This year (2010) I am redoubling my efforts to better develop (and justify) my convictions on same-sex issues. In addition to that, I strongly suspect that part and parcel with this process is a deeper grasp of the nature of Scripture in the Christian Tradition.
Therefore, I am reading Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior (2006) with great interest. Martin identifies himself as both a “reader-response” theorist and as a post-structuralist. He thus roots himself within two schools of thought from which I have learned much over the years, and which I think ought to be incorporated into theology in a non-reductive way. That is, theology ought to be open (as Radical Orthodoxy is) to both of these ways of thinking without granting them complete hegemony over Scripture, turning it into something which they alone can define and describe. For example, reader response theory rightly points out the role of the reader’s (or the community of readers’) interpretation for meaning. However to reduce the meaning of the text down to just this aspect (thus ignoring authorial intent and the text itself) does violence to meaning.
When it comes to the biblical hermeneutics of historical criticism, whereas I would want to recognize the legitimacy of this approach as a part of the total meaning of the text (seeing a pre-modern precedent in the sensus literalis), Martin wants to discard it completely.
Only thus can Martin deny that Scripture affirms the immorality of same-sex practice, which is one of the central goals of his book.
Martin rejects all attempts to justify the use of this hermeneutic approach theologically. For example, he rejects the argument that, due to the historical nature of the Christian religion (seen for example in the doctrine of the Incarnation), historical criticism is necessary or helpful for determining the meaning of a text.
That God took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazereth is unverifiable by historical study, says Martin. And I agree with him on this. However, the point of the historical – critical method (rightly used) is not to verify the claims of Scripture or theology. This would be to subsume theology under the standards of modern science. Rather, the historical – critical method is rightly used to shed light upon the original meaning of a text (be it author’s intent or original audience’s understanding).
So the Incarnation’s unverifiability (and resultant unfalsifiability) by the canons of modern scientific study is irrelevant to the validity of the use of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.
For Origen, by way of contrast, the meaning of the terms employed by the ancient author (or authors, or redactor(s)) is helpful for understanding the original meaning of the text. This is not at all to say that the sensus literalis, was the most important sense for someone like Origen. On the contrary, Martin rightly points out that this is not the case. However, it is a crucial aspect of the full meaning of the text, and it is also first in order of sequence, serving as a foundation for other senses such as the allegorical sense.
Nothing Martin says in this book undermines such an approach.
The other day while listening to NPR I heard about how the Chinese delegate to the ongoing Environmental Summit in Stockholm harshly took the world’s so-called developed nations to task for their hypocrisy and irresponsibility in various ecological and environmental matters.
Of course, we have been seeing this kind of thing from China more and more over the years, and it is only going to continue.
On the front page of today’s New York Times there is a fascinating little article on how recently a Chinese teams of art scavengers have been “rading” various various museums across the nation and Europe, in search of artifacts which they believe to be rightfully theirs, including “items ensconced at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, which was one of the world’s most richly appointed imperial residences until British and French troops plundered it in 1860.
Why is an Episcopal clergy person blogging about this on a blog dedicated to things theological? Mainly because he is convinced that, from here on out, the world will be witnessing the flexing of China’s newfound muscles more and more, as the American Empire begins to wane.
What does this mean for the church? Much more than I can now begin to go into….
I have been trying to relocate this Luther quotation for years, ever since my dad originally showed it to me from a service leaflet from his church, The Falls Church (Episcopal). It is vintage Luther.
When a man begins to discuss predestination, the temptation is like an inextinguishable fire; the more he disputes, the more he despairs. Our God is opposed to this disputation, and accordingly he has provided against it in baptism, the Word, the sacraments, and various signs. In these we should trust and say: “I am baptized; I believe in Jesus Christ; what does it concern me, whether or not I am predestined?” He has given us ground to stand on, that is, Jesus Christ, and through him we may climb to heaven. He is the one way and the gate to the Father. But when we begin in the devil’s name to build first on the roof above, scorning the ground, then we fall!…. I forget all that Christ and God are, when I get to thinking about this matter, and come to believe that God is a villain. We ought to remain by the Word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation offered, if we believe it. Moreover, in trying to understand predestination, we forget God, we cease to praise and we begin to blaspheme. In Christ, however, are hid all treasures; without him none may be had. Therefore we should give no place whatever to this argument concerning predestination.
