Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anglican Values

Among other things, Anglican Christianity is:

Biblically Focused
"The Holy Ghost rides most triumphantly in his own chariot [i.e., Scripture]."
– Thomas Manton (1620-1677)

"The first [proposition] is this: If we believe in God at all, it is absurd and impious to imagine that we can find him out by our own reason, without his being first active in revealing himself to us. Therefore all our discovery of him is his self-manifestation, and all rational theology is revealed theology."
– Austin Farrer (1904-1968)

Rooted in Tradition
Recognizing that the Holy Spirit's inspiration is not limited to scripture, Anglican Christianity looks to a broader foundation:

"One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith."
– Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)

However hobbled by human sin, reason is an essential means of understanding what God has revealed to us:

"The Holy Ghost is not a bird of prey sent by God to peck out the eyes of [humans]."
– Nathaniel Culverwel (1619-1651)

"And this is the second proposition: If God does reveal himself to us, we cannot acknowledge or master what he reveals without the use of reason. Therefore all his self-manifestation is also our discovery of him, and all revealed theology is rational theology."
– Austen Farrer

Centered in Worship and Prayer
Anglicans do theology "to the sound of church bells, for that is what Christian theology really is all about – worshipping God the Savior through Jesus Christ in the theology of the apostolic age."
– Michael Ramsey (1904-1988), Anglican Spirit

"Christ said 'this is my body.' He did not say 'this is my body in this way'. We are in agreement with you as to the end; the whole controversy is as to the method. As to the 'This', we hold with firm faith that it is. As to the 'this is in this way', (namely by the Transubstantiation of the bread into the body), as to the method whereby it happens that it is, by means of In or With or Under or By transition there is no word expressed [in Scripture]. And because there is no word, we rightly make it not of faith; we place it perhaps among the theories of the school, but not among the articles of the faith...We believe no less than you that the presence is real. Concerning the method of the presence, we define nothing rashly, and I add, we do not anxiously inquire, any more than how the blood of Christ washes us in Baptism, any more than how the human and divine natures are united in one Person in the Incarnation of Christ."
– Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) Response to Cardinal Bellarmine

"The Eucharist demonstrates that material reality can become charged with Jesus' life, and so proclaimed hope for the whole world of matter....The matter of the Eucharist, carrying the presence of the risen Jesus, can only be a sign of life, of triumph over the death of exclusion and isolation...If the Eucharist is a sign of the ultimate Lordship of Jesus, his 'freedom' to unite to himself the whole material order as a symbol of grace, it speaks of creation itself, and the place of Jesus in creation."
– Rowan Williams (1950- ), Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel
(The last two quotes via The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic)

Catholic and Protestant/Evangelical
"Our special character and, as we believe, our peculiar contribution to the Universal Church, arises from the fact that owing to historic circumstances, we have been enabled to combine in our one fellowship the traditional Faith and Order of the Catholic Church with that immediacy of approach to God through Christ to which the Evangelical Churches especially bear witness, and freedom of intellectual inquiry, whereby the correlation of the Christian revelation and advancing knowledge is constantly effected."
– William Temple (1881-1944), Encyclical, Lambeth 1930
(via Contemplative Vernacular)

Liberally Catholic and Generously Orthodox
Anglican Christianity seeks to embody a liberal catholicity, generous orthodoxy. It is catholic/orthodox in its commitment to the consensus of the first centuries as expressed in the early councils and the creeds. It is, as Charles Gore wrote, "conspicuously orthodox on the great fundamentals of the Trinity and the Incarnation. [Anglicanism] accepts the ecumenical councils as criteria of heresy." It is liberal/generous in its ability to reexamine how that consensus is applied in concrete historical contexts: ". . . standing ready with the whole treasury of Christian truth unimpaired to meet the demands which a new age makes upon it with its new developments of character and circumstance."

