Sunday, January 4, 2009

I noticed ...

... this profound point conveyed by Baby Blue, repeating an article published in 2006, in which she reports on a conversation with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali:

"A highlight for me was how Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali characterized our current crisis as one about revelation (which is different from how it is usually characterized as being about the authority of scripture).

I found that quite compelling - how do we discern revelation in the church? It is clear that the Christian faith is a living faith which finds its identity not in the law but in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This means that our faith is personal - not private - but personal, which means the Holy Spirit is speaking. Bishop Michael said that the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself but aligns Himself with Christ - and so He will not contradict Scripture. The Gospel of John, he said, makes this very clear. If God is a new thing, He will not contradict what He has all ready done and said. The Scriptures are quite clear about what it means to live a holy life, as well as what the sacrament of marriage means not only to men and women, but as the primary illustration of God's relationship to His people."

I myself do a bit of thinking about Scripture in relation to evangelical theology and to the life of the church, and am both inspired and challenged by the distinction Bishop Nazir-Ali makes between 'revelation' and the 'authority of Scripture' and the way in which he draws us to consider which is more pertinent to current Anglican difficulties. (It happens to tie in with some reading I am doing at the moment in a book of essays entitled Canonical Theism, edited by William Abraham who himself has written on the relationship between revelation and Scripture).

What I like about the emphasis on 'revelation' is that it is impossible to escape the link to God who is the Revealer; whereas with the 'authority of Scripture' its possible to bog discussion down by raising the question of 'what Scripture means?' and making the link to the cacophany of human interpreting voices. Of course the authority of Scripture can be understood as 'the authority of this text which the church has valued for a long time' but it is in fact 'the authority of the Revealer whose revelation is conveyed to us in Scripture'. Attending to 'revelation', arguably, gets us to the Revealer quicker than 'the authority of Scripture', but also reminds us that God's revelation does not cease with nor is bounded by Scripture (e.g. God guides us), and thus we must reckon with the Living Voice speaking to the church, and not just with a text which can be diminished by adjectives such as 'ancient' or 'dry'! Yet, the good Bishop reminds us, God's revelation beyond Scripture never contradicts Scripture.

Food for thought ...


Anonymous said...

The windsor Report makes play with the phrase, "the authority of the Triune God exercised through SCripture" in order to nuance the concept of scriptural authority. In the setting of ecclesiology the idea of authority is an important one.
I don't see that moving to the concept of Revelation spares us the arguments about how we interpret the revelation we have received. I would prefer to talk about about the process of Chistian moral reasoning, rather than commit to "new revelations". However you might have some convincing historical examples (of which slavery in my view would not be one).
The first hermeneutics hui in Wellington really didn't sufficeintly move into these areas of discussion - the theology of scripture in relation to wider theolgical concepts. i hope the next one will

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I do not disagree with you, save for wanting to think a little more about prefering 'Christian moral reasoning' to 'new revelations'.

There are, for example, times when 'revelation' comes to the church which is at once old and new. (Arguably) acceptance of women into the fullness of ministry has come through a revelation once granted to the primitive church then lost sight of! Or one might think of the story that Thomas Aquinas was granted a revelation of such character that he stopped writing!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we need to think much more about what 'revelation' means. There comes a point when the definition of 'revelation' becomes so elastic that it is difficult to mark it off from moral reasoning.
Women's ordination was after all the subject of ongoing debate in the context of many different fields of discussion, and against the background of women's ministry in other denominations and revival movements. It is indeed still in the process of reception. Is a process so diverse, subject to various pressures,so argued out in various arenas, a revelation in the same way that we think of the incarnation as being revelatory? But then Paul's understanding of the inclusion of the gentiles with the jews came to him as something he understood to be 'revealed' - yet presumably only under the pressure of events and discussions. The meaning of the term 'revelation' is not necessarily self evident.