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

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