Sunday, 21 October 2012

Developmental understanding of God,

I am reading your 2011 book on "Testing Scripture". In it, several times you make a case for the developmental understanding of God, and God's relation to the world, found across the historical development of the canon.

When I make this case, I have been accused of implicitly violating Article XX of the 39 Articles: "the Church [may not] ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another."

By saying that a certain portion is "less developed" than later Scripture, and therefore superseded by it, I have been told that this is making one place in Scripture "repugnant" to another. I would assume that this same criticism could be, or has been, leveled at you.

If this is the case, what is your reply?

Response: It's rather encouraging to hear that people take the 39 Articles that seriously!

I don't think it is at all "repugnant" to say that all scriptures, especially the OT, must be interpreted in the light of Christ. It was long known to the Fathers that much of the OT should be interpreted allegorically and christologically, and indeed this was (I believe) considered the highest form of interpretation.  A favourite example (which we use in Questions of Truth) is St Benedict interpreting the (apparent) blessing on bashing babies brains out in Psalm 137 as an injunction to nip sins in the bud.

John adds: I see the 39 Articles as 'historic formularies', very much embedded in their own time. They do not carry the authority of, say, the Creeds. I have a great respect for scripture but part of taking it seriously is to recognise tensions within it, for example between the stories of genocide in Joshua and the Lord's command to love our enemies. I think this requires an acknowledgement of the unfolding developmental character of God's revelation through the biblical authors. You might be interested to look at my Encountering Scripture.

Follow-up: Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I think that what you say makes a great deal of sense, and I use similar explanations when describing the matter myself. However, what I am dealing with here is a Church culture that is heavily immersed in the southern U.S. "Bible Belt", and speaking of any style of interpretation other than "literal" is often interpreted as a liberal cop-out. Even if one points out both the historic antecedents found in the great Tradition of the Church.

And, I suppose that just has to be the way it is, and one must explain things as best they can.

Second Response: Well whatever St Augustine and St Benedict were, they were hardly “liberals”.

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