Saturday, September 22, 2012
Bishop Ware is complaining about the way we have come to view the Bible. He is insistent that the Bible is not merely a "collection of historical documents" whose meaning, importance, and message can be authoritatively exhausted by academic scholarship. In fact, this is the primary problem with higher criticism. The major problem lies not in the conclusions of these methodologies but in the flawed perspective toward the Scriptures themselves. The Bible was and is and will always remain the Church's book. It can only be read and understood within the context of the faith and by the faithful. What has happened to Biblical scholarship is that the churches have ceded the higher critics, academicians, and historians the lead role in defining what the book is, what it is about, and what it means. This point of view can never answer these questions. The Bible is first and foremost the Word of God and its purpose is to bring us into the mystery of God as He has revealed Himself. These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you may have life in His name. Whenever and whoever shifts the message to mere stories and facts or instructions on a happier life or even behavioral change has missed what the Bible is, what it is about, and what it says. I am always reminded by the words of an esteemed Pastor who said that he had little use for most commentaries because they did not help him preach the text. It is not only possible but probable that we know a great deal about the text without knowing what it says. Unless it preaches, all that we know is largely theoretical and of little real value to the Church.
Israel kept the Scriptures within the church of the Old Testament and it became the vehicle not only of faithful transmission of the text but the faithful understanding of its message. The same was true of the earliest days of Christianity. Now we have the strange circumstance in which academics purport to know better than the Church (the preachers and teachers and the faithful) what the book says, whether it is true, and what it all means. I must confess that many in Christendom have forgotten that the Bible is not some textbook or historical record but the Scriptures that live, that preach, and that save. For this reason, the liturgy has always used the Scriptures as the primary text for worship. Reminds me of that wonderful old Nagel quote in the introduction to Lutheran Worship:
“Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise.” “Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his.” “The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol him. We build each other up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition” (various quotes)
Without this lens we are left with a book that is at best uncertain and at worst completely unintelligible. My one quibble with Bishop Ware is that he says the Bible contains God's Word when I think he means it IS God's Word... but his words on this are overall quite helpful.