Friday, 31 May 2013

The Once and Future Scriptures - People of the Book (pt 5)

This post continues my look at The Once and Future Scriptures edited by Gregory C Jenks. Here are my thoughts on the into and first chapter, the second chapter, the third chapter and fourth chapter. This post will be dealing with the next chapter.

Susan Crothers-Robertson - Chapter 5 Scripture and Formation for Ministry
"Hear...Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly Digest..."
The first section, and bulk of, this chapter is framed by the words from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer where it states that we are to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the words of Scripture. This framework is not bad at all. 

Under "Hearing" Susan recalls students first experience with the Anglican Morning Prayer at her university. I have to say that her description is one I can relate to. I attend what some would call a "low" Anglican church as we don't celebrate the Lords Supper as the central part of the service, instead we deem the hearing and preaching of the word as that. We also don't physically carry Prayer Books into our service and so I have no idea how to navigate one. When I attended my first residential they had Morning Prayer, and I was one of those students who was lost. I had no idea how to navigate the Prayer Book (and I still have no idea what each of the coloured bookmarks mean) and throughout the service I was flicking pages and looking onto the person next to me. As Susan points out the purpose of the Morning Prayer is to assist in us reading the Bible, but sometimes the structure it is awkward. She correctly asks after the Morning Prayer service if what was read was really heard and listened to. Did the reading make a difference? (p 82). I agree that we should "actively listen, and hear" the scriptures, letting go of ourselves (p83) and our agenda.

For the "Read..." section Susan points out that Morning and Evening Prayer is a challenge and is only done because it is expected of them. Positively, over time it does become part of their life as they are taking part in something bigger than themselves, something people all over the world is doing (p 83-84). Susan identifies as "people of the Book" who read and read and identify with the God in the Bible(p 84). I take this to mean, as Anglicans we read and read the Bible as the Morning and Evening Prayers are from the Anglican Prayer Book. I am happy as an Anglican to also identity as someone of the Book and that the God of the Bible is our God (p 84). (Don't get me wrong, other denominations are also "people of the Book" and have the same God, I am just saying that when I do the Morning Prayer, I am in solidarity with other Anglicans who are doing the same thing).

In the "Mark..." section Susan points out that we are to use our minds to mark the Scriptures. We are to thinking about the context, thinking critically "taking the Bible seriously, even if not literally" (p 84). Susan is shocked and surprised sometimes with how her students interpret the Scriptures. 
"For instance, they no longer believe in the tooth fairy, or Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Yet when it come to the Scriptures they often interpret them in a certain literal, fixed and rigid way" (p 85)
I think taking the Bible literally does involve thinking critically. Like other writings we should work out the genre of the text and mark if it is an allegory, history, poetry, parables etc... so to be true to the text some bits are literal, and some might just be imagery. We shouldn't impose the form of the text on itself. I think the text was originally written in a certain literal, fixed way to convey a point. We should always be seeking the original intent of the text (just like when reading anything else). 

Susan sees her role in giving students "mature theological lenses"and to read "various forms of biblical scholarship" (p 85). Critical thinking shouldn't be balked at, but rather encouraged. This hopefully will bring about transformation in their lives "with a living, critical faith" (p 86). This sounds good, but it is light on specifics. Does having "mature theological lenses" mean we see the inspiration of God in the scriptures and that we should then humbly submit to the text, even if it goes against our agenda and Sunday School faith? Or does it mean we are to stand over the text and decide which bits Jesus really say, and which bits were really written hundreds of years retrospectively to appear to have been prophecies? One method really hears and marks the Scriptures and transforms lives to it, another one gives credit to human wisdom and transforms God to conform to it.

Under "Learn..." the challenge of critical thinking, as pointed out by Richard Briggs, is that we have pushed "the epistemological bar higher and higher. How do we know? How can we be sure?" (p 86). This I would argue is not critical thinking, but sceptical thinking. Stating ex-Anglican J. I. Packer as a scaremonger because he said seminaries leave the Bible behind and develop their own theologies which then sends out people to teach what they were taught (p 86). Susan even said that Packer saw the teaching of students this type of critical thinking is a violation of Article 20 (p86).

Now, Article 20 says that the Anglican church is not to "ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." Packer may be right only if people are taught contrary things to what the Bible says at universities and if the student goes on to be part of the Anglican system. Educational facilities should be open to all forms of critical thinking and positions, but the Anglican church is entitled to make sure it's historical position (and identity) is not compromised. Biblical criticism is a wide area, and it is good to learn and seek technical meaning from Scripture. Susan has a good point at the end of this section where biblical criticism could extinguished the spirit of prayer and devotion. We shouldn't elevate Biblical criticism in place of our living faith, but we can use it as a good tool to further it.

In the last subsection of "Inwardly Digest..." Susan asks some great questions about ordination candidates and if they are letting the Word lead their life and getting them to respond to it. Concluding this section Susan points out that "Balancing Scripture, reason and tradition is a sensitive yet necessary art for people of faith" (p 89). This is true and how we balance or order these in importance shows where we place the final authority for our lives.

The Scriptures and Anglican Identity
Quoting Muriel Porter, the 39 Articles were drafted under Queen Elizabeth I to deal with theological controversies of the time (p 90). And that Anglicans affirm that Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation and that Scripture is meant to be accessible to all people, not just the elite (p 90). All very good, then Susan says that just because the "Scriptures are central to our worship this does not make them 'infallible', but rather they are open to criticism, interpretation, and discussion" (p90) and that "the Bible does not stand alone, independent of its context" (p 90).  Yes, just because the Bible is central doesn't necessary make it infallible, but I think the framers of The Church of England's position of the Bible was that it was infallible so therefor they made it central to worship. We shouldn't remove the English reformation from it's own historical context. With this in mind I agree that we should see the tradition in which we are formed "impacts in how we read and digest the Scriptures" to lead us to the Living Word (p 91).

Hearing, Once More...
Susan paints another picture, like her introduction, only this time it is the end of the year and the students are familiar with the Morning Prayer service and as a community they really "hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Holy Scriptures for the day (p 91). This is good picture. I think I can relate to this transformation towards the Morning Prayer. I think it is a worthwhile thing, so much so, I am currently building a website that will hopefully generated the Morning (and in future Evening) Prayer service form the 1995 Australian Prayer Book...

I do hope all ordination candidates have the same conviction of their Anglican for fathers who today speak into how they are to place the Bible in their lives. As Thomas Cranmer said about holy Scripture:
"the most sure and plain way [to settle a theological difference] is, to cleave unto holy Scripture.Wherein whatsoever is found, must be taken for a most sure ground and an infallible truth;" (p 10)
"But the true Catholick faith, grounded upon God's most infallible word, teacheth us, that our Saviour Christ (as concerning his man's nature and bodily presence) is gone up into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of his Father, and there shall he tarry until the world's end, at what time he shall come again, to judge both the quick and the dead, as he saith himself in many Scriptures." (p 39)
May that Anglican Church continue to embrace this tradition and let the words of scripture bear much fruit for God's glory.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, I'm indebted to you for your articles on this book. You've hit so many nails on their heads! I agree that there is probably not an organised conspiracy; nevertheless the reductionism underlying - in various degrees - the work of the contributors plays into the hands of our ancient enemy, and is ultimately destructive of the Church of God. As an Anglo-catholic, I am more than happy with the high view of Scripture in Vatican II's DEI VERBUM (which -aside from its clause about "tradition" is generally appreciated by evangelicals).