Wednesday, November 16, 2005

scripture is not safe

"It is much easier to argue about evolution and creation than it is to live as though this is God's world. Or, debating whether a 'great fish' really swallowed Jonah is far less costly and risky than acknowledging that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us."
[p.20 "Formed and Transformed by Scripture: Character, Community, and Authority in Biblical Interpretation", L. Gregory Jones...a chapter from "Character and Scripture: moral formation, community, and biblical interpretation" William P. Brown (Ed.)]

this quote and Jonny's article have me thinking about scripture and preaching and what it is we can hope to achieve by spouting 30-minutes of information at people once a week. In connection with this, i've been wondering what kind of authority over my life i really give scripture. and so, here are some scattered thoughts - sometimes blog posts like this are just thinking out loud with a keyboard.
(there's more...)
It seems like it is too easy to simply agree (or disagree, for that matter) that the bible is True and/or that the bible tells us how things really are (or ought to be). It is even easy to argue over the historical details of a given passage, easy, that is, compared to meaningfully submitting oneself to scripture. i'm not even sure what i mean by meaningfully submit. Perhaps that's why I/We default to questions like, "did it really happen?" It is a way of avoiding the inevitable affliction that comes from truly listening (with ears that hear!) to these mysterious stories. right now i am more likely to to respond to the "did it really happen?" question with less certainty - the question makes me squirm because it seems to be the wrong question. I might say whether it happened or not is, at best, marginally important but more often than not irrelevant. it seems to me that the real power is in the truthfulness of the text. It's like Lucy's question about Aslan in 'the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.' She asks, "is he safe?" to which Mr Beaver replies, "'Course he isn't safe. But he's good." Lucy had the question wrong but the answer reoriented her. We get the question wrong and we get off-track. Now, i'm all for rigorous historical criticism. I just believe that we can easily strip the Word of power by becoming convinced that we know precisely what is going on.

the risk with emphasizing this kind of 'epistemological humility' is that we can easily default to a tepid faithfulness. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) addresses this and suggests we know more than we are willing to act on.

"The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians...pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close."
so, we know far more than we are comfortable with and yet we really should be quick to admit we are still in the dark. before this post becomes lost in an argument about History and Truth....back to preaching. if we begin to view Scripture as a transforming story that messes up our plans so that we will be more likely to fall into the arms of Christ and be reoriented to the vision of the Kingdom-coming, then perhaps our expectations of what should happen at church (among other things) would be turned upsidedownSpontaneityty in all its ragged clothing (mess, chaos, awkward pauses, et al) is too often avoided and preaching can do more to gag people than promote an encounter with Jesus. giving one person the 'pulpit' week after week seems to be a sure fire way of limiting the work of God. if it is true that 'the medium is the message' then we need to make sure our modes of communication are true to our missional church identities.

Finally, to end this rant, a quote from a brilliant book about early church practices.
"Why did the ekklesia gather? Most evangelicals, indeed Christians of nearly all persuasions, traditionally answer that churches meet for worship. [i would add 'preaching' here] Paul's consistent answer was "to build each other up." The members met to use their personal endowments from the Spirit for the common good. They prayed, read Scripture, encouraged, sang, taught, and prophesied to one another as the Spirit enabled them. Paul never identified ekklesia in terms of a vertical relationship of worship. The meeting was for one another. The gathering was a conversation - a rich, diverse, extended conversation... Participants in each ekklesia had to grapple with ongoing challenges of making sense of their lives in the light of the story of Jesus Christ. Each community was an informal learning network."(pp.174-5)

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