Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bishop N. T. Wright on the Bible and Ecumenism

Attending a synod of bishops in Rome, Anglican bishop N. T. Wright reflects on the role that reading, praying, and studying Holy Scripture can play in forging deeper relationships across "denominational" divisions:

Three months ago I had the privilege of being the Anglican Fraternal Delegate at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The topic was "the word of God", and it quickly became clear that it carried enormous ecumenical implications.

The synod was, in effect, inhabiting more fully the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the document Dei Verbum. Many bishops at the Synod spoke excitedly of the effect of Bible reading and study on their congregations, and of the sea-change that this represents compared with the time, not long ago, when the Bible was quite literally a closed book to ordinary lay people. More than once bishops declared, as though it was a new discovery, that the Bible (and not just prayer and the liturgy) can bring people into a living personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. ...

One of the most striking things I heard in Rome was that there are two signs and means of unity which we already possess, namely baptism and the Bible. How do we make that a reality?

One answer is shared Lectio Divina - a reading of scripture which takes time to pray, to ponder, and to allow the text to soak in at every level. What is to stop Christians from every tradition coming together in each locality to share this simple but profound practice? Nothing except our nerves. ...

Of course, there are problems to be faced. What about "historical criticism"? Many have bad experiences of being told "you can't believe this" or "that's now been disproved" - when, often enough, the "disproof" consists merely of the sneer of the sceptic, pretending to be "objective" while we Christians are "prejudiced" (as if atheists are not prejudiced as well). But there are ways through. ...

To my surprise, the synod gave little attention to the task of the Church in the world. You might have thought that attention to scripture would compel us to tackle that. It is precisely Roman Catholic writers, by and large, who read scripture afresh and generated the last generation's liberation theology. Modern western culture has regularly tried to stop the Church speaking out in the public sphere. "Devotional" and "historical-critical" readings alike can, by themselves, collude with this pressure in a way which falsifies the message of the Bible itself.

What's the alternative? A scriptural reading in which heart, mind, soul and strength are brought together. We need the devotional, the academic, the rehumanising and the missional readings of scripture, each in its proper way and all in their proper balance.

Read it all.


Joe Rawls said...

When you do lectio divina, you don't discard biblical criticism, you just put it on the back burner for the time being. Lectio is primarily a form of contemplation, not an intellectual exercise.

Bryan Owen said...

Good point, Joe.

Based upon what I've read of his work, I don't think that Bishop Wright would want to pit historical critical methodology and lectio divina against each other. At the same time, I also think that he would have real problems with taking historical criticism (and other form of biblical criticism) on the one hand, or approaches like lectio divina on the other, as the end-all-be-all way to engage the Bible. I think we need both approaches to maintain a healthy, nurturing balance between head and heart.