Thursday, August 30th, 2007
I just found a link to a Charlie Rose segment on YouTube. Rose interviews Moyers on his "upcoming" Genesis series. This was filmed in 1996. The first few minutes are discussion with others on the economy. Skip ahead to 17:57 to catch the beginning of the Moyers conversation: Bill Moyers on Charlie Rose.
But back to general observations from the audiotapes. Another thing I found that commonly happened in the Genesis discussion was that one participant would address all the other participants as if they were guilty of some common misreading that I didn't hear any of them espouse. This happened several times. In fact, it sometimes happened several times in the course of one single audiotape.
Karen Armstrong talked about some Pollyana-ish view of Noah where there was only a rainbow, in the middle of a talk where much of it was centered on just how devastating everyone found the flood coming back to it as adults. Perhaps this was not directed at anyone in particular. The insistent tone suggests it probably was. Even clearer instances in the series were when Walter Brueggemann said "These [Old Testament folk] were not all good little boys and girls." True. I hadn't heard anyone say that they were. I do know that when we held a Marathon reading of Genesis in a congregation, where people heard the whole book in about four hours, that people were shocked at how immoral the great heroes of the faith often were. But nobody in the Genesis conversation tried to say they were all nice. Another participant accused everyone of wanting to rewrite the story. Now some of the participants did bother me, but I didn't sense this. A much better response was by pastor Samuel D. Proctor, who challenged the participants, asking who were they to imagine they knew what God should have done with Noah's generation. This generation had done wicked things of their own choice. Blaming God for the free acts of people was nonsensical to him. I suspect I take a different view of free will than Pastor Proctor, but I strongly agree with the point he was making.
This leads into one of the tough questions that came up for me throughout the series. Different participants were coming to the text with different assumptions as to how to read the text. I don't just mean that they read differently. But they had different assumptions as to how self-contained the stories were. Could the Noah story, for instance, make any sense all by itself? If we take it all by itself, is the God spoken of the Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent God most Christians or Jews say they worship? If not, then I'm probably going to side with Karen Armstrong, only I'll say she isn't going far enough. I want to condemn that God for stupidity or moral shortsightedness. But I do this in part from the standpoint of the New Testament and even the later Old Testament. The Jewish participants make it clear that they aren't left reading Genesis in a standalone fashion. In any case, I think conversation got really confused when someone who took Genesis in a standalone fashion and wanted to say it was an insufficient guide would come head-to-head with someone who was bringing later Bible into the discussion. They really were not arguing about the actions of the same God. Even with the later parts of the Hebrew Bible, it was clear that progressive revelation meant that Genesis had to be read in a very different light than a standalone reading would yield.
11:11 am Pacific Standard Time
Friday, August 10th, 2007
In his essay "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism" (found in Christian Reflections), C.S. Lewis says of the teachings of the Bible critics, that he is "sceptically ignorant" of their teachings. And he says the skepticism is the father of the ignorance.
I found this a useful image. In fact, when I first read it, I misread it, in perhaps a fortuitous fashion. I somehow missed the fact that Lewis was speaking of his own skepticism, and thought he was referring to that of the critics. And I thought of how once you had a generation that did not believe in Biblical authority, you were likely to offer a trimmed down version of the old seminary curriculum. Light on the ancient languages and heavy on the social concerns. Students would be told about the "assured results of modern criticism," while few if any students would receive the education necessary to allow them some ability to weight the case for those results for themselves.
In fact, the image does work both ways. As time goes on, differing groups lose their ability to even hear the other side. When the other side is demonized, the worst construction is given to everything that is said.
When you are unexposed to whole areas of life, it is difficult to assess them. I first read Robert Webber's book Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail twenty years ago. I visited a local Episcopal parish for a charismatic (styled—i.e. no overt signs and wonders) service as my first exposure. When I went to seminary, I engaged in some church shopping. And I soon found myself in an Episcopal parish outside Boston. About six weeks into it, I remember thinking something like, "Well, this has been interesting. But I think I've gotten what I need to from this liturgical worship." I thought I saw what it offered. Was I ever wrong.
It was only a year later that I first discovered comfort in the Real Presence. My conscience was injured over an accusation. Memory of taking communion the week before calmed it. I didn't see that coming.
And it took several years sitting under the lectionary (now in LCMS parishes) to see what the lectionary did. What the lectionary does, it does over time, gradually. Over the years, different readings get linked and woven together in a way that you cannot easily imagine from the outside.
Many of the things that liturgy offers are only gradually realized. This tells me just how dangerous liturgical innovation can be. When people get cut off from the past, they gradually become unaware that there was anything back there that they might have been rooted to. And even those few who might be willing to give the past a chance, as I was, are in danger of missing what it has to offer as they have little idea of what they are looking for.
9:53 am Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, August 4th, 2007
I read this passage a long time ago. It is from G.E.M. Anscombe, a disciple of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the only person reported to have bested C.S. Lewis in a debate. She took him to task on some of his arguments in his book Miracles. It is clear from the passage I will quote that she believed in the miraculous.
I knew a child, close upon three years old and only then beginning to talk, but taught as I have described, who was in the free space at the back of the church when the mother went to communion. "Is he in you?" the child asked when the mother came back. "Yes," she said, and to her amazement the child prostrated itself before her. I can testify to this, for I saw it happen. I once told the story to one of those theologians who unhappily (as it seems) strive to alter and water down our faith, and he deplored it: he wished to say, and hoped that the Vatican Council would say, something that would show the child's idea to be wrong. I guessed then that the poor wretch was losing the faith and indeed so, sadly, did it turn out.
[G.E.M. Anscombe, Ethics, Religion, and Politics in The Collected Philosophical Papers Volume III, page 108.]
Earlier in the essay, Anscombe spoke of how it is best to learn the faith in a context of worship, which is much better than learning it for the first time in a classroom much later. The Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper was like that for me, to a degree. My adoption of the doctrine took several years. But once I was practicing it, certain questions evaporated. Especially the one about how "How can we do this in remembrance of Jesus if He's present?" That question was not only answered, but answered so thoroughly that it stopped making much sense at all. I find myself almost unable to answer it because I can barely get back into the mind of the one who asks it. The Lutheran (or Anglican or Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) Christian knows that remembrance is NOT difficult on account of these doctrines. If anything, it is facilitated.
1:28 pm Pacific Standard Time