Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Re-thinking Scripture? (2)

Thank you for brilliant comments to last week's post, in which I raised the (not original question), what is the nature of Holy Scripture, given it is a set of writings with some very difficult-to-explain passages within it. A document which is somewhat human even as it is a document through which God has spoken and continues to speak to humanity.

If Scripture can be wrong in some of its statements (as I argued it is wrong about what it says about Cretans), does that raise the question whether we should be cautious about all its statements? (Answer, No. It's been read with scrutinizing eyes for thousands of years, and many statements stand up well.)

Does it raise the question, Should we its readers use it like a coal or diamond mine? Should we dig out of it a set of (true) propositions, evens a set of rules and laws to govern our lives? (Answer, Possibly. Many Christians in many churches through many centuries have derived from Scripture a large bunch of rules and regulations, as well as theological propositions).

Of course, Scripture as a coal or diamond mine of rules and propositions has been somewhat problematic. Most Christians drink alcohol, but some Christians, a whole denomination such as the Salvation Army beg to differ on what Scripture teaches on what we may drink. Ditto eating meat and the Seventh Day Adventists. Scripture is clear on X (so many think) and Scripture is far from clear on X (so some think).

Many Christians understand that you do not take everything literally in Scripture; but some things could or even should be taken literally. Then Christians differ on what the "some things" are - perhaps most famously, we differ on what Jesus meant when he said, with simple simplicity, "This [bread] is my body." Or, one of my favourite examples: get a group of Christians together for a Bible study, read the Story of the Rich Ruler from the Gospels, and see how many in the group take Jesus literally on what he says about giving away everything you have ...

The point (or one of the points) is that perhaps Scripture is best read as a set of writings which we engage with (as individuals, as study groups, as exegetical classes of students, as congregations attending to the read and proclaimed Word of God) as a message from God that we may discuss, debate even argue over but which we will not expect to overwhelm us with clarity such that we all suddenly agree. (Conversely, nor will we treat Scripture as a document which, when we cannot agree, we use as a reason to divide from one another).

Then, in the spirit of comments to the previous post here, what it means to "engage" with Scripture - as individuals, groups - is to allow God to speak to us in and through Scripture, allowing that word to shape and mould us as Christian disciples. Scripture as formation more than information. Or, perhaps better, Scripture to be read for Holy Spiritual transformation of our lives rather than for rules to behave by or propositions to believe in or facts to fill our minds.

It is not, by the way, that arguments and debates over Scripture signal we are reading Scripture wrongly or engaging with Scripture mistakenly. Scripture which provokes us to argument is also Scripture challenging us as to how we argue and with what attitude we treat our interlocutor.

In 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, Paul writes about divisions and factions in church and says:

"For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine."


25 comments:

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter. I find this extract from you piece (above) on the use and rel;evance of the scriptures to be particularly apposite:

"Then, in the spirit of comments to the previous post here, what it means to "engage" with Scripture - as individuals, groups - is to allow God to speak to us in and through Scripture, allowing that word to shape and mould us as Christian disciples. Scripture as formation more than information. Or, perhaps better, Scripture to be read for Holy Spiritual transformation of our lives rather than for rules to behave by or propositions to believe in or facts to fill our minds.

It is not, by the way, that arguments and debates over Scripture signal we are reading Scripture wrongly or engaging with Scripture mistakenly. Scripture which provokes us to argument is also Scripture challenging us as to how we argue and with what attitude we treat our interlocutor."

As a former Religious (SSF, in Australia and N.Z.) I experienced the reading and induced assimilation of the Scriptures on a daily basis - several times a day - as well as at the Daily Mass, where at least 3 readings were offered. At the Sunday Mass, being a liturgical congregation, the brothers upheld the ancient tradition of censing the Book of the Gospels, in recognition of the relative importance of the teaching and ministry of the Word-made-flesh in Jesus Christ. This, for us Brothers, was the teaching of Scripture that demanded the most reverential attention for its teaching the truth about the Christian Faith

Afterwards, as a secular priest in ACABZP, and a devotee of the celebration of Daily Mass, I heard, read and inwardly digested a regulated diet of Scripture over the entire period of my ministry as a parish priest - I also conducted Bible Studies in my parish, in an environment of openness to what the words of Scripture might be saying to us, in context, for the day. SO, I am not averse to the Scriptural Tradition.

