Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Relentless Intimacy: The Peculiar Labor of an Anglican Biblical Scholar

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Relentless Intimacy: The Peculiar Labor of an Anglican Biblical Scholar

Article excerpt

"Mystery meeting mystery" - for the last several years I have seized upon this phrase as a touchstone with which I approach the hearing, reading, and interpretation of the Scriptures within a Ufe of faith. By it I wish to evoke a theological framework that begins with the recognition of the nature of texts and traditions as infinitely mysterious, with what is visible and knowable always leading into territory that is yet to be explored and incapable of being fully known. This framework likewise recognizes the nature of readers, hearers, and interpretive communities as also infinitely mysterious, as full of hidden depths, unspoken histories and memories, and as constituted by lives that ultimately are completely known only by God. In other words, I wish to claim for critically engaged biblical interpretation an environment that is characterized by thorough exploration, insightful analysis, and unwavering historical rigor, as well as by a certain apophatic acknowledgment of the fragmentary and fragile nature of our knowledge. Any good historian appropriately wishes the same, and especially those who work witb ancient texts and cultures, for which our knowledge is so limited by the tiny amount of material remaining.1

By the phrase "mystery meeting mystery," however, I also wish to claim something more: namely, that as an interpreter takes up the text, she encounters something that is an artifact of communities' and individuals' experience of engagement with what they recognized as God. It is an artifact of relationship, encounter, invitation, or struggle - all marked by the depth and complexities of human life as well as by the enigmatic revelation and elusiveness of a God beyond human knowing. The text that the interpreter takes up is a moment of utterance out of a relationship that existed centuries before and a relationship that was always more complex than could ever be contained by human words or images. This interpreter meets the text with all the mystery of her own life, with questions and conflicts, with what lurks in the shadows of her knowledge of herself, with what is acknowledged and what is unacknowledged about her way of being in the world. Above all, from the standpoint of faith, she takes up the text as one in whom God is already at work in ways seen and unseen, in a manner that she recognizes or in ways that are unfamiliar and quite unnamed. The same, moreover, may be said about any community of interpreters: they encounter the mystery of die text out of the manifold complexity and historical depth of their corporate life as well as of who they are as individuals. Two images torn from their contexts evoke this relationship between text and interpreter. One is Michelangelo's depiction of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: the fingertip of God reaches out and just touches the fingertip of the first human - the moment of mystery meeting mystery. The other is the bidding of Christian hospitality and reconciliation, "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom. 16: 16), whether between strangers or friends - the complex mystery of one human life touching another in the moment of the kiss, and thus constituting the bond of community.

In this essay I undertake an extended reflection on what it is to be a biblical scholar whose Ufe and work is firmly rooted within the Anglican tradition, particularly as shaped within the North American context. The essay grows out of a keynote address that I gave in November 2010 to the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars2 in connection with that group s consideration of the Anglican Communion project on "The Bible in the Life of the Church."3 My reflections have been focused by my participation in the North American Regional Group for this project, but have also been shaped over my years of teacliing, preaching, and conversation in the pastoral and parochial contexts, as well as in theological education and in the university. This essay is, of necessity, an intensely personal reflection, informed by my perspectives and implicitly by my experiences. …

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