Anglican Christianity avoids the extremes "represented by a dogmatism that crushes instead of quickening the reason of the individual, making it purely passive and acquiescent, and on the other hand by an unrestrained development of the individual judgment which becomes eccentric and lawless just because it is unrestrained."
– Charles Gore (1852-1932), Roman Catholic Claims

Passionate, but Patient
Anglican Christianity is characterized by what Rowan Williams calls a "passionate patience" that is reticent to declare too handily exactly how God is to defined or to presume too easily to know what God desires in all instances. Continuing with Williams, "There is in the Anglican identity a strong element of awareness of the tragic, of the dark night and the frustration of theory and order by the strangeness of God's work." [ . . . ] "The result is a mixture of poetry, reticence, humility before mystery, local loyalties and painful self-scrutinies."
– Rowan Williams, Anglican Identities

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interpreting One Another with Charity

Recently, I was rereading parts of Stephen Fowl's book, Engaging Scripture. It is a fine book and well worth the reading. I was struck particularly with what he has to say about the habits of a charitable interpreter which are essential for any true engagement with scripture and other interpreters. Though he addresses charitable interpretation in that particular context, the practice of charitable interpretation is a virtue that we would do well to cultivate more generally - with family and friends, at work, with other church members, in our larger political discourse, engaging one another on the internet - in any situation where we are likely to disagree with the way another person interprets things. Interpreting others with charity is a basic gospel discipline that has become all too rare.

It is similar to what the Archbishop of Canterbury has described as engaging people and issues "three-dimensionally".

The following are used with permission of the author:

When Christians’ convictions and practices regarding sin, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation are in good working order, the recognition of oneself as a sinner works to keep one’s eye single. Further, this recognition draws one into a collection of practices designed to restore, reconcile, and subsequently deepen one’s communion with God and others. p. 86

Short of the eschatological completion of the promises in Jeremiah 31 and 1 Corinthians 13 . . . Christians will need to engage scripture in the recognition that they will disagree with each other. Christians ought to expect that their scriptural interpretation will be marked by sustained disagreements about how best to interpret and embody scripture in any particular context. In fact the absence of such arguments would be a sign of a community’s ill health. p. 87

A charitable interpreter will both recognize interpretive differences and refuse temptations to reduce or rationalize those differences and disputes away. p. 88

Initially, it may be extremely difficult to make sense of the claims of others, particularly those most different from us. This, however, is a contingent problem which can be addressed through hard work and patience. Rather than assert that such differences render conversation and debate impossible, the charitable interpreter will begin the slow, often tedious process of learning the presumptions, conventions, and idioms needed to make others’ views intelligible. Charitable interpreters will resist the move to close off this activity prematurely; they will always recognize the provisionality of their work. That is, interpretive charity entails both a willingness to listen to differences and a willingness to hear those differences in their fullness. p. 89

[T]he real question facing the charitable interpreter concern how to address differences in interpretation. The first step is to note that all differences, all disagreements. Are only intelligible against a background of similarity and agreement. . . . Agreement may not be easy to display. For example, such things as the use of common vocabulary might actually obscure real differences and agreements. Charitable interpreters, then, may need to begin to address an interpretive dispute by exposing the nature and types of agreement lying beneath its surface. By doing this one sharpens and thereby clarifies the nature and type of disagreement. p. 90

A related habit of the charitable interpreter is the practice of maximizing the reasonableness of those with whom one differs.
p. 90

[T]he charitable interpreter presumes that those who differ hold their differing views for good reasons and tries to display what those reasons are or were. p. 91

This entails that a charitable interpreter should deal with the strongest versions of opposing arguments. This may even require the charitable interpreter to recast opposing views to make them as strong as they can be. p. 91 (footnote 65)

[I]n any interpretive conflict, one’s ability to give a charitable account of a differing position is crucial to developing a superior position. As Alasdair MacIntyre has argued, in any interpretive conflict which is rationally resolved, the position which prevails will be the one that can show how it accounts for the strengths in alternative positions while avoiding the weaknesses in those alternatives. p. 91

[T]he presence of interpretive charity will not necessarily reduce interpretive disputes. Christians must recognize that disputes are constitutive of being part of a living tradition of people reading scripture in order to live holy lives and to worship God truthfully. Rather, interpretive charity is one element that shapes the ecclesial contexts in which we might then expect interpretive disputes to result in faithful living and truthful worship. p. 96

Stephen Fowl teaches theology at Loyola College, Baltimore and is a member of the Cathedral of the Incarnation. He is also a member of the House of Bishops' Theology Committee. And I am grateful to count him among my friends. He also attended St. Barnabas in the early 80's, well before I was called as rector here and before I knew him.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Tammy Metzger thinks you're cute" (and so does God)

A version of this appeared in The Anglican Digest in 2006. I'm posting it here since it seems to resonate with folk anytime I share it. And it fits a theme of the coming weekend.

