Sunday, July 5, 2020

Re Reading and Rereading Scripture

Last week I mentioned the death of Professor James D.G. Dunn.

This week Church Times reprints an article by Jimmy from 2013 which demonstrates his carefulness in scholarship and clarity in making an argument - on this occasion on reading Scripture with respect to arguments for and against the ordination of women. (From memory I think 2013 was when the CofE agreed to proceed with ordaining women as bishops.)

It can seem fraught “rereading Scripture”, after all, where might it end?

But we have to do it. This past week I have been pulled up with a start to find that Jonathan Edwards - yes, the Jonathan Edwards beloved of many evangelicals, influential for centuries on the ministries of well known preachers and theologians - owned slaves ... and thought this was consistent with Scripture.

I have just started reading A.C. Grayling’s The Age of Genius in which he argues that the 17th century gave birth to the “modern mind.” Inter alia, p. 9, he mentions Cardinal Bellarmino’s 1615 reply to Paolo Foscarini’s argument that Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the universe was consistent with Scripture. Bellarmino argues that the heliocentric model contradicts not only the interpretation of Scripture by the “holy Fathers” but also “modern commentators.”

Four hundred years later (1) no teacher of Scripture within the mainstream of Western and Eastern Christianity, no matter how wonderful she or he finds the “holy Fathers” thinks them correct on this matter, and no (2) “modern commentator” of 20th or 21st centuries teaches what Bellarmino asserts.

Scripture has been reread!

Part 2 or “further thoughts”

The trick, I suggest, with rereading Scripture is not to assume (whether eagerly or fearfully) that all rereading heads in only one direction (from the thin end of the wedge to the thick end?).

Even rereadings need rerereading.

Consider, many of the first Christians read Scripture in respect of military service through the lens of Jesus and determined that Christians could not join in the violence of war. Then, Constantine and all that, a rereading led to an acceptance of the validity of military service and fighting in wars (albeit with hope that all wars one was conscripted for were “just wars”). 1700 years later has that rereading settled the matter once and for all? Not really. Many Christians today are wary of military service and for a range of sound reasons, from unwillingness to kill another human being under any circumstances to healthy cynicism about the true aims and aspirations of warring nations. And many Christians think its okay ... just the other day I read a news item about a Russian Orthodox cathedral devoted to the military!

One could go on ...

I won’t save for observing that the importance of doing theology is doing that which continually assesses claims to true understanding of the purposes of God.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that info. I've now burned all my Jonathan Edwards books. And my Barth collection because of his longstanding adulterous affair with his secretary. And my John Yoder books because of his abuse of students. My entire Vanier corpus has gone up in flames. And my Weimarer Ausgabe of Luther because of the nasty things he said about the Jews. Solidarity with Michael Servetus means I've had to burn my Calvin collection. Wesley was a poor husband so into the flames goes his stuff too. And Martin Luther King was a plagiarist and a serial adulterer so out with that stuff as well.
What have I got left? Some Bultmann and Lloyd Geering. Well, I'll see what I can do with this.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear James,
So long as your zeal doesn’t lead to deleting your electronic copies :).

Perhaps I should offer a “book health” warning to the post:

No. This does NOT mean burning all Edwards’ works (or Barth’s,Yoder, etc).

But it does mean acknowledging, again and again, that no one is infallible and all readings of Scripture need discernment.

I never met Bultmann but I did meet Lloyd Geering once - a really kind fellow!

Anonymous said...

