Friday, 14 July 2017

Figural practice as a five-fold movement

From Ephraim Radner, Figural exegesis and the Anglican tradition
Figural practice can be imaginatively described as a five-fold movement: sowing, tending, gathering, sorting, and enjoying. There is nothing inevitable about this imaginative framework, of course, although it does have the advantage of having some scriptural resonance. In sowing, a biblical word is cast into the soil of the Scriptures and allowed to resonate, collide, scrape, and wander. In tending, there is a deliberate effort to let this seed do its resonating work — time, prayer, reflection, study. In gathering, the reader (ultimately the Church) consciously collates the accumulated connections and associations the original word or words have taken on. These become a fund or treasury, and at this point are most clearly given over to documentation. With sorting we come to the articulated effort to make sense of this collation. This is the stage we associate with theology or homiletics, dogmatics or controversy. Finally, in scriptural delight, the reader (and Church) turns all this work to God, and returns to prayer, considering the nurture the word has offered, and praising its speaker and person.

Figural Reading in the Anglican Tradition

The Living Church website recently run a series on Figural Reading in the Anglican Tradition. It consisted of the following posts published between 14 March and 20 June 2017:
Introductory essay by David Ney, “The bare reading of Scripture and Anglican hermeneutics
First, I will suggest that being a community gathered around the Word of God is central to Anglican identity. Second, I will argue that, historically, to speak of Anglicanism as a community gathered around the Word is to speak of the prayer book tradition and the way it orders the communal reception of God’s Word. Finally, I will suggest that this ordered reception breeds a particular response to Scripture: the prayer book’s juxtaposition of “bare” Scriptural texts commends figural reading.
Ephraim Radner, Figural exegesis and the Anglican tradition

From the final essay:
The different articles have emphasized that the individual interpreters had their unique approaches to figural interpretation, but they all approached their craft from a particular standpoint: As members of the prayer book tradition they received the “allness” of Scripture, and their particular figural practices therefore must be seen as particular responses to this allness. In this final post, I will suggest that these figural practices are far more than merely idiosyncratic responses to Scripture’s breadth. These practices help us to see that, for Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike, the Christian interpretation of Scripture has little to do with the division between subject and object that modern critical studies take for granted. Instead, Christian readers are drawn into the Scriptures, unveiled for who they are, and, through the integrative reach of the divine Word, transformed. When pursued in common, the figural interpretation of the Bible finally refashions and transfigures the Church as a whole.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Metaphysics of Participation

“The Catholic exegete and theologian Francis Martin has shown that biblical interpretation requires an account of historical reality informed by a scriptural metaphysics rooted in the relation of “participation” that is creation.[1] This is so because exegesis (including much contemporary exegesis) that participates doctrinally and spiritually in the realities depicted by Scripture, and thus reads Scripture not merely as a record of something strictly in the past, requires the sense that all human time participates metaphysically (order of creation) and Christologically-pneumatologically (order of grace) in God’s eternal Providence and therefore that no historical text or event can be studied strictly “on its own terms.” Conversely, certain metaphysical presuppositions are inadequate to Christian biblical interpretation.”

[1] Francis Martin, “Revelation as Disclosure: Creation,” in Wisdom and Holiness, Science and Scholarship: Essays in Honor of Matthew L. Lamb, ed. Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering (Naples, Fla.: Sapientia Press, 2007), 205-47.

Matthew Levering's Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 18.

Participatory Biblical Exegesis

From the introductory chapter of Matthew Levering's Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008).

“Participatory biblical exegesis locates the linear-historical details within a participatory-historical frame, a frame established by God’s creative and redemptive work in history. Such exegesis is ongoing whenever people presume that a biblical text about Jesus is about the Jesus whom they worship in the Church, or whenever people suppose that the local churches founded by St. Paul have a real analogue today. It is ongoing whenever people pray, receive the sacraments, or ask forgiveness in the context of the reading and teaching of Scripture, It involves an understanding of historical realities, of our place in the history of salvation, that comes naturally to the believer. Yet it is one whose justification has largely been lost and needs reclaiming.” (6)

“As traditionally understood, the spiritual sense of Scripture serves to go deeper into the infinitely rich dimensions of the biblical realities.” “I hold that the literal sense itself possesses the resources for bridging past and present, because of the literals sense’s conjoined linear and participatory dimension. The literal sense of the divinely ordained realities present and active in linear history (for instance, covenantal Israel, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, the Church) possesses a participatory-historical dimension, since these diachronic realities expose how human time, already metaphysically participatory in God, shares ever more deeply in the infinite wisdom and love of divine action...I am aware that all the talk of metaphysics (participatory and nominalist) and its exegetical implications may put off both biblical scholars and theologians, for whom such discourse may be an undiscovered country or an outmoded theory.” (7)