"Tammy Metzger thinks you're cute" (and so does God)

I was a shy, scrawny farm boy. Shy and unsure of myself, I was the shrinking violet of wall flowers. When I was in the 9th grade, I rode a bus, along with other farm kids, to the small town of Claypool, IN. There, we were joined by the kids from the town. We were also joined by the kids from the neighboring community of Silver Lake. From there we were all bused to the high school in Warsaw, the county seat.

I knew all the kids from Claypool, having gone to grade school with them. But the kids from Silver Lake were new. One particular girl from Silver Lake caught my eye. Her name was Tammy Metzger. She was beautiful. She was mysterious, intimidating, and awe-inspiring – the way 9th grade girls are to 9th grade boys. She intimidated the living daylights out of me! I was dazzled by the splendor of her beauty. It never crossed my mind to even speak to her, let alone tell her that I thought she was beautiful.

One day, on the way from Claypool to Warsaw, word was passed from the back of the bus where the Silver Lake students sat to the front of the bus where I was sitting. The person behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Matt, Tammy Metzger thinks you’re cute.” Bells went off in my head. Unbelievable! Amazing! It changed me.

I was not quite the same boy when I got home that day as I had been when I set out. I was changed. Not a lot – at least, not right away. I was still too shy to ever say anything to Tammy. But, as Dante experienced with Beatrice, just knowing that someone as beautiful as Tammy Metzger had noticed me, began to change me. I did not suddenly become suave and confident, but there was the beginning of a real change in the way I thought about myself. If Tammy Metzger thought I was cute, maybe there was something I was missing. In fact, the very next day, as I was leaving school, another girl stopped me in the hall and said, “I hear that Tammy Metzger thinks you’re cute. I don’t know what she sees in you.” But, she wasn’t Tammy. The fact that Tammy Metzger thought I was cute meant that what anyone else thought was irrelevant.

Knowing that someone looks at us with a measure of delight changes us. This is true of those early experiences of attraction as well as deeper romantic relationships. It has been true of my relationship with my wife, Leslie. But it is also true of family relationships. And it is true of friendship. All relationships in which we know ourselves to be noticed, delighted in, enjoyed, cherished, loved, or even simply considered "cute" change and form us.

The same kind of change happens when we encounter the love of God. It was around this same time, perhaps not accidentally, that I began to experience God’s love as something that was real, vital, and directed toward me. In spite of my insecurities, in spite of my feelings, God loved me. Perhaps, God even thought I was cute. The knowledge that God delights in me and reaches out to share his life with me changed me. The world was shot through with meaning. My life and how I live it, the choices I make day to day, all began to matter infinitely because I mattered infinitely to God. I was dazzled by the splendor of God’s beauty. No matter how often and in how many ways the Adversary has said, “I don’t know what God sees in you;” knowing God’s love in Jesus Christ has made the words of the Naysayer irrelevant. I am loved.

The Church is kind of like the school bus. Each generation in the Church has passed on the knowledge that God has demonstrated his love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that he desires to draw us into his life and joy. God delights in each one of us. We, who are in the front of the bus now, have received this treasure. We are also called to pass it on. In our common life together, in church school, adult forum, youth group, Bible studies, at home and at work, we pass the word on to one another. Evangelism is just inviting others to get on the bus so they can hear this Good News. When we come to church, when we bring our families, when we invite others, we are passing it on.