I think he lives in Central Otago now, at a very advanced age. I actually remember his trial for heresy - and his acquittal- as he progressively moved from liberal Protestantism (the Resurrection is 'a symbol of hope') to generic "religiosity " and then into atheism. A trajectory very similar to that taken by liberal Anglo-Catholic hero Bishop Richard Holloway who began by attacking the Biblical teaching on homosexuality and eventually became an atheist. Geering, I think, had more integrity, and left the Presbyterian ministry long ago, whereas Holloway only announced his atheism once he had retired. Yes, I agree "all readings of Scripture need discernment " - including the standard liberal belief that Scripture isn't the Word of God but only an imperfect human witness to it which will be corrected by our/my Higher Understanding. A reminder of the organic nature of revelation as well. When you start unpicking one part - like its teaching on sex and maleness and female ness (I.e. the doctrines of creation and sin), don't be surprised if the whole garment falls apart. That's what Geering and Holloway discovered.

Anonymous said...


From: The Head Librarian
To: Those studying for the General Ordination Examination
Re: Reclassification of library materials

We are delighted to see postulants returning to campus to study for the GOE.

You will notice that the stacks in the sub-basement floors have been reorganized on hamartiological principles according to the system of Dante Alighieri. That is, books formerly shelved with others on the same branch of theology are now to be found with books by other authors who are associated with the same sins.

For example, Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology, formerly shelved in philosophical theology, is now shelved in Circle 2 with other books by theologians associated with adultery. A statue of Minos with his tail wrapped twice around him marks the location.

The convenience of this system for students following the Revised Syllabus of 2020 is too obvious to require explanation. However, the Circulation Librarian can resolve any uncertainies (eg whether something is a sin; if so, which kind; which sub-basement has the related books, etc). Soon all who use the Library will find books as easily in Dante's scheme as in the old one.


Father Ron said...

B8ishop Peter; you said:

"I won’t save for observing that the importance of doing theology is doing that which continually assesses claims to true understanding of the purposes of God".

I believe that in the 'doing' of theology, we are more likely to be led by the Holy Spirit than when we just opt for every jot, tittle and iota of Scripture and - in consequence, every word written by past (or even present) theologians about their own understanding of the Scriptures. The 'Word' in the Sciptures had to become 'Flesh' in Jesus, to have its full effect!

James writes of the reality of the fact that even respected Christian writers and theologians have their quirks of errant human behaviour. Surprise, surprise! They are just SINNERS like the rest of us; (Jesus: "Let him who has not sinned throw the first stone!") Jesus did say that he 'came to save SINNERS - not the righteous'! the 'righteous', then, may not need redemption!

Re James' excursion into what he sees as 'heresy'; having personally met with former Bishop Richard Holloway - at a Charismatic conference held at the University in Canterbury U.K., before a Meeting of Bishops at a Lambeth Conference - I was impressed by the fact the he; together with several others of us; walked out of a session where an English Bishop with the Anglican Church in Pakistan declared that all Muslims were 'agents of the Devil'! In speaking with him later I found +Richard to be a person of deep humility, apologetic of the isolationist attitudes of many of the conservative bishops of the Anglican Communion whose fundamentalist views on ecumenism, sexuality and gender he obviously did not agree with.

I, I suspect like many other Anglicans who knew or had met +Richard, was sad that he later opted to leave the Church, impatient with its outdated ethical understanding of people on the margins of society, to the point where he no longer believed it capable of imitating the Christ it professed to serve.

He felt that the tenor of the Gospel was something different from the harshly conservative praxis of a large proportion of its current leadership - who seemed, to him, more attuned to philosophy of the Scribes and Pharisees than to the teaching of Jesus - who scandalised the Church of his day by 'eating with publicans and sinners' - regardless of their social notoriety, cultural or religious background.

Jesus was a radical religious figure of his day, teaching that the Law as practised by his contemporaries was being used to disadvantage the outcast and poor of society. Jesus said "A New Commandment I give unto you; THAT YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU". Love, with Jesus, was meant to overcome the strictures of the Law. "They'll know you're MY disciples by your love". (President Trump is a good example of p
harisaical judgement and rule: "Do what I say (not what I do) or else...").

Anonymous said...

"President Trump is a good example of pharisaical judgement and rule: 'Do what I say (not what I do) or else...'"



Father Ron said...