“...interpreters must seek in and through Scripture the realities to which Scripture points. Yet these realities can only be sought in and through the words of Scripture, in and through the messiness of human history, into which linear-historical research can attain such valuable insight. For its full flourishing, participatory biblical exegesis thus requires not merely theological and metaphysical insights into God’s work of creation and redemption, but also historical-critical procedure of hypothesis and verification, as well as literary analysis. These approaches give insight into the full fabric of the texts’ richly human aspects, which are both participatory- and linear-historical. The integrity of linear-historical research does not require bracketing the participatory reality of God’s presence and action in history.
     In short, historical reconstruction that recognizes that historical reality is not solely linear, but rather is both linear and participatory (in the triune God’s creative and redemptive work), will be illumined both by linear-historical data and by participatory-historical ecclesial judgments about the divine realities involved.” (13)

“When the participatory dimension of reality is lacking, either anthropocentric readings of Scripture or, conversely, theocentric readings that deny the human dimension altogether, take over. By contrast, in participatory biblical exegesis one can integrate conceptually divine and human agency. On the one hand, everything comes from the triune God, the one in whom all finite things participate (metaphysically and Christologically-pneumatologically). For biblical exegesis, this means that the Bible is not ultimately about human beings, but rather about the triune God...On the other hand, the participatory relationship means that God’s action and human action are not in competition. In Scripture, the centrality of God’s teaching does not displace the human writing, editing, transmission, and interpretation of biblical texts, that is the human aspects of the text. These human aspects, of course, are not solely linear-historical. The task of appreciating the linear-historical “Messiness” of the biblical texts requires engaging the human aspects in their participatory-historical dimension.” (14)

“Once one understands reality as participatory-historical (providential and Christological-pneumatological) as well as linear-historical, what aspects of patristic-medieval biblical exegesis might once again be found valuable within contemporary biblical exegesis? Let this question stand as an overarching concern of the present book.” (16)

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Jesus of the Scars

This poem by Edward Shillito was first published in Jesus of the Scars, and Other Poems, a volume that appeared shortly after World War 1.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
      Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
      We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
      In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
      Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
      Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
      Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
      They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds speak;
      And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Cited in William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1949), 385; John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1986), 337; D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 170; Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 1175.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Ezekiel 37 and the ministry of Jesus

Ezekiel's famous vision of the dry bones can be read as anticipating that the ministry of the Son of Man would have two phases. In The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (SVT 76; Leiden: Brill, 1999) I argued that it is not merely for rhetorical effect that the bones are at first only re-constituted with a second act of prophesying required for the bodies to come to life and to stand up as a great army. Ezekiel 37 reflects the belief that it would take more than one generation for Ezekiel's prophecies to have their full effect. Within the first generation, during Ezekiel's oral ministry, the prophet gathers the community around him but without changing hearts and minds (see Ezekiel 33:31-32). This is not success; it is not failure either. It is a first step but more is required. In book form the prophetic word will give life to a future generation (see pages 199-209 for the detailed argument).

This can be related to different ways of hearing God's word. In many synagogues and churches today the reading and hearing of Scripture serves community cohesion, gathering people around a tradition. This is good but not the same as communities receiving life in the hearing of Scripture and so becoming a mighty force to be reckoned with.

Acts 1 tells us that during the forty days following his resurrection Jesus continued to speak with his disciples about the kingdom of God. His ministry prior to the ascension can be summed up as a re-constitution of the people of God, symbolised in the election of twelve disciples. This is completed by the replacement of Judas by Matthias. But the Gospels also show us that Jesus's disciples continually failed to "get it" and so they may remind us of bones coming together, bone to its bone, with flesh and sinews on them - but as yet without the breath of life.

The breath/Spirit is of course given at Pentecost which turns the disciples into a force to be reckoned with, no longer just gathered around Jesus but a people on fire with a mission. This time the major second step takes place within the same generation but similar to Ezekiel's, the ministry of Jesus can be divided in a first phase which focused on gathering and re-constituting God's people around the prophet and a second phase during which the wind/Spirit brings life to the people of God once the prophet has been taken out of sight.

Both movements, the gathering around Christ in word and sacrament, and the sending out to the ends of the earth, are still still important within the church. The second cannot truly happen without the first; the first is not enough without the second.

Monday, 15 May 2017

On St Matthias Day

O the promise of God’s presence
spurned as greed led to contempt
and to the great revocation
and to death.

One made God his chosen portion,
to do God’s will his daily bread.
Full of delight in all God’s people
he will not be held by death.

O the horror of being hurled away,
whirled round and round, thrust down,
vocation taken away.
Despair cuts out a tomb –

or is cut off on the holy hill,
pegged to the uncorrupt one
who fastened to the cross
draws all people to himself.

“The promise is for you,
for your children, and for all who are far away.”
It is for the fullness of God’s people,
as Matthias testifies today.

With Jesus from the beginning,
twice he saw him taken away,
now a witness of the resurrection,
and of the great re-vocation.

Called to abide in God’s presence,
called to remain faithful to the end,
called to be friends of Jesus,
and called to bear fruit that will last.

1 Samuel 2.27-35; Acts 2.37-47; Psalm 16; Isaiah 22.15-25; Psalm 15; Acts 1.15-26; John 15.9-17