The word has been passed up to you, "God thinks you're cute - God delights in you.” Pass it on.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The King or a Fox? Configuring the Mosaic of Scripture

I was invited to make a presentation at a Miqra event put together by the youth leaders of the Diocese of Chicago. I've posted a slightly expanded version in installments. Here's the whole thing with links:

Reading scripture, according to the great 2nd century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons, is like configuring a mosaic of precious jewels. That mosaic can be configured in more ways than one. According to Irenaeus, it can be configured to reveal a portrait of the King – Jesus Christ as the Church knows him – or it can be configured, as it was by heretics and other false teachers, as something else, say a fox. More

Part 2: Among other things, honoring the scriptures means we must attend to the kinds of texts they are rather than impose theories of what we think they should be if they are inspired and authoritative. More

Part 3: Can we identify some guidelines or criteria by which we evaluate more faithful biblical configurations from less faithful or even faithless interpretations? Not all configurations are faithful. Not all faithful configurations are equally faithful. But there might be a range of recognizably, more or less, faithful configurations. The following criteria, based on how the canon of scripture came to be accepted and how the early Church read the Bible, are suggested to assist in configuring the mosaic of scripture. More

1. The Criterion of Jesus Christ
2. The Criterion of Love
3. The Criterion of the Rule of Faith
4. The Criterion of the Church's Prayer
5. The Criterion of the Church's Tradition
6. The Criterion of Comprehensiveness
7. The Criterion of Dissimilarity
8. The Criterion of Community
9. The Criterion of Character

No one criterion is adequate and no set of criteria will assure agreement on particular questions of interpretation. But, an interplay of the above criteria would provide a broad measure of relative faithfulness as we seek to configure an image of the King rather than a fox or a dog.

These are criteria that make sense to me. What might be some I am missing?

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #9

9. The Criterion of Character
The scriptures are about the formation of holy communities and holy persons as members of such communities. There is a symbiotic relationship between the scriptures forming holiness and the necessity of a degree of holy living in order to understand the scriptures. The character of any given interpreter or community is inseparable from their ability to reliably discern the Spirit in the scriptures and thus configure them faithfully. It is not so much that we need to configure scripture such that it is relevant to our lives as it is that we need to configure our lives such that they are relevant to the message of scripture.

Does this community exhibit the kind of character and practices that enable it to discern faithful interpretations? Can it name its own sin? Does it practice truthfulness? Repentance? Reconciliation? Prayerfulness? Care for the poor? Are the fruit of the Spirit evident?

The same goes for any particular interpreter. Does an interpreter exhibit a Christ-shaped life? Can we hear humility, charity, and generosity in the voice of the interpreter?

Athanasius (293 - 373) affirms this in his treatise, On the Incarnation:
But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect, guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modeling of the life after the saints a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. (par. 57)


Configuring Scripture, Criterion #8

8. The Criterion of Community
The God revealed in the scriptures calls people into community and it is to the community that they are addressed with the intention of forming and sustaining a people of witness. Scripture is addressed to the Church. It has its fullest meaning in the context of the Church and its worship. It describes the God who has called us and made us a people who were not a people and describes what kind of people we are to be in response.

It is within the context of being part of that people that our personal relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is formed and nurtured. The Good News revealed in the scriptures is not first and foremost addressed to individuals and their spirituality. Nor are they primarily about abstractions such as "love" or "justice" or "peace" or whatever. To the extent that it is about such things it is about embodying them as a community that is a sign and foretaste of the kingdom in which the wound of the original schism of sin and brokenness is fully healed. Schism – between humans and God, and humans and humans is the orginal sin played out in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. It is that Schism that Jesus comes to heal. Or as Ephesians has it, it is the barriers and enmity of that schism that he breaks down.

The mission of the church is reflected in one of the prayers in the Marriage Rite in the Book of Common Prayer:
Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. (BCP p. 429)

Faithful configurations of scripture will call the church to actually be the community envisioned in such passages as Romans 12, Phippians 2, and Ephesians 4.

It is the Church, not indivdiuals or sub-groups, that discerns whether or not a given configuration of scripture is faithful. The larger the consensus in the Church (currently and historically) that a configuration of scripture is faithful the more likely it is to be so.

