Some recent blog conversation elsewhere in the CC network focused on the question of the authority of scripture, with some concern about whether there is any left. I’ve been thinking about that, and it seems to me that in recent years, perhaps each of the last two thousand years, there has been a large group of Christians who have been tethered by twin assumptions. The first assumption is that the authority of scripture is both clear and trumps all other authority. The second assumption is that that same authority of scripture is most clear in underwriting “my” worldview, cultural norms and moral judgments.
When “my” particular worldview, cultural norms and moral judgments are called into question, then the authority of scripture that underwrites them must have been eroded by those who question “me,” and therefore at best they must be heretics, but they’re probably apostate.
I have a very high regard for the authority of scripture, but I don’t worship the bible. It’s not my God. I love studying it. Every word seems to reveal and illuminate God’s truth in ever new ways. Like the old proverb about not being able to step in the same river twice, it is a moving, living thing so that the same verse says something different each time I read it, and I become changed so that something of a new person meets something of a new word with each reading. In my classes I have taught that our (not very exclusive) Anglican way is to wallow around in scripture letting it wash over and through us, always remembering that the voice of God speaking through these words may be saying something entirely new.
In a sense that’s a problem. It sounds too much like relativism. For some people, who are not fond of a world where nothing is certain and nothing can be relied on as a safe and solid place on which to stand, scripture, at least, should be unchanging, clearly revealing the plain and obvious absolute truth.
The current pope certainly seems to feel that way as long as the absolute truth of scripture is consistent with Catholic doctrine. Closer to home, our local paper featured a Sunday pastor’s column written by another who apparently also feels that way. He stated that Christians believe this and materialists believe that. Those are the two options, and by his argument, if you are not a Christian who believes what he believes, then you must be a materialist, or fellow traveler, and therefore both godless and damned. Perhaps he would reject that reading of his article, but that sure the way I took it. That saddens me. I think it strips scripture of too much of the riches God with which God has endowed it.
5 thoughts on “Wallowing in Scripture”
The notion of a \”living\” Scripture is, for me, like the argument over the Constitution between those who see it as a \”living\” document and the \”strict constructivists\” who think they can read the \”original intention\” in the mind of, say, James Madison, as he wrote it.If you accept the analogy, then what would it mean to treat Scripture as if you could read \”the original intention\” in God\’s mind? What kind of presumption would that take? In contrast, understanding Scripture as truly living requires a kind of humility: finding yourself surprised and then letting yourself follow out that surprise, that new insight into this new situation you are facing.I hope I keep being surprised.
Tom,I like the comparison to the so-called strict constructionists. It\’s dead on. What strikes me about them is a capacity for self delusion so deeply rooted that they seem to be entirely unaware of it. How\’s that for the arrogance of one who is confident in his own capacity for awareness, completely free of any self delusion? It always brings me back to my favorite country song, \”Lord it\’s hard to be humble when you\’re perfect in most every way.\”CP
I had a nice comment re your \” it is a moving, living thing, etc.\” but I see reader Tom and you have already emphasized that so I\’ll refrain from a repeat – but in real terms for me scripture does continue to surprise me often with familiar words that suddenly take me to a new place, challenger, understanding of God\’s presence in my life.
I think that the church historian Jaroslav Pelikan has a new book out (which I have only seen in a book catalogue advertised) making a prologed conparison of scripture interpretation with the Surpreme Courts varying interpretations between the \”originalists\”, such as Scalia, as the \”living document\” school, such as the late Thurgood Marshall, who had, as a lawyer, argued successfully against school segregation (\”separate but equal\”, 1896). Marshall once said to a group of his drinking buddies, \”I don\’t care what those slave-owning white men meant by their words in the Constitution; I only care about what those words can be made to mean for our people today.\” I rally suspect that the so-called \”originalist\” does much the same thing, to get a different, more traditional result! Scalia,in a TV interview, said he had no regrets or second thoughts about any of his decisions, like his 2000 election decision to stop the recount in Florida and make George W. the winner. When liberal Bible scholar Elaine Pagels was accused of \”picking and choosing\” the parts of the Bible she would use, she said that it was impossible for anyone to do anything else!
My moral development and concern is a test of the voice (metaphore of course) that is within me as I grapple with scripture for guidence and sharing my concerns for self friends and the world. I have a long way to grow. Self deception is always part of all of us (or at least my) personality. Some of it becomes obvious in time. Revelation perhaps from a hidden God comes to me from literature,and philosophy.