"Of course the Church creates the meaning of Scripture, but that does not invite an orgy of subjectivistic arbitrariness. Rather the Church must continue to rerun to the Scriptures because they are so interesting, given the Church’s task to live as a people of memory in a world without memory. The Church returns time and time again to Scripture not because it is trying to find Scripture’s true meaning, but because Christians believe that God has promised to speak through Scripture so that the Church will remain capable of living faithful by remembering well. The more interesting the challenges facing the Church, the more readings we will need. It is for this reason that the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, tests contemporary readings of Scripture against the tradition, knowing that such readings help us to see the limits of the present."
— Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 36-37.
So, below the “read more” you’ll find this morning’s sermon. If you missed the last one I posted you can find it here. You can also, if you are so inclined, follow the tag “#scott preaches.” I’m going to have more preaching opportunities so I’ve decided to share some of my manuscripts with you, my readers.
"North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their “common sense” is sufficient for “understanding” the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the “religious experience” necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church."
Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 15.
It’s worth noting that Hauerwas is not saying that the average person is intellectually incapable, i.e. not educated enough, to read the Bible on their own. The issue is not that people are not schooled in the most recent form of higher criticism or hermeneutics. Instead, the issue lies in how people are formed within a community.
Hauerwas posits, and I find myself agreeing with him, that people in America come to the Scriptures presupposing democratic and American values. Before people can be expected to read and encounter the Bible as Christians, they have to be taught how. American presuppositions must somehow be un-taught.
"The parable of the prodigal son is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place. It is the first and everlasting love of a God who is Father as well as Mother. It is the fountain of all true human love, even the most limited. Jesus’ whole life and preaching had only one aim: to reveal this inexhaustible, unlimited motherly and fatherly love of his God and to show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives. In his painting of the father, Rembrandt offers me a glimpse of that love. It is the love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate."
— Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Doubleday, 1993),108-109.
"Paul’s letter to the Romans is not an answer to the question, How can I be saved? Rather, it is his answer to the question, How will the world be redeemed, and how do I faithfully participate in that redemption? For Paul the question had great urgency, since God had already initiated the process of redemption."
— Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 252.
"In the Bible, the ethical issue becomes simply: how can a person act humanly now? Be cautioned once more that by putting the ethical question so starkly, no pretext is furnished for reading it as a private or individualistic query. Indeed, the use of the adverb ‘humanly’ renders the question political; there is, in the biblical witness, no way to act humanely in isolation from the whole of humanity, no possibility for a person to act humanely without becoming implicated with all other human beings."
William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians& Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, TX; Word Books, 1973), 56.
I’m interested to see where he takes ideas like this further in the book. The problem which he seems to be diagnosing resembles some of what MacIntyre wrote about in ‘After Virtue’ about ten years later. For MacIntyre at least, the issue is in learning how to think and act morally, that is, ethically, in a manner which is grounded in an experience of community and growth. MacIntyre locates such a place of learning in the Church, and I feel that Stringfellow would say some similar things.
"Any literalistic interpretations of the Bible are a false pretense - a substitute for, rather than a type of exegesis - which violates by their verbatim mechanics the Bible’s generic virtue as a living testament. They devalue the humanity of the reader or listener by assigning the person a narrow and passive role depleted of the dignity of participation in encounter with the biblical Word which the vitality of the Word itself at once invites and teaches."
— William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1973), 50.
"The risk in so treating the Babylon adventure is that some will conclude that these times in America are apocalyptic and then hasten on to confuse an American apocalypse with the Apocalypse. Well, these are apocalyptic days for America, I believe, but an American apocalypse is not likely to be the terminal event of history. To indulge this confusion is, I think, an inverse and perverse form of the same vanity in which the “American dream” or the popular mythology concerning a unique destiny of the American nation has come to so many, many Americans to mean grandiose visions of paradise found."
— William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1973), 33.
To interpret the Bible for the convenience of America, as apropos as that may seem to be to any Americans, represents a radical violence to both the character and content of the biblical message. It fosters a fatal vanity that America is a divinely favored nation and makes of it the credo of a civic religion which is directly threatened by, and, hence, which is anxious and hostile toward the biblical Word. It arrogantly misappropriates political language from the Bible and applies them to America, so that America is conceived of as Zion: as the righteous nation, as a people of superior political morality, as a country and society chosen and especially esteemed by God. In archetypical form in this century, material abundance, redundant productivity, technological facility, and military predominance are publicly cited to verify the alleged divine preference and prove the supposed national virtue.
It is just this kind of Sadducean sophistry, distorting the biblical truth for American purposes, which, in truth, occasions the moral turmoil which the nation so manifestly suffers today and which, I believe, renders us a people as unhappy as we are hopeless. It is profane, as well as grandiose, to manipulate the Bible in order to apologize for America.
William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974), 13-14.
It really blows my mind that this was written over 40 years ago. Stringfellow was writing well before the American Evangelical propaganda machine got its wheels turning and became the huge voting block that it is today. These words are truly prophetic.
Slaves rarely possessed Bibles that could be the basis for studying the message of the gospel. Most slaves were illiterate and had to comprehend the nature of the gospel through their encounter with the Word that was preached, prayed, and sung.
There were no rational answers to the questions that must have loomed large in their collective consciousness: Why did they have to suffer? Who ordained it? Was it deserved? They fixed their attention on the image of God choosing to enter into the very depths of their tragic condition to share their fate, which was crucifixion. This was an aesthetic perception of their reality, and perhaps all reality’s super-sensuous substrate - the Infinite appearing in the finitude of suffering and death. It was not an answer to the great theodicy question at the rational level, but it was a balm and consolation at the ontological level.
— James A. Noel, ‘Where You There?’ in The Passion of the Lord, ed. by James A. Noel and Matthew V. Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 44-45.