Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Formation of Godly Community: Old Testament Hermeneutics in the Presence of the Other

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Formation of Godly Community: Old Testament Hermeneutics in the Presence of the Other

Article excerpt

Reading Scripture together has always been a formative practice for Christian communities. In times of acute hermeneutical crisis, it is imperative that we continue to read in the presence of the Other, that is, in conversation with those whose perspectives and commitments differ from our own. Toward this end, the essay underlines the importance of two shifts in hermeneutics: first, the complication of notions of "text" and "reading" by ideological criticism and postmodernist questions; second, the increasingly sophisticated attention being paid to rhetorical aspects of Scripture. The essay then presents a traditional patristic reading of the story of Rahab as a paradigm of Gentile faith, followed by a contemporary postcolonial rereading of Rahab as a marginalized victim of violent colonization. Bringing alternate readings such as these into conversation may create powerful opportunities for us to live faithfully and responsively as readers of Scripture in matrices of disagreement and alternative witness.

"Take and read! Take and read!" A childlike chant prompted Augustine to open his heart to the authority of Scripture, and the anguished sinner was transformed. A single transparent moment in the act of reading Romans-so the metanarrative goes-had profound consequences for the life of Augustine and for the shape of the Christian theological tradition. But many of us who "take and read" these days do not find the act of interpreting Scripture to be as uncomplicated as it may have been in that garden for Augustine. The church finds itself today, no less and no more than in previous centuries, in a highly charged battle of hermeneutical perspectives. Our current debates have been described simplistically as struggles between conservative and liberal approaches to the Bible. But they may be more fruitfully characterized as the vitally important efforts of readers to bring into conversation scriptural truths that transcend and expand the limitations of human understanding, on the one hand, and scriptural truths that honor the particular contextual variables of human life, on the other. Further complications abound when struggles are played out among interpretive temperaments that value tradition and temperaments that are drawn to reform, temperaments that laud pragmatism as the only rational way forward and temperaments that thrive on visionary idealism. How, then, do we all read Scripture together, in community?1

Reading Scripture together has always been a formative practice for Christian communities of conviction, and reading practices certainly shape the heart of Anglican identity. We read the Bible with each other, proclaiming its redemptive Word in worship, wrestling with its cruxes in Bible studies, exploring its complexities in seminary classrooms. We read the Bible at each other as well, mining its riches for a devastating catchphrase to put ecclesial opponents in their place, using biblical texts to silence the impertinent question of a skeptic, aggressively citing Jesus or Paul or Leviticus in order to destabilize those whose readings of Scripture discern truths other than the ones to which we cling.2

Practices of reading are among the most life-giving and most dangerous of all the operations of human culture. The power of reading to shape godly communities is phenomenal: transformative, Spirit-filled, and upbuilding at its best, to be sure, but ruthlessly deformatiye and deeply harmiul at its worst, and never more damaging to the gospel of Christ than when Scripture is commodified to serve our addictions to power and control. That is most certainly not how we learned Christ.3

Hence hermeneutics is vitally important for the life of the church and must be addressed by church leaders, and indeed all believers,4 with as much integrity, sophistication, and courage as we can muster. The ways in which we practice our reading strategies together in communities of faith affect every other aspect of our Christian life and witness. …

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