Person and text: different depths

One thing that struck me a while back is that I have too easily, when thinking about Christian reading of the Gospels, glossed over the difference between the inexhaustible richness of these texts and the inexhaustible richness of the human being Jesus of Nazareth.

So, for instance, a few years ago I wrote something about the doctrine of providence. At one point, I said:

[H]uman lives are not well captured by sets of principles, or by generalities…. [H]uman lives are, if you like, as particular as existence gets…. Human lives above all are realities that call us to keep on paying attention, realities which undermine and question and irritate and complexify any diagrams or systems we might have. If you’re trying to understand a human life, you never get to a point where your understanding, your grasp of that life, can stand in for the life itself. If you’re trying to understand a theory or a set of principles, maybe you can get to a point where you’ve thoroughly internalised them; but you can’t internalise another person, another life. So to commit to letting one’s understanding of providence be shaped and challenged by a human life – by Jesus Christ – is to relativise reliance upon abstractions; it is a commitment which undermines glibness.

Before very long, however, the piece finds me talking about the disruptive unfinalisability of scriptural reading:

[I]f Christians approach the doctrine of providence in this way, what it points to is not a set of answers to questions about what is going on in the world, nor primarily to a feeling of assurance (and certainly not ‘comfortable assurance’) that the world is in good hands, but to an ongoing process of questioning and inquiry and learning. So, I think constructing the doctrine of providence in this way leaves Christians with, to draw on a famous image used by Karl Barth, the Bible (the primary witness to Jesus Christ) in one hand, the newspaper in the other, and no way of putting either down.

It’s not that I can think of no way of making this transition. But the more I think about it, the more I find that I’m sounding to myself like some combination of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Martin Kähler, and Rudolf Bultmann – which is not who I thought I was at all!

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