Emerging Bible

14 August, 2005 at 4:16 pm 4 comments

How does the Bible function as the Word of God in the community of faith? The answer to this question has a great deal to do with what we understand the nature of the Bible as the Word of God to be, and also the nature and place of preaching.

I was astonished to discover how deeply (and mainly unconsciously) I have imbibed and embraced postmodern approaches to the Bible. By "postmodern approaches" I mean trends in postliberal exegesis pioneered by people like George Lindbeck and postevangelical approaches. What they have in common is that they focus on the internal coherence and detail of the Christian story rather than the historical-critical preoccupation with the reconstruction of history. They ask "What does it mean to live by this story?" rather than "What happened?" (with the unspoken corollary, "Can we accept this as true or not?"). In so doing they break out of the sterility of so many years of liberal vs evangelical standoffs and polarisation.

One of the most helpful people I find is Walter Brueggemann. His contention is that the Bible doesn't primarily relate history or teach doctrine: rather, when we read the Bible, we find in the narrative the "Third World of Evangelical Imagination". In other words, we find our world reconfigured because we discover what it is like to look at it through God's eyes. Put another way, we see it in a new light: it is infused with the reality and presence of God. This is inspirational and empowering. When we look at the world, we are struck by our helplessness in the face of its systems. We see the annihilative power of multinationals. We are reduced to despair by the intractability of global poverty. Our imaginations are paralysed by the power of capitalism such that we cannot even conceive of an alternative reality. What reading the Bible does is to open up an entirely new set of hitherto unimagined possibilities because God is present and active to redeem. Seemingly impregnable powers and authorities are exposed as fragile opponents of God's grace, justice and resurrection. And we are inspired to yield to the Spirit and to change things in the name of Jesus Christ, because that is God's mission.

The task of preaching, then, is to bring the world of the biblical narrative into conversation with our own contextual stories and so to enable people to go out and live and act as faithful, hopeful disciples of Jesus Christ.

I was reading Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity. I was reading it in preparation for the Windermere reading party (18-20 November – please come if you fancy it!). Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar. And the Jesus Seminar is not the place to which I would instinctively turn for nourishment! I remember listening to Robert Funk, its founder, who is a non-realist. I was left wondering why we should bother with Jesus at all. Yet Borg is a different kettle of fish. For him, the purpose of studying the Bible is to elicit passionate faith – by which he means wholehearted commitment and faithful living. The Bible is meant to transform rather than inform. Christian faith is not about believeing a set of doctrines: it is about experiencing the Life of God given in Jesus and becoming christlike. I sat reading The Heart of Christianity and got more and more excited.

Emerging forms of biblical exegesis are to me one of the most hopeful signs of God's Tomorrow. This is something the Church can get its teeth into because it actually matters! The Bible is transformatory. The power of the text is unleashed because its purpose is to enable people to encounter God, rather than become textual experts in ancient literature. And it is Gospel – Good News to a world that is weighed down with Bad News!


Entry filed under: bible, preaching.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. homileo7  |  16 August, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Thanks Wol. For someone trying to overcome a bad hangover of modernistic evangelicalism I find your brief analysis of a new hermeneutic very exciting.

  • 2. Lucy Berry  |  17 August, 2005 at 8:12 am

    Whoops! Keep trying to send a thought and can’t….try again

  • 3. Lucy Berry  |  17 August, 2005 at 8:34 am

    OK, good. Yeah, just a thought; but God’s Tomorrow only means something to those who have got God today. I know that the Kingdom is actually ever present. (Even after bad times, retrospectively, C.S.Lewis thinks).But it’s an abstruse concept for someone on the breadline, or bereaved, or waiting to see whether they will be sent back to Eritrea.

    I’ve been listening to John Drane all week ( “McDonaldisation of the Church” etc) and he says that Church should cease to engage in the West with the dwindling Faithful and their sin – and needs to recognise and communicate with immense numbers of people who accurately deem themselves to have been sinned against – those who need Jesus and could grasp Jesus’ story.

    It is not easy to see God’s Tomorrow when you’re being crucified. God In Today, for my money, is the first message.

    Stories are massively important, you’re right. Meaning exists in feeling part of something which is pre and post oneself. But it could exist, for those who are battered or disintegrating, in God Nearby; in everyday pain. (By which i don’t mean trivial pain, but the regular, awesome pain which many people live with every day).
    What would using the Bible that way look like, Wol?

  • 4. Wol  |  17 August, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    I think we’re actually on the same wavelength, Lucy, once you grant that the God of Tomorrow is the God whose Tomorrow is the future of the whole creation, rather than the God who is the possession of a small band of people. That is how I mean the phrase.

    God’s Tomorrow does mean something to those who have God today: it means that they cannot pray for God’s Tomorrow (“Your Kingdom come …”) without doing all in their power to shape that tomorrow. And indeed, make Today a sign of the Tomorrow (“Your will be done on earth …”).

    God Nearby therefore becomes a reality not only when God draws near to the individual as only God is able to do, but when God is experienced in the nearness of God’s people and those in pain are not alone. You cited Lewis, and I’m reminded in this context of Lucy in the deep darkness where nightmares come alive in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. She prays “Oh Aslan, if you’ve ever loved us, hear us now”. Lucy becomes aware of Aslan’s presence. It doesn’t make the darkness and lighter or the threat any less dreaful. It just makes a difference to knwo that they are not alone because Aslan is there.

    So … not a separate way of reading for me, but part of what I was talking about. You’re reminding us about a really imnportant emphasis, though!


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