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Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Haligweorc recently posted one of the best articles about the reading of Holy Scripture that I have read in quite a while.  His larger intent is to ask questions of how and why we read the Bible.  Specifically, he is comparing an “academic” reading of the bible with a “devotional” one.

He defines “academic reading” this way:

The academic of Scripture study focuses on a circumscribed set of questions: what were the circumstances around the writing of these books and their collection into one document? What do these texts teach us about what the people who wrote them thought? What do these texts reveal about the history and organization of the communities that created them? The bottom line is that the academic study of Scripture is securely located within the History of Ideas. It wants to know what things were thought by which people at which time and what would have been intended by what they wrote. The way that we typically wrap this up is to talk about the “literal” or “literary” meaning of the text and to make statements about “authorial intent.”

He never exactly defines devotional reading, but he uses medieval monastic readings as an example of devotional reading:

I look at how preachers, monks, ascetics, and liturgies have interpreted, re-used, or re-purposed biblical texts to further their own reading strategies and goals. What I found in my intensive study of early medieval monastic reading practices is that they had a very clear purpose in mind: how do we enact the text in order to become saints?

That question… How do we enact the text in order to become saints?… captured almost perfectly something I have been feeling for quite some time, and that I believe Anglicanism has been trying to say to the world for quite some time: What is at stake in the reading of scripture is not information, it is salvation… it is not merely about knowing something (although there are many important things to know), it is most importantly about becoming something.

Article 6 of the 39 Articles puts it as simply as it can be put:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation

 

Dr. Olsen continues in his post:

It’s not enough for us to read the Scriptures. Our work has not been completed until we have been transformed by them. And when I say “we” I mean “we,” not “you and me”—the whole community, the whole body of Christ, needs to be about the work of growing into the mind of Christ.

This is what the church needs to be about. This is the kind of reading that we have to be doing [before] the good results of well done academic scholarship are useful to us—but they cannot do our work for us. They are fundamentally not asking the same questions that we’re interested in; they are not finding the answers that will ultimately transform us.

He finishes his article by commending a type of reading that is informed by both patristics and by modern scholarship, but that has as its goal the salvation and sanctification of the reader.

This, I think, Anglicanism is uniquely qualified to do very well.  Interestingly enough, this sets Anglicanism over and against both protestant evangelical readings of scripture and modern liberal readings which are allied in the position that the dominant reading should be one informed by authorial intent & a scholarly understanding of the text.  Their methods are the same, they just disagree about the conclusions.  Dr. Olsen, and I believe Anglicanism, points us in another direction:

The literal meaning or the authorial intent is not necessarily the dominant reading. While it usually is one of the dominant meanings, there are times and places where it must give way in the face of more primary meanings.

Primary meanings being those given to us by the church catholic in her long life with the text in worship and formation.  I’ll give Dr. Olsen the last word:

The Scriptures are the Church’s book to be read paradigmatically within the Church’s liturgy that bring us into a deeper relationship with the God embodied, celebrated, and proclaimed within the Church.

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From the newly discovered Conciliar Anglican:

Classical Anglicanism is minimalistic about all of this. The 39 Articles are fairly clear on several points: that salvation comes through Christ alone, that justification is by faith alone, that works above and beyond our duty to God do not add to our salvation. These points are further elucidated by the Catechism, which moves from law to grace, assuring the cathecumen that he or she cannot fulfill God’s call to live a holy life by will power. In all of this, Anglicanism is consistently Protestant.

And yet, there is little official mention of sanctification. The articles make positive statements about the sacraments as means of grace, that they are “not only badges and tokens” but “effectual signs of grace” through which God “works invisibly within us” (Article XXV). This certainly implies an ongoing need for sanctification, but it doesn’t spell out why or how such a thing should take place, nor does it relate the topic back to justification. The liturgies of the Prayer Book reveal a similar emphasis, highlighting justification, acknowledging sanctification, but without making explicit how exactly we are to think about the whole thing.

The result of this lack of specification has been that Anglicans have often looked elsewhere for their soteriology. John Henry Newman attempted to harmonize justification by faith with the Council of Trent, which remains the approach of some Anglo-Catholics today, though Newman himself eventually found such an approach lacking. John Wesley, of course, took a unique approach which remains alive in Methodism. A large number of modern Anglicans, particularly in Africa, subscribe to a Pentecostal view. The Lutheran view is espoused by contemporary Anglican Evangelicals like Paul Zahl and Alister McGrath. FitzSimons Allison tends more towards the Reformed approach. Even the Eastern Orthodox view of salvation as theosis has had its Anglican proponents through the ages, most notably Charles Chapman Grafton and Michael Ramsey.

Since Anglicanism has never pronounced definitively on this topic, all of these approaches are acceptable. This doesn’t mean that they’re all correct, but merely that one cannot be deemed outside the bounds of the tradition so long as one holds a plausible rendering of justification by faith and an unswerving conviction in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as savior. The rest remains unsettled, not because Anglicanism is wishy-washy on this topic, but rather because one of the hallmarks of the Anglican approach to theology is a strong reluctance to say anything definitively that wasn’t said definitively by the early Church. The Anglican Reformers were willing to commit to justification by faith because it seemed to them to be plain in the reading of scripture and not in contradiction with the Fathers. But they were not agreed upon anything more, and to insist upon something that is so clearly unsettled is to invite schism and heresy.

Salvation, the Sacraments, and the Church

I would agree with the Anglican Reformers that an absolute dogma on the topic of sanctification is unwarranted when the Church exists, as she does today, in a state of disunity and disarray. We are all in schism. Novel pronouncements only serve to deepen the divide and further damage the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, there are implications to be drawn from the mind of the undivided Church on this matter. The focus of the Fathers upon the divinity and humanity of Christ is not just about our understanding of who Jesus is but also about our understanding of who we are in relation to Him. The creeds are not explicit about the nature of the atonement, and yet they do insist on belief in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” The nature and purpose of the Church was a very important topic for the Fathers, just as it is in scripture. Any orthodox notion of salvation, therefore, must make reference back to the Church as the chief means through which Christ’s work on the cross is realized. We are not saved merely as individuals. We are saved through our participation in Christ’s sacrifice by being drawn up into His Body, the Church, as Paul makes clear in any number of places. Indeed, Romans 6, which is a primary text for Luther and for Calvin, speaks explicitly of the death of the old body so that we might be brought into the new life of Christ. That new life is made manifest in the new Body. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:5).

Furthermore, while there is great latitude in how Anglicans may come to understand the sacraments, our formularies make clear that the sacraments are a means of grace and not merely symbols. As such, while we cannot necessarily say much definitively about how salvation works, we can say boldly, with the full backing of scripture and the Fathers, that the sacraments are a chief means by which saving grace is imparted to us. There is a reticence in pan-Anglican conversation to make too much out of the sacraments, for fear that such talk might unsettle those of a low church persuasion. But a firm conviction about the place of the sacraments in salvation does not necessitate a rejection of justification by faith alone, nor does it behold a person to believe in transubstantiation or any other way of understanding how Christ’s presence in the sacraments is actualized. Nevertheless, it does necessitate putting aside the strange and novel idea that Anglicans have ever believed that the sacraments were simply memorialist ordinances that have no value in and of themselves. Classical Anglicanism understood just what the early Church understood, that Baptism and the Eucharist are means by which God gives Himself to us, that we cannot be united to the Body of Christ unless we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, and we cannot be incorporated into the Body of Christ unless we are willing to receive the Body of Christ when it is tangibly, wholly, beautifully offered to us.

 

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Revelation and Christian Hope: Political Implications of the Revelation to John from Duke Divinity School on Vimeo.

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