Well, BW. Would you consider that this pericope might be applied to the POTUS'public and private attitudes towards sexual morality?

My prayers are for the American People at this time!

Anonymous said...

"... the importance of doing theology is doing that which continually assesses claims to true understanding of the purposes of God."

Yes, Peter, but framing "doing theology" so flatly as re-re-re-reading scripture could induce someone to object--

"I believe that in the 'doing' of theology, we are more likely to be led by the Holy Spirit than when we just opt (a) for every jot, tittle and iota of Scripture and - in consequence, (b) every word written by past (or even present) theologians about their own understanding of the Scriptures."

The objector might pose a choice for those discerning the purposes of God: either they can decide to be led by the Holy Spirit, or they can do it all by themselves by reviewing comment on commentary on holy iotas, holy jots, and holy tittles. Behind such a choice, I hear a protest that our Lord appointed apostles to make disciples but not an *ulama* to make a *sharia*.

That resonates with--"The 'Word' in the Scriptures had to become 'Flesh' in Jesus, to have its full effect!" Which may be to say-- the Incarnation must make our way reading our scriptures distinct from the ways of other religions or institutions, and one such distinctive is that we recognize that the Holy Spirit leads us outside and beyond them.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father Ron, for your prayers :-)

"Would you consider that this pericope [ie Pericope Adulterae, St John vii 53-viii 11] might be applied to the POTUS's public and private attitudes towards sexual morality?"

No. He does not claim to be righteous himself, nor do his accusations assert that their targets are unrighteous. The underlying appeal is: people like us disrespect people like that because they oppose us.

In contrast, Jesus's criticisms were directed at Jews who were zealous for God's will, but lacked + Peter's "true understanding of the purposes of God." The president is not concerned about God's will at all.

For the most part, his religious allies do not dispute this. They recognise that his nationalism is his religion, and that it is strictly as an historical source of the national culture that he values their religion. This is why his evangelical partisans liken him, not to a scriptural Man of YHWH, but rather to a gentile ruler that YHWH is using to save his people.

Unsurprisingly, he can be heard misunderstanding and exaggerating this role in ways that would sound blasphemous on the lips of a believer. He says bizarre things at prayer breakfasts. He has protestors (and media and clergy) pushed out of his path to a church where he poses for pictures holding "a Bible" upside down.

When he does these things, his critics wonder why evangelicals here up yonder do not see him as a phony, a hypocrite, a fake, etc. But evangelicals do not see him as even pretending to be a Christian as other politicians might do when pandering for votes.

Rather, they seem him clumsily but credibly showing them his commitment to an alliance that is instrumental for him but nearly sacred for them. In a way, the photo op in front of St John's that appalled constitutionalists seemed all the more sincere to evangelicals-- as sincere as realpolitik can be-- for being a hot mess.

If he is not claiming to be holier than thou when he attacks others, then what is he doing? He is being a populist of the right like those in other countries. All populists insist that they are more trustworthy than elitists with interests opposed to those of the people. But those on the right are likely to make this claim with respect to some *enemies of the people* who are being unjustly protected and promoted by the elite. The emotion is not righteous zeal, but *ressentiment*.

In 2016, the candidate asserted that immigrants were enemies of the people who, with the acquiescence of the political class, had been changing America by their sheer numbers. In 2020, the president describes identitarians of the left as enemies of the people who, with the tacit consent of both corporate and political leaders, are changing America by destroying its sacred monuments and revising its sacred history. Both themes imply that he alone can be trusted to fight for America against its enemies and the elitists who promote them.

Is this still true when he speaks on sex? Yes. So far as is known, he has never claimed to have any scruples about sex. Like other Republicans in New York, he was presumed as a candidate to have no personal antipathy to homosexuals, and he may not in fact have any.

