Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The biblical audience?

Over on Metalepsis a good friend of mine posted the following (a number of days ago, it must be said; I apologise if this is somewhat untimely):
Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No Task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eight-grade comencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.
After quickly looking through the extended dialogue between Bryan and TheBlueRaja, maybe I misunderstood Bryan's post (the discussion is largely one of epistemology). But it still raises an important question: for whom was the Bible written/is the Bible intended?

Let me quickly admit that I agree that the Bible is a 'dangerous' text and that the Christian (Catholic and Protestant) world must largely admit responsibility for the uses to which it has put its foundational text. But this isn't the sum total of what it means for the Bible to be 'dangerous'; this same quality (perhaps 'aggressive' is a better word) is behind the good that has been done, historically, as a result of the claims and expectations that the biblical traditions make on people's lives.

In the end, however, I felt it necessary to publicly declare my utter opposition to the sentiment above. (This seems to be a constant feature of interaction between Bryan and myself.) In the words of someone up to whom I look (it's quite hard not to end a phrase with a preposition, ain't it?!), 'God is a demagogue', in the second sense given on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website. We (academic, largely Western and highly privileged individuals who primarily worry about where we'll eat rather than when) are not the people for whom the gospel was primarily intended. And I question whether we have the right to prevent others from accessing the Bible 'on their own'.

Actually, it seems to me that many of the problems beguiling the church throughout Christian history are related to the tendency of the privileged (scribal/priestly/scholarly, etc.) to take the Bible out of the hands of the demos. Perhaps we are the ones who have something to learn from the child with the Bible in his hands; perhaps we are the ones who are dogged by 'habits far too corrupt' for us to lay claim to the traditions of the church.

[Postscript: None of this is to suggest that American/Western Christianity is 'unelite', or that American/Western Christianity is not in need of its prophets to sound the call of repentance and reform. But I humbly suggest that our role, as academics, is to empower the church to a ministry of restoration, reconciliation, and involvement, rather than cut off the church from its source of tradition, identity, and purpose.]


metalepsis said...

The provocative quote by Hauerwas was to call attention to need for discipleship, too often we in the democratized west think that we can interpret the scriptures without any biblical orientation, and the danger here is that the bible strokes our ‘western’ egos and is no longer able to confront the potential dangers that liberal democracies might in fact have on readings of the bible.

It is over the top, but that is why I love reading the prophets (or Hauerwas for that matter).

Rafael Rodriguez said...

I see the point (I hope my post made this obvious), but I'm a bit concerned about the danger that we think WE (scholars) have 'a biblical orientation' while the poor schmucks in the pews (and, frequently, funding our lifestyles) don't. The (American) church has largely lost the focus on following Jesus - discipleship - that the gospels convey. I must admit, though, that I'm as much a part of that problem as I am - hopefully - a part of its solution.

eddie said...

I think there is something to be said for Hauerwas point, in that the way most New Zealand Christians treat the Bible today, seems to me, unhelpful in many respects. I'll expand my thoughts in a coming blog entry. But for now I affirm that there would be no problem if discipleship were done well, and Jesus followers were shown what the Bible is and hence how to read it well.

This may ring with the "we have a bibliccal orientation" whereas you dont, if you mean by that, that we know how to read it and they dont. But to an extent I would have to affirm this. There are many ways or reading the Bible and goals for doing so (hermeneutic frameworks), but many of them obscure more than they reveal.

Just some thoughts...

TheBlueRaja said...

The thrust of Hauerwas' sentiments here is to illustrate the need for the Bible to be the rule for Christians, not the source of moralizing platitudes for those who are not actually committed to following Christ. Thus those who he's speaking of depriving from the Bible aren't the faithful within the Christian community only to be placed in the hands of academicians; the antagonism is between church/state, church/world, not the academy/church.

The discussion in the comments section quickly wandered from the topic of the post to Bryan's moving away from "critical realism". But it does relate indirectly, anyhow, because Hauerwas deems Christian schloarship to be a task exclusively for the Church and views doctrine as a cultural/linguistic dimension of community life whereas critical realists see theology as a public endeavor, and eschew the non-realist tendencies of the postliberal persuasion.

TheBlueRaja said...

Great blog, by the way! Welcome to the biblio-blogosphere!

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