Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thesis 7: Reading Scripture is like Jazz

Thesis 7: Scripture’s possible meanings are as diverse as its various uses in the Church’ life; interpretation is thus more an art than a science.

As Brian Peterson has noted, the creeds and interpretational traditions of the Church can be viewed as a swimming pool which outlines a field of possible faithful readings of Scripture, a pool into which readers must plunge and explore if such faithful readings are to be discovered and lived.(16) As both the patristic tradition of allegorical interpretation and the Lutheran distinction of Law and Gospel make clear, Scripture not only has multiple senses, but also multiple uses within the life of the Church. In the course of forming language that enables the Church to more faithfully worship (the true task of theology, incidentally)(17) and to more faithfully proclaim the Gospel as part of its mission, the Church will need to make diverse use of Scripture.

Scripture will need to be an object of historical-critical study if we are to understand the fullness of its meaning, and so hear its call in our present context. Scripture will need to be interpreted in order to explore or confirm the Church’s tradition of interpretation that we call its doctrine. Scripture will need to be sung, both to praise and glorify God, and also to give shape and form to the Church’s worship. Primarily, Scripture must be prayed, a practice that encompasses all of the previous uses. All use of Scripture should be prayer, for prayer places both individual and community in an open, receptive, humble, and personal relationship with the God who has not only spoken, but continue to speak. This God is a living God, and through the Spirit invites the Church and the world into an intimate relationship that is more akin to a joining God on stage for a jazz improvisation session than research laboratory. Interpretation is thus more akin to an art than a science.

16 Peterson lectures 12.08.10 and 12.10.10.
17 Here I have in mind Andrew Louth’s observation in his Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983) that in the Eastern Fathers in particular, there is no division between theology and spirituality, no dissociation between the mind which knows God and the heart which loves him,” for “a theologian…is one who has attained a state of pure prayer…if you are a theologian, you pray truly, and if you pray truly, you are a theologian” (Louth 4). I would say both theology and prayer need a third component, that of attention to Scripture, which allows for deeper prayer and more faithful theology, which, in turn enable more faithful readings of Scripture!

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