But his appeal to his base is that he will side with them against elitists who secretly oppose their values. So he is capable of being unconcerned that homosexuals have jobs, whilst still being publicly displeased that one of his own justices on the SCOTUS recently wrote a landmark opinion protecting those jobs. The logic is not moral-- and certainly not scriptural-- but psychological and political.


Anonymous said...

My last post a couple of days ago has not been published- but it is not true, as Ron Smith claims, that Richard Holloway "turned his back on the church" - he turned his back on the Divine Christ and became an atheist. Same as Lloyd Geering. It's all described in his last book. Ron may not like this, but it's a fact.
Did you receive my post, Peter?


Peter Carrell said...

James: apologies, but I cannot see any comment “stuck in moderation”, which sometimes happens.

Bowman: a fuller elucidation of re(re)(re) [etc] reading Scripture needs an ecclesio-pneumatology - that is, an account of the work of the Spirit in the Body of Christ as it discerns and rediscerns truth ... historically perhaps best illustrated in the matter of slavery (for, against, tolerating until comparatively recently and now universally condemned by all churches) ... but that best illustration only tells us that, perhaps, in the very long run, we may reach a universal interpretation on matters we are currently divided on.

Thank you, by the way, for the illumination re Trump’s popular resonances ... I guess November is about whether his appeal to the American psyche in respect of battling America’s enemies and elites commands another majority, as measured by votes in the Electoral College..

Anonymous said...

Well, my point was that Richard Holloway did not "turn his back on the church" (because of those horrid evangelicals), he became an atheist and turned his back on God and Jesus Christ because he no longer believed the Christian message. This is acutely embarrassing for those who considered Holloway a hero because he promoted sexual revisionism in the Anglican Church, from once being an Anglo-Catholic standard bearer, but it is only the logical outcome of his theological method.
He started by rejecting the Bible on homosexuality, extended that to sex in general, and from there he went to accept the general secular understanding of human nature , which doesn't invoke the supernatural. All of this - his progressive loss of faith - is described in his last book and it's a perfectly logical outworking of liberal thinking. And it's just the same journey that Lloyd Geering made years earlier. The only difference is that, unlike Professor Geering, Holloway stayed in his church post until retirement, before coming out as an atheist. You will understand if more than a few of us think of this as hypocrisy. When you begin by revising - or rather rejecting - what the Bible says about sexual relationships - it is foolish to think you can stop there. While biblical truth is organic, human sin is systemic and it will eventually infect the very structure of doctrine. That is why in the past year there has been a bizarre obsession in the west with transsexualism and an epidemic of "gender identity" confusion, especially affecting children.
I also stated that Christian writers committing serious sins like academic plagiarism or adultery is not "quirky" but disturbing sin. Thoughtful evangelicals have always sought to differentiate a writer's teaching from his or her own Christian walk - as well as holding that teaching up against the Bible.
I concluded that there is still time to pray that both Geering and Holloway will come back to faith in the Lord.


Anonymous said...

Who is Richard Holloway?

Holloway on Holloway, etc.

On Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter.


From another corner, the Never-Trump Republicans at The Lincoln Project ** hear the resonance this way--

"I guess November is about whether his appeal to the American psyche in respect of battling America’s enemies and elites commands another majority, as measured by votes in the Electoral College..."

Is there a reasonably probable path to the president's re-election? Many have searched for one. But every maneuver that might help him would require as much unlikely change in the candidate as in the electorate.

This year's catastrophes were huge opportunities for the president to unify the country around his leadership and win by a decisive margin as George W Bush did in 2004. It is hard for any challenger to compete with a leader who is solving problems, calling for sacrifice, offering hope. But Trump because instinctively prefers to be a happy warrior, he ceded the advantage to his opponent.

November is possibly more about--

(a) how will the election be held in the states?
(b) will control of the Senate shift to the Democrats?
(c) what sort of party will Republicans sort themselves into?

Again, Never-Trump Republicans are working for the defeat of the Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump--

Next winter will be interesting for those on the right of American politics.