We have been digging into the authority of Scripture in Theology class. We’ve done a semi-formal debate, and now we’re completing a paper. Though in the meantime we’ve also been tackling the Trinity—even tougher!—and are in the midst of Providence. (Did you know theologians make providential jokes? It’s providential that you’ve heard them! Or haven’t heard them! Ha! Ha, ha, ha… 😉 )
I did not screw my courage to the sticking-place (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7), because courage was not what I lacked… butt-in-chair-ness was what I lacked when the assignment was handed out two weeks ago. Today I screwed my tuchus to the sticking-place! So now the paper due tomorrow is completed. And posted. And therefore off my hands.
But then there’s you. Patient you, who because it’s now 10:20pm and an hour past my bedtime, are in danger of being done out of your post. Howsomever, I think the summation of my paper stands alone pretty well… guess you’re going to find out, regardless-!
Please find, for your edification, a little of what I’ve been doing at seminary for the past four weeks.
As a life-long Presbyterian, descended from generations of Presbyterians, I had never paused outside our understanding of Scripture as a personal experience mediated by the Holy Spirit. Even within the context of pastoral teaching within worship, I have always weighed what was said against the Holy Spirit’s revelation of the text to me that day. Sometimes pastors can be mistaken, after all; they’re as human as the saints sitting down to listen. As a new member of the seminary community, however, I have begun thinking seriously about our charge to share, about how what each of us does within seminary is not simply for our persons but also for our wider communities. It was with this in mind that I was drawn into these more communal understandings of Scriptural authority. The notion that Scripture ceases to be holy in isolation is an intriguing one to me. It creates a compelling resonance with the Great Commission— that is, our faith in Jesus Christ is not simply for our personal benefit but as part of a wider responsibility. Too, it connects to biblical teaching that true callings from God will be confirmed by one’s faith community; messages in isolation are suspect, and should be handled carefully.
However, it was with Evans’ articulation of the African-American understanding of Scriptural authority that I felt the greatest kinship, more so than with my own tradition. I find myself in deep sympathy with, “In explaining the full meaning of God’s revelation, Bible study leaders give consideration to the whole Scripture and its unfolding movement. Afterward, they decide the priority which should be given to selected texts” (emphasis mine) (Evans, p. 46). The idea that in reading and understanding Scripture, one “exercise[es] a theological imagination that, like a prism, first focuses and then refracts the biblical text” (Evans, p. 46) aligns with my intuited experience as one involved in an intense group devotional Bible study for the past five years. I particularly rejoiced at Evans’ quote of Robert Alter as a sort of semper reformanda mapped to our Scriptural understanding: “Meaning […] was conceived as a process, requiring continual revision— both in the ordinary sense and in the etymological sense of seeing-again […]” (Evans, p. 46.) This, indeed, is the experience my group-mates and I affirm over our collective centuries of devotional reading: God’s authoritative Word, upon each reading, unfolds itself in ever new (and frequently unexpected) ways. To have my friend who is nearly 90 express the same startled wonder when re-reading a Scriptural passage that I feel at nearly 50 and that my daughter notes at 19 is a miracle given by the Holy Spirit to us individually and collectively, all at the same time. “[T]he Bible is a ‘reservoir of meaning,’ whose full bounty is granted only to a living community of faith (Evans, p. 51). I am glad to have paused long enough to stop, to see this properly, and to now be able to take this back and affirm it in my communities.
Evans, James H., Jr. “The Bible: a text for outsiders” Chap. 2 in We have been believers: an African-American systematic theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992. pp. 33-52.