Review of Getting the Message by Daniel Doriani
Getting the Message (originally published in 1996) is a 13-chapter book of 255 pages of green messages. Doriani leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind of his Scholarly qualities. That Doriani is erudite is an understatement. He provides clear guidance and practical wisdom for interpreting the Scripture in the book. He set out to teach the art of biblical interpretation using a non-technical approach and ensured balanced, Christ-centred, practical, and readable outlines. Getting the Message is highly readable that combines biblical insight with incredible real-world wisdom.
Summary of the Book
Doriani hanged the art of interpretation on the six-letter acronym CAPTOR, where each letter stands for a phase of interpretation: C = Context, A = Analysis, P = Problems, T = Themes, O = Obligations, R = Reflection. He explored the six interpretation phases and offered concrete suggestions for initializing them. Apart from following the grammatical-historical method of exegesis, the book also uses analytical techniques from all of life.
Doriani believes that each reader must construct the meaning of a text himself. He opposed the hermeneutic of suspicion, which declares that whatever the surface meaning of a text, at the root, all authors use texts to take or to legitimate power over others. Doriani’s introductory statements emphasized our need for training and the state of the interpreter’s heart. He gave a plan of action in the main principles for interpretation in the acronym CAPTOR. In Bible interpretation, Doriani highlighted the elements that required proper methods, heart conditions, and reasonable goals.
In his view, the fundamental skill for biblical interpretation is observation, and he gave four principles to follow:
- Beware of preconceptions. Observe what biblical texts say.
- Observe the text first, then explain. As the explanation proceeds, be sure it fits your observation.
- Resist reshaping your observations so that they support your preferred theology.
- Make a note of any details that are, for any reason, especially striking.
He gave six principles to decipher the literary context, and they are:
- Interpret single verses in light of their immediate context.
- Interpret paragraphs and episodes in light of the paragraphs or events around them.
- Try to determine why your text belongs where it is and nowhere else.
- Look for thematic statements that introduce or interpret an entire section.
- Look for repeated words or phrases.
- Locate your text in the purpose of its section and the whole book.
Doriani differentiated between literary and historical context. He advocated three principles on historical context. He showed us that mastery of historical context solves interpretive problems and enriches innumerable passages. He analyzed Narratives and came up with three principles of analysis. In speech stories, he claimed that the main event is the speech, not the story surrounding it. He itemized the aspects of Biblical Drama as setting the stage, understanding the characters, conflict, crisis and climax, resolution, and the following action. He enumerated the general principles for Discourse Analysis and the chief principles for Paragraph Analysis.
Solving the problem is the third phase of CAPTOR that the author treated. To him, problem-solving often entails investigating familiar things, and it is helpful to turn to reference works and enhance our instruction. To detect problems, we need the skills of observation, and to solve them, we need to know the passage’s historical context. Doriani gave five principles to develop Themes and Word studies. His conclusion is for us to know the Scriptures, people, and the times and take a few risks to bring them together creatively.
The challenge of Application was presented by the views of letting it flow, letting God do it, and let’s work at it. Though Doriani speaks of Obligations to get the O in the acronym CAPTOR, he used Application to define better the Skills. In presenting a method for finding applications, he urges that students of Scripture look for Application in all kinds of passages: laws, principles, narratives, doctrines, symbols, promises, songs, and prayers.
Doriani emphasized the importance of protecting the vital unity of the Scripture as we preserve diversity. He also emphasized the two ways to ensure that all our expositions look to Jesus: the “fallen-condition focus” and the “redemptive-historical focus.” Each is an aspect of reflection, the art of finding and applying the main point of a biblical text and relating that point to the redemptive Message of the whole Bible.
Doriani is genuinely a gifted pastor in how he brought the recent research in biblical interpretation to the level of an average Christian. However, he aims to equip Christian leaders for the arduous but exhilarating task of interpreting and applying the Scriptures with facility and confidence. This book is to teach skills to teachers of biblical truth, and the book can serve as a resident tutor for interpreting and applying the Bible.
I note that Doriani’s theology influenced his writing, and this is glimpsed from his convictions. I believe the Bible is the inspired, accurate, reliable record of God’s acts in history and their meaning. The five appendices are apt as they seek to make the book’s principles useful. The exercises in the book and graphical explanation, in some instances, clearly guide the reader to understand his message fully.
I, therefore, join Doriani in calling on Christians to get started. The book is a must-read for all.