However, as taught by my religious mentors, I learned not the take every word of the Scriptures as relevant to our situation in the world of today. for instance, the post- Mosaic legalism of parts of the O.T. may surely be seen as relevant only to the situation of God's people at a particular time in their history and not necessarily translatable to our modern world of scientific discovery. Israel was surrounded by alien cultures - a situation needing careful interpretation and regulation in order to preserve Israel's own tradition (e.g. circumcision, dietary laws, etc.,)

With the coming of Jesus, as 'Light to enlighten the Gentiles', a different set of cultural expectations was brought into being - mainly through the teaching and ministry of Jesus himself; who raised the ethic of Love above that of slavish enforcement of the Law. Jesus was re-orienting the focus from closed tradition to Gospel (Good News) for everyone who came to believe in him as son of God and Redeemer. Those part of both Old and New Testaments that follow this 'New Commandment' ethic of Jesus (as found, for instance, in the Four Gospels and ACTS) have become the basic tool for Christian formation and praxis. They may not be immediately discerned in depth of meaning for new Christians; but by the help of the holy spirit one can eventually form a viable understanding that places Jesus as the perfect revelation of God to the created world of which we all are a part.

Unknown said...

Fish could not swim without water, but they cannot see it.

Disciples read their bibles through an inspired love-- for God, and then for the Body, for the creation-- but moderns do not see this.

BW

Unknown said...

In heaven, Muslims will lead the prayers, Hindus will organise all the traditions, Buddhists will do the spiritual direction, and Christians will take water to thirsty souls in hell.

BW

Unknown said...

A fear haunts the churchfolk of today: the fear that when they read or even believe a bible, they are not being modern. That is, they fear that they are not being methodical finders of facts for universal consensus. They cringe at unsophisticated Christians who read their bibles very concretely in the way nouveau riche dread being seen in high society with their poor relations.

The fear is justified. Moderns do not read anything at all the way disciples read bibles. And when Christians who read their bibles for concrete facts err, the proper correction is not modern and not quite reading.

So the terrifying nightmare is real. Still, the sun rises every morning, we pray the daily office, and the Lord is with us. :-)

BW

Unknown said...

For a millennium and a half after the Resurrection, even though the Body had not explicitly defined the canon, souls opened their scriptures and saw God.

Today, the higher one's doctrine of scripture, the less one sees God and the more one sees problems that have to be solved or explained away.

How can we make solid regress on the way backward?

BW

Unknown said...

Some people *believe* in modernity. They think anything can be made better by making it more modern. That's a common view here up yonder where we have never been anything but modern.

Other people prefer some premodern forms of their societies to the modern ones. They try-- sometimes with armies-- to restore the totality of lost empires, perfect caliphates, etc.

But still others accept that modernity really has improved some things but is at least unhelpful and maybe ruinous for other things. So they live ambidextrously, using modern improvements with their left hands but with their right hands cultivating a trusted tradition alongside them.

This is the normal path of educated people-- including Christians-- in non-Western societies. But in the C20, it became an important minority position in the West as well-- Evelyn Underhill; T S Eliot and Simone Weil; Jacques Ellul and Wendell Berry; beat poets, hippies, and hipsters; Thomas Merton and N T Wright; Alan Watts and Western Buddhists; *bourgeois bohemians* (aka "bobos"); the Benedict Option.

What should disciples today do with the modern legacy? Do any of these three options work for them?

How then should they read their bibles?

BW

Unknown said...

Myriad people burn some tobacco and inhale it into their lungs as a simple pleasure. It has a flavour; it is psychoactive; it is addictive; it is cancerous; it is deadly.

But to the aboriginal peoples of Virginia where my people settled, tobacco smoke was a rare sacrament of trust. Enemies smoked it together to make peace.

Tobacco is still tobacco. But profane smoking is not like sacred smoking.

*

We have universal literacy. Everybody reads.

