The last two posts, and Rachel’s comments, prompt an aside.

This is one of those times when an apparently clear path turns out to lead into a thicket. And trying impatiently to pull one bramble out of the way pulls several others into view. Several issues are mixed in together; it’s not quite clear that we have hit upon the distinctions or the vocabulary to sort them out; and the point of what we’re saying has become elusive.

It is at this kind of point that it actually becomes necessary to think. To work, to labour at untangling without oversimplifying. I find that my life (the life of an academic theologian!) doesn’t actually involve that many occasions when I am required, in this sense, to think. Most of the time (when I’m not absorbed in those activities in which thinking would be a dangerous distraction – like driving, or attending committee meetings…) my life involves putting myself in places where I might be called upon to think – and then waiting, listening for the call.

It’s not that we’re obviously tussling with big, dramatic profundities. Playing with big, dramatic profundities doesn’t often involve a real labour of thinking, in my experience. We’re simply trying to work out whether anything can be saved from a platitude that seemed like an obvious thing to say about a particular passage. But the labour of thought is set of by small incongruities, small rucks in the carpet.

All this is one reason for reading the Bible slowly, of course: putting oneself on a path that leads into thickets.

One Thought on “Thinking

  1. Hello.

    I was wondering why the insistence that the text be able to challenge the community? It seems to me (an Orthodox) to be an odd hangup. Creedal formulae are, at one level, a dogmatic fence that various hermeneutics of suspicion must answer to to gain communal credibility.

    But can the two readings not be synthesized more productively? in any case, I do not think that spiritualized readings that reject creedal assaults are de facto destined for sensus pluralis.

    It would seem to me that where the literal sense helps the most is in constructing the linguistic framework within which the spiritual can be deployed. For example, one must know something about the shape of Jewish and pagan kingdoms in the first century before asking God for the “kingdom come” makes much sense. And who is the king? what does he do? Or for Paul to call the Church the “Israel of God… for whom these things were written” makes precious little impact if we do not have some tangible vision of what “being Israel” might entail.

    Spiritualiztion for transferal of metaphors to the current community, which can then challenge it. As in the above case with Paul, it was necessary for Paul to make the Corinthian community analogous to the scriptural Israel before they could be addressed by commands to Israel. But, after this is done, the commands themselves still had to be spiritualized in order to become relevant.

    I see no other way (besides spiritualization) that Paul could have pulled his sleight-of-hand with the burdened ox being himself. It was a spiritualized reading, but also one that challenged the present living realities of the community in question. The spiritual reading challenged what was happening in a way that a critical read would not have.

    Critical scholars would never have accepted Paul’s exegesis of himself as the oxen, and would have informed him that yes, in fact, the text in the mind of the author who wrote it originally was intended for oxen, and had nothing to do with them, thank you very much. This is exactly the way sexuality debates have been skirted by liberal Christians in the US (recipie to circumvent: trivialize Leviticus by historical criticism and a few sly jokes about shellfish prohibitions).

    I think perhaps the way to maintain a valid scriptural sense is to see scripture as inherently prophetic. The reading must, by necessity, challenge the reader, and is edifying in this capacity. The reader accepts a priori that they will be moved to grow beyond their present, though it may take a spiritual reading to get them there.

    Wow was this long and rambling. Apologies.


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