Mark Gornik, Director of City Seminary of New York, and long-time facilitator of the public reading of Scripture, shares how this practice has shaped him in ways that are different from his seminary training. He explains how facilitating a gathering and listening in community has shaped how he communicates the Word of God.
SoundCloud Link: Listening to Scripture as an Academic by Mark Gornik (3:58).
My name is Mark Gornik. I’m the director of City Seminary of New York, and I live here in New York City with my family.
Undergraduate Biblical Studies
So, I was a biblical studies major in college. I went to Covenant College. And I had a really excellent group of teachers. My foundation was in my undergraduate work at college. It was a liberal arts college, but I majored in Biblical studies.
And then I went to seminary. It was a very significant academic seminary, and I had that whole experience. So, I had seven years of very strong grounding in linguistics, in hermeneutics, in the books of the Bible, in history of Israel, in the New Testament studies. I had a wonderful education in those fields. I’m very grateful for it.
Sharing the Bible with Non-Academics
But what I found is that [my education] is not necessarily the same thing as knowing about the Bible in the same way. You know, to be able to talk as if you are sharing it with others on the subway between stops. Be able to clearly talk about what is happening in Ezekiel, what is happening in the book of Numbers or Proverbs. To be able to know the Scriptures and to be able to communicate them in a way which is down to earth, which is not academic, which doesn’t presume you’ve been to seminary.
I think one of the biggest gifts to me of the public reading of Scripture, and teaching at City Seminary of New York, is that you have to be able to communicate clearly what really matters. What the real story is, not what is peripheral, but what really matters. What is the narrative? What is the story? What is happening?
And I think being able to be able to crisply say, this is where this text is taking place, and this is what they were hearing, and this may be a question for us today, in this way or that way. That’s not a preaching way, that’s not an academic way. It’s a way of clearly understanding how the Bible is for life. And so, I think the Public Reading of Scripture has profoundly sharpened my understanding and my desire to communicate clearly about the Scriptures.
And as someone who is professionally trained as an academic and done doctoral work, I think I think there’s nothing more significant in my understanding of Scripture than in the practice of hearing it and being prepared to speak very clearly and briefly about what is happening there. It is a challenge, but I don’t think there is anything more important.
I think the most powerful experience that I’ve had of the public reading of Scripture in seminary is in a class called The First Urban Churches and Today. So, one of the texts we really spent a lot of time in was Paul’s letter to the Romans. And one of the sessions we began by simply listening to Romans straight through. And in hearing that, you know, we’re reminded how much that is how the first Christians heard the text. They heard it at great length, they heard it with one another, they heard it in a way that felt fresh and they were hearing this letter written to them.
And so, I think that was really life-changing for me to do that. As many times I’ve ever heard the text read aloud, as many times as I’ve read them, I think that was life-changing for me as a way of understanding Romans in its first century context, but as something very, very real for the 21st century.
And it continues to reshape my imagination about God’s story. There’s so much noise in our culture and our times. Much of it is passing and fleeting. Some of it very important. But the Scriptures, that, being shaped with that imagery and that imagination and that sense of possibility is life and world-changing.