And we can read about anything. Of the making of books there has been no end.

But in the ancient world, fluent reading was not so common. And in the medieval centuries, most who learned to read did so to read prayer books, bibles, and perhaps spiritual letters and treatises.

Is profane reading like sacred reading?

BW

Father Ron said...

Dear Bowman,

I'm a wee bit sad to read, in your excellent comments, a fairly constant reference to 'moderns' as seemingly being less worthy than anyone who came before them (us). Is there a real problem in being 'modern' that might rob us of the deepest insights of the Faith? The thought occurs that, without 'moderns' there would have been no enlightenment - especially that which came on the scene in Israel with the spiritual wisdom of the Incarnate Christ. I'm pretty sure some of the Scribes and Pharisees saw him as a 'modernist' threat, with very little (if any) connection to their ancient Tradition. (I reflect here on the demise of the old 'Ancient and Modern' hymnbook of the Anglican Tradition. Also, the scriptural reference to 'things old and new' - all being part of the ongoing life 'en Christo').

Mark Murphy said...

I like where you have taken us, Peter.

How do I prepare myself to hear, or 'read', Scripture in this way? Of course it can happen spontaneously, but I'm more than convinced this hearing (or reading) - 'surprised by spirit' - needs to be *cultivated*.

For me, personally, this is the value of contemplation: it helps to clear what gets in the way - modern or otherwise, all that I think I know.

Raimon Pannikar once said, somewhere, that silence is the precondition for all speaking of God (theology)....that we cannot say anything about God until we have observed a period of silence first.

This is a great challenge in a hyper-modern/liquid-modern world, in the world of the 'saturated self'.

Mark

Mark Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Cheer up, Father Ron 🙂

I have no scale for weighing souls, and so have not compared the average worth of souls in the Modern period to that of any earlier or later time.

I cannot recall a proponent of *eliminative materialism* who believed in God.

Jesus defended the traditional Torah from an attempted expansion through interpretation by Jerusalem elites (St Mark vii).

BW

Father Ron said...

Thanks, Bowman, for your reassurance that modernity does not necessarily mean 'Anti-Christ'.

Mark, your thesis on the use of silence seems very much like Quakerism. However, the great Benedictine Tradition; where one is encouraged to 'live-into' a degree of 'Greater and Lesser' Silences has much to commend it - permeating, as it does, the whole of life, rather than just centred around the reading of Scripture. "Be still, and know that I Am God!"

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Father Ron,

You are reading my mind!

I spent many months last year in Meeting for Worship with Quakers. But I finally left because I missed the rhythm of scripture being read - of all things! But I did feel very near to God and Christ there, or at least in the silence.

Yes, Pannikar argues that silence is a property of Being (God), and not just an absence of sound, and that is so well captured by Psalm 46....stillness as the precondition for knowing God. Maybe what Jesus called being poor of spirit?

Mark

Mark Murphy said...

And pure of heart

Mark Murphy said...

...and pure of heart.

And I'm intrigued by the Greater and Lesser Silences you mention.

Mark

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Benedictines and Quakers

A group can meet weekly to recite or chant psalms-in-choir like the former, and then keep and break silence like the latter.

A few years ago, I did this with friends from Pentecost into the midsummer.

Either practice can be good, but the pair is better. In most places, this can be the core of BCP Evening Prayer or the RCC's Office of Readings.

BW

Anonymous said...

"...modernity does not necessarily mean 'Anti-Christ.'"

Sixty years ago, Father Ron, some were arguing that aspects of modernity were hidden 'in Christ.' As far as it went, not crazy, even insightful, but pretentious.

The difficulty for believers was, and to some degree now is, that churches have lacked the self-knowledge, candour, or courage to say plainly that there will always be plenty of daylight between the regime of any given time and the Kingdom. The Pilgrim Church is on the road rather than sleeping in an inn because every stop along the way is a caricature of the distant destination.

Souls should belong to a household of faith that is consciously facing this tension between the Now and the Not Yet together. Any local body truly in the Body makes that tension obvious even to unbelievers. It harms souls to make them discover it for themselves one by one.

