My blogging is so patchy at the moment that I’m well behind the curve. However, I’m grateful that James McGrath has drawn my attention to Steve Douglas’s post about Jamie Smith’s review of Pete Enns’ book. Not enough links yet? Try reading Daniel Kirk’s critique of the same review as well.
There are all sorts of views expressed intelligently and carefully between these contributors, which between them do more to identify the problem rather than offer a solution to the problem of what the writings canonised by one or another faith or denomination have to do with a (postulated) divine communicator.
On the one hand, the idea that there is an objective, historical meaning the author intended which is clearly accessible to the skilled interpreter is one I simply can’t own: the interpreter has a more active role. On the other hand, the idea that any interpretation of the text is equally valid seems to me as unsustainable as the idea that there is a single and unique exact interpretation. Interpreters are constrained by their texts.
An incarnational analogy (in this unique human expression there is a uniquely divine expression), a methodological atheism (this text only means whatever the human author intended it to mean) and a post-modern reading (this text is entirely open to the reader’s determination) are equally problematic. How can we hold historical realism and theological vision together in a way that gives “verbum dei” more than an optimistically imaginative and fideist reality?
I wonder if a sacramental model has something to offer here? In celebrating the sacraments, the church (the community gathered together in some historic continuity) meets around certain actions identifying the contemporary presence of the same deity as the historic texts name. The performance of the sacraments includes narrative, invocation and attentiveness, in bringing the temporal and physical world into conjunction with the eternal and spiritual world. The two are held in a mutually explanatory tension.
I wonder if that offers a model for scripture. Meaning cannot be collapsed into historical or authorial intent. Neither can it be about the explicatory virtuosity of the interpreter. God is heard in the communal practices of the group that meets in order to hear God. The word of God is discovered in those who prayerfully receive the story of how God has spoken to previous would-be listeners and followers.
The nature of scripture as something more than the words of its individual human story-tellers, editors and narrators depends on both the nature of texts freed from their historical authors, and on those who read scripture as a coherent and canonical whole in order to discern and hear a voice that comes from beyond the text.
Hearing the voice of God can’t be separated from the variety of practices that condition us to listen for and to the word of God. Sacrament requires scholarly historical rooting and prayerful present attentiveness, so “this” may be seen as “that”, and when someone proclaims “Verbum Domini”, “Deo gratias” is the most appropriate response.