Criterion 9. Character

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #7

7. The Criterion of Dissimilarity
It is certainly legitimate, and perhaps inevitable, to take insights from other areas to inform our reading of the Bible. Liberation theology does this, sometimes more fruitfully, sometimes less, with its re-appropriation of biblical themes in persuit of social and economic justice. Similarly, feminist theology does this. Reading the Bible in light of other religions and in light of our best scientific knowledge are other examples. Gregory of Nyssa (335 - 394), commenting on Exodus 12:35-36, asserts that scripture itself,
commands those participating in the free life also to equip themselves with the wealth of pagan learning by which foreigners to the faith beautify themselves. Our guide in virtue [Moses] commands someone who "borrows" from wealthy Egyptians to receive such things as moral and natural philosophy, geometry, astronomy, dialectic, and whatever else is sought by those outside the Church, since these things will be useful when in time the divine sanctuary of mystery must be beautified with the riches of wisdom.
Life of Moses, Paulist Press, 1978

But when the other insights become the criteria such that they are not fundamentally challenged and shaped by scripture and Christian tradition they tend to lead to less than faithful interpretations. While it is incumbent upon Christians of every time and place to interpret scripture afresh in light of their context, any faithful reading of scripture must be dissimilar enough from the surrounding culture and the interpreter's social/intellectual milieu to maintain the edge of repentance and conversion.

This means that a configuration of scripture that fits too neatly into any contemporary agenda or set of cultural/sub-cultural sensibilities is suspect. Configurations of scripture that simply parrot the culture or a segment of the culture are unlikely to be faithful to the voice of the Dove who enchants those scriptures. We need to recognize our own particular cultural, social, and political prejudices and then be alert to where scripture may call those prejudices into question lest we configure a cracked mirror that merely reflects an image ourselves rather than a mosaic of the King. Augustine warns against this,
But since the human race is prone to judge sins . . . by the standard of its own practices, people generally regard as culpable only such actions as men of their own time and place tend to blame and condemn, and regard as commendable and praiseworthy only such actions as are commendable and praiseworthy within the conventions of their own society.
On Christian Teaching [De Doctrina Christiana], English trans. R. P. H. Green (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997), 76

Criterion 8. Community

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #6

6. The Criterion of Comprehensiveness
The scriptures contain multiple concerns, themes and images, many of which are in apparent tension with others. They are not given to neat systematization. Any comprehensive approach to the Bible ends up with some anomalies. A five-point Calvinist, for example, will have difficulty fitting those passages of scripture that suggest human freedom into her or his configuration. If one gives priority to passages declaring God's sovereignty and providence, those other passages must somehow be made to "fit." Similarly, Luther’s approach making salvation by grace through faith the key struggles with passages that suggest that we will be judged according to our deeds.

No one, in practice, gives equal authority to every verse, passage, or theme in the Bible. How we interpret the Bible largely depends on how we shuffle the deck and what we declare is trump.

The fewer passages of scripture (or harking back to Irenaeus' metaphor, the fewer gems) that are anomalous to a configuration the better. Even then, the remainder remains and must be acknowledged and reckoned with.

Criterion 7. Dissimilarity

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #5

5. The Criterion of the Church's Tradition
We always read the Bible with the saints. The wisdom of the Communion of the Saints is a gift that shapes our ongoing configuration of scripture. For Anglicans, this has classically meant especially the catholic consensus that developed in the first five centuries. This was stated by the great Anglican preacher and bishop, Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 1626) in the formula:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.

Christians’ engagements with scripture are (and should be) shaped by the successes, failures, debates, discussions, and prayers of previous generations of Christians. The tradition of the church is not a problem to be overcome, but a community in time to which we belong and with which it is possible to dialogue. We are not bound to simple repetition of the past in all things, but the burden of proof is on novel configurations of scripture which must be demonstrated to be in harmony with what past generations of the faithful have taught and lived.

Criterion 6. Comprehensiveness

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #4

4. The Criterion of the Church’s Prayer
The rule of prayer is the rule of belief (Lex orandi, lex credendi). We believe what we pray. As with the Rule of Faith, there is a symbiotic relationship between the Church’s worship and its reading of scripture. Faithful configurations will be compatible with the Church’s worship. For Episcopalians, that means the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer guide interpretation. Traditionally, this has especially been true of the Rite of Baptism, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Ordinals. Of course, common worship is more than simply the prayers written in the Prayer Book. It includes the simple fact of gathering for worship and doing so on Sunday. It includes words, bodily gestures, use of materials, etc. Faithful configurations will be congruent with, and make sense of, the language and practice of our common worship.