BW

Mark Murphy said...

"Souls should belong to a household of faith that is consciously facing this tension between the Now and the Not Yet together." (BW).

But such an belonging never fully exhausts the breadth of the soul, or of God, thank God. And so we do experience Spirit, Word, and Creator outside the church, as in, for example, modernity.

Pegging it back to scripture: it is interesting to listen to what non-Christians hear in our Bible.


Mark

Unknown said...

In context, Mark,

Your 7:33 can be read as a counsel to despair. Something like, "There is no household of faith consciously facing the tension between the Now and Not Yet together. So, in a society without real churches, look instead to C17-18 institutions (liberal democracies, empiricist epistemology, etc) and non-Christian Bible-readers to find-- and even 'experience'-- YHWH."

Yes, "the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea." But that seems to be, not the Now, but the Not Yet.

Meanwhile, if things really are so dire that God is absent where his name is sung and only present where it is officially unknown, some sort of mysticism may indeed be the only answer. But it seems hard to square such pessimism about the means of grace with the creeds.

You likely meant something else. What?

BW

Mark Murphy said...

I meant it as more a counsel to relax than to despair.

I don’t doubt that there are households of faith holding the tension between the Now and the Not Yet. Just doubting that the soul can be bounded by these. Or the Spirit – it blows where it will, including in and out of the halls of liberal modernity!

Sun is shining on the yellow polars in our valley: the earth is full of the glory of God.

Bombs are shelling Mariupol.

One of the problems of liberalism is its apathy/hostility towards partisan communal life: using a Māori word and concept, its forgetting of ‘whakapapa’ (the layers of ancestors and contexts that provide a layered foundation for present being). At worst, this serves to sever our consciousness from the community of faith, and make us rely on ahistorical, individualized Reason, Scripture, Testimony etc. This tendency can be accelerated but also reactively opposed in the context of postmodernity. In terms of the later: Make America Great Again, Pope Benedict XVI…such that the past is idolized and the community reinvented as a closed group tightening around the soul.

There is a tension between the Now and the What Was that is important too, I guess, which is of course very important in reading and hearing Scripture.

Mark

Mark Murphy said...



Add Christian Mother Russia to that last list.

Anonymous said...

Steve Paikin is possibly Canada's foremost journalist. This panel on his program The Agenda is the most searching and even-handed exploration of Russian popular sentiment that I have seen recently.

https://youtu.be/dsk4Xly3EAo

BW

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, I have just read a most interesting article by Albert Mohler on the relationship between Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill - in the context of what is currently happening in the invasion of Ukraine. Here is the link:


In his daily analysis of news for Thursday March 10 2022 Albert Mohler tackles the place of the Christian morality and the Russian Orthodox Church in what’s happening in Russia at the moment.

Anonymous said...

"Just doubting that the soul can be bounded by [the Now and Not Yet]. Or the Spirit – it blows where it will, including in and out of the halls of liberal modernity!"

To keep my comments here brief, Mark, I use allusions if I am confident that + Peter at least will understand them. In the C20, the German *zwischen den zeiten* was often paraphrased in English with *Now and Not Yet*. Both refer to living in the overlap of one aeon that began with the Fall and another that was inaugurated in the Resurrection. Both phrases save the time of explaining the gospel of Jesus and applying it in an abstract way to the present moment. In say a Hindu cosmology, it could seem otherwise, of course, but as a Christian I take it for granted that every soul lives *between the times*, believers consciously, unbelievers unconsciously.

"One of the problems of liberalism is its apathy/hostility towards partisan communal life: using a Māori word and concept, its forgetting of ‘whakapapa’ (the layers of ancestors and contexts that provide a layered foundation for present being)."

Maybe. As you say, it happens. I'm not sure that this is a necessary feature of it.

BW

Unknown said...

'one of the problems...around the soul.'

Well said.

Liberal polities turn out to have two rationales and interpretations. One can see individual choice as normative, so that a necessary reason of state is required to burden or override it. Or one can see individual choice as a peaceful alternative to inter-communal conflict on shared territory. Liberalism can be individualist or traditional.

BW