Monday, November 2, 2009

Open to the Bible

Something happens when the Bible becomes an object of formal study. When we approach the Bible in the way that an historian approaches the letters of Napoleon, for example, we distance ourselves from it. The Bible becomes a detached object of attention, like cells on a glass slide under a microscope. We become judges of what we see. Yet if God still speaks to us through the Bible, and if it does contain words of correction and instruction for us, then we have to be open to a different way of seeing it. We have to be open to letting the Bible also become the measure for us.

Stephen Holmgren, Ethics After Easter (Cowley Publications, 2000)


Derek the Ænglican said...

Sorry, I don't buy the duality the author is trying to draw.

I know far too many excellent biblical scholars who are also sincere, committed, earnest Christians to accept what looks here like an either/or.

I would argue that we need a both/and where multiple approaches to the Scriptures are held in tension and I find that the Creed is one of the great tools for enabling that to happen. If we are believers in and seekers after the Truth-with-a-capital-T then we need to seek historical and literary truth that will also shed light upon the mystical and spiritual truth that we find in the Scriptures.

(Perhaps I'm projecting a little here, but I've been rolling this stuff around in my head a bit lately...)

Bryan Owen said...

All good points, Derek. And actually, as I read Holmgren, I think he would agree with you. In the larger context of this passage, for instance, he affirms the reality of the challenge made possible by "the greater knowledge and increased awareness that we have gained from modern biblical studies." And drawing on the image of sailing a boat between Scylla and Charybdis, he continues by noting that "Anglicans usually try to steer a course between running into a 'hard' literalism in their reading of scripture, and being sucked into a whirling skepticism where everything dependable seems to get lost." So it's not an either/or for Holmgren.

At the same time, I think he shares Kierkegaard's concern that biblical scholarship can become a means for defending ourselves against the Bible by keeping it at a safe distance.

Derek the Ænglican said...

I give Kierkegaard a hearty, "Yes, but..."

There's just as much devotional reading that similarly insulates readers from the hard truths of the text.

I agree with the Scylla and Charybdis image especially if its multiplied manifold. I see the challenge as attending to the reality of the Scripture in its historical, literary, and liturgical contexts, seeing it both within the tradition of its interpretation and the contexts and understanding earlier interpreters never envisioned (i.e., I love Cassiodorus but he didn't know Ugaritic) then being able to find the encounter with God in the text as a means of building the whole believing community up into a mature faith. It's *no* easy ask! James was quite right that few should seek to be teachers...

Bryan Owen said...

I completely agree, Derek. And it is, indeed, a tricky balance.