A couple of thoughts about this:
1. The part about Christ, through whom we may climb to heaven, being the one way and the gate to the Father reminds me of a quotation I read recently by Hugh of St. Victor: “We travel to God along the road of God.”
2. For me this quotation of Luther’s vindicates the attempts of the “Federal Vision” folks in my former church, the PCA, in their attempts to develop a theology and practice which emphasizes visible means (evoked by the word “covenant”) over an undue stress on God’s election.
The following is an article I wrote for the people of my church.
As a relative newcomer to the “Anglican Way” and the Episcopal Church, I have lots of friends and loved ones who view the liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church with puzzlement and confusion (sometimes mixed with boredom). “Why all the pomp and circumstance?” they often ask, with glazed over eyes, perhaps in not so many words. Some of these friends are still in more “evangelical” churches such as non-denominational “megachurches” or the Baptist church like the one just around the corner from your house. Some of them, quite frankly, are not in any church at all (hence I think of them as more “secular types”).
Perhaps you can relate to this experience of mine. Perhaps you have brought friends to Christ Church and they have been confounded by (what they perceive to be) the lofty pageantry our worship. Whether it is the bishop’s mitre (one friend at my ordination service exclaimed, “I can’t believe bishops nowadays really wear those hat thingies!”) or the procession of the choir and altar party at the beginning of the service, the liturgical aspects of our worship can seem deeply foreign to modern people.
So why do we persist in doing these strange things? After all, perhaps our church would grow faster if we focused more on entertaining people. Maybe if we stopped fussing about all this liturgical stuff, we could get busy doing “real work” like feeding the hungry or assisting the poor.
Good questions, all. And I think that if we are not asking them and struggling with the answers, then our Baptist and megachurch friends might actually be in a more healthy place spiritually than we are!
In light of all this, I want to introduce you to a series on liturgical worship which I will be doing in The Crucifer during 2011, called “Questioning our Worship” (see below). I hope that you will take the time to engage in these and other questions you have about our worship at Christ Church.
- Question #1: Why come on Sunday if I can read my Bible at home? (The role of community in worship.)
- Question #2: Why ruin my weekend (I need to sleep in on Sunday morning!)? (Sunday as Day of Resurrection.)
- Question #3: Why is Worship so boring sometimes? (The role of discipline in an entertainment culture.)
- Question #4: Why all the standing & kneeling? (Worshipping with our Bodies).
- Question #5: Why all the Words, Scripture, & Creeds? (Anamnesis as re-membering the Story.)
- Question #6: Does the Bible tell us to worship this way? (Worship as prior to Scripture.)
- Question #7: Why Sacraments? (The Importance of Christology in Worship.)
- Question #8: C’mon, is the Bread really the Body of Christ? (Anglicanism on the Eucharist).
- Question #9: Why water in baptism, and why babies? (Anglicanism on Baptism.)
- Question #10: Why so much repetition? (Worship as the development of habits which train us in virtue.)
For now, though, I wanted simply to discuss this strange word “liturgy.” What exactly does this word mean, and where does it come from?
The word “liturgy” comes from two Greek roots. The “lit” part comes from a Greek word that means “people.” The “urgy” part derives from the Greek ergon (think of an “ergonomic chair” which helps one perform work more effectively). So “liturgy” means, literally, “the work of the people.”
This idea reminds us of the words of I Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.” When St. Peter wrote these words, he was not writing to some elite class of “super spiritual” people, and he was not writing only to priests or bishops. He was writing to “ordinary” Christians just like you, who have been baptized into Christ, and who are members of his body by virtue of that baptism and your faithful participation in the Gospel.
As priests, as a priestly people, our primary work or service, then, is to worship God, and this is why we worship the way we do.