 

         ‘The biblical text has been used to sanction slavery, the suppression of women, the jingoism and narrow fundamentalism that demonizes others who read texts differently. (p 3)  Our encounter with the biblical text, as I cross the threshold, constitutes a dialogue. Crossing the threshold brings us into immediate contact with an alien culture.  Every text carries within its spaces multiple meanings, and so with one foot firmly planted in the modern age and the other tentatively feeling for a toehold in the biblical period ( 5), we risk disturbing the demons lurking beneath the threshold.

        We are beneficiaries of ancient religious thinkers who stepped across the thresholds, giving a decision to cling to the living G-d.  And that is where we find ourselves:  trembling because of the silence of eternity and the anticipation of hearing the clamour from the past.  Crenshaw gifts us with twenty sermons and nine meditations that step deliberately on the thresholds of our culture.  The biblical metaphor of ‘threshold’ becomes a powerful  incentive to utter a faithful word, recognizing that we have been entrusted with a weighty message.

        A wonderful invitation to step over our thresholds, with one foot ‘firmly planted in the modern age and the other tentatively feeling for a toehold in the biblical period’ (p 5).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.