Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reading the Bible Canonically as Scripture

Well, I never intended to get into such controversial issues in those last posts, especially since I see so many of them as tangential to what we should be talking about when it comes to Scripture. I'm in Arizona and then California for a few days for a family wedding, and didn't want to leave my blog fixed in the mud. So here's a quick thought on what it might mean to read the Bible Christianly and canonically.

1. We read the Bible more as a single book than as individual books.
This is of course how Christians throughout the centuries have read the Bible. In my opinion, fundamentalism and early neo-evangelicalism have tried to continue to read the Bible in this way without making the necessary hermeneutical adjustments. To read the Bible as a single book, once one is more fully aware of their historical particularity, requires a person to loosen their meanings somewhat from their historical contexts.

This loosening of concrete historical meaning to read the Bible as a single book need not deny the historical particularity of the books themselves as individual moments of inspiration. We just need to be open to a slightly different meaning for them, including a different significance, when we read them as a whole.

2. The unifying principle of this canonical reading is a story, the story of creation and redemption.
The significance of Adam, Moses, Jesus, and the church is a significance they take on in a unified story. Historically, Adam and Moses did not have the same significance in their particular books historically as they have in the Christian story. And the nature of the church and the full significance of Jesus, have involved much outworking in the days since the final books of the New Testament were written. The Christian story is anticipated by the snippets of the individual books of the Bible, but the story as a whole is "extra" biblical.

3. The authoritative import of Scripture derives from a mysterious intersection between the text, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.
And all three are essential Christian ingredients. The text in itself is susceptible to multiple patterns of meaning. This is true of individual texts but the polyvalence of the text multiplies massively as we begin to ask how individual texts might be integrated with other biblical texts.

By the Church, we refer to that mysterious body of Christ and the communion of the saints that does not coincide exactly with any physical or political body. But all true believers today are in a body with all the true believers of the centuries, and the Spirit speaks through that collection to lead it to understand the Bible as God wills in any given time and place.

So it is not the Bible alone, nor any specific church or churches alone, but the mysterious intersection of these groups from which the Bible as Scripture derives, the book of Scripture as a whole read canonically, through the eyes of the Spirit speaking through the Church. The original inspiration was infallible and inerrant for given times and places and given circumstances in the flow of revelation. But the most authoritative, inspired, infallible, and inerrant word of God in human language is the canonical one, the meaning and import of the text inspired in the Church through the Spirit.


Keith Drury said...

(RE: #3)
Thus we believe in one God in three persons—God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit... we "see" it in the Bible because the Church has through the ages seen it and made this the canonical interpretation. Right?

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, in my opinion, it would in theory be possible to configure the relationships between Father, Son, and Spirit differently based strictly on the New Testament texts themselves. And in fact, that is exactly the discussion we see taking place for the first 400 years of the church. The reading we now find so obvious and common sensical is really a canonical, Christian reading of the NT texts forged in the mysterious interaction between the biblical texts and the Holy Spirit patiently leading the Church to a particular understanding.

I see no other way for us to remain orthodox Christians without some view of this sort.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Are you talking of the controversy that split the Church into East and West?

If so, how do you suggest proposing a "universal" way of "forming" individuals into "chirt's image", without suggesting that his hisotrical life is to the epitome of the "universal"? Wherein lies social responsibility in governmental leaders and not just in charitable/humanitarian work (as his life was not one of power or position)? Is Jesus' example one for social control, in submission to the "Father's will", while governmental leadership determines what the "father's will" is and how it should be implimented?