Criterion 5. Tradition

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #3

3. The Criterion of the Rule of Faith
One of the important criteria the early Church used in discerning which writings to recognize as canonical was whether they conformed to the Rule of Faith – the teaching passed down from the Apostles. Irenaeus appealed to the Rule as the guide to right interpretation in his arguments against the interpretations of the heretics in the 2nd century.

That Rule of Faith finds its expression for us in the Creeds. Scripture and the creeds have a symbiotic relationship and cannot be read separately. Interpretations that are contrary to the Creeds are unfaithful. Charles Gore (1853 – 1932), Anglican (liberal catholic) theologian and Bishop of Oxford, insisted that more was implied by the Creed:
There are, indeed, features in the common faith, such as the belief in Atonement, in sacramental grace, in the inspiration of Scripture, which are only slightly or by implication touched on in these formulas of faith; but at least in what they contain they represent what has been universal Christianity.
The Permanent Creed and the Christian Idea of Sin

That means, as Gore also insisted, that faithful configurations will wrestle with the “whole set of ideas about sin and redemption and the Incarnation and the Trinity which belong to the Catholic Creeds and are the commonplaces of historical Christianity.”

Criterion 4. The Church's Prayer

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #2

2. The Criterion of Love
There is a bias for interpreting scripture in ways that are merciful and cultivate charity.

Jesus asserts this in Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments [love of God and neighbor] hang all the law and the prophets [all of scripture]. It is also implied in Jesus’ teaching in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath [symbolic of the law] was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” Paul reinforces it in Galatians 5:6 (the only thing that counts is faith working through love), 5:14 (the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”), and 6:2 (Bear one another’s burden, and in this way you will fulfill the law.). The criterion of love was encouraged by Augustine (354 – 430),
Anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up the double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them. Anyone who derives from them an idea which is useful for supporting this love but fails to say what the writer demonstrably meant in the passage has not made a fatal error, and is certainly not a liar.
On Christian Teaching [De Doctrina Christiana], English trans. R. P. H. Green (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997), 27
But, we should beware of assuming we know fully what love is or what love requires aside from our engagement with Jesus Christ (Criterion 1). It is good to keep in mind Charles Williams' observation,
The famous saying 'God is love', it is generally assumed, means that God is like our immediate emotional indulgence, not that the meaning of love ought to have something of the 'otherness' and terror of God.
He Came Down From Heaven, Charles Williams (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2nd edition,1984, p. 11)
The love of God has something of terror in it because it summons us to love others with the self-sacrificial, dying-to-self love with which Jesus loves us. There is nothing cheap, easy, or sentimental about it.

With that caveat, the basic principle remains that configurations that encourage the double love of God and neighbor and cultivate habits of mercy and charity are to be preferred.
Criterion 3. Rule of Faith

Monday, February 1, 2010

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #1

1. The Criterion of Jesus Christ
While any faithful interpretation must take into account the whole witness of scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, Jesus Christ is the center and measure of all things including the rest of Scripture (Hebrews 1:1-2). Here it is important to insist that the Jesus who is the measure is the Jesus of the Gospels (all four), not the reconstituted Jesus of any contemporary scholar or group of scholars. And not only the gospels. The criterion of Jesus Christ includes the Christological passages of the rest of the New Testament, e.g., Philippians 2, Colossians 1, and Revelation 5. Any faithful configuration will have at its center, the recognition of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the climactic revelation of God's character and purpose.

An example (a relatively non-controversial one): In the Gospels, Jesus welcomes and blesses the children. In 1 Kings, Elisha calls down two she-bears to maul the children who call him “Ol' Baldy." Which story shines brighter with the Spirit of Jesus the Christ? The latter story must be interpreted in light of the former.

Still, those parts that we think shine less brightly with the Spirit of Jesus remain and there is always the possibility that that Spirit might surprise us in the shadows.

Criterion 2. Love