On the Bible

As my Doktor-vater used to say, it was always nice picking up works by certain people because you could begin reading with the assurance that what they would argue would be wrong. George Clifford has a piece up at the Cafe today and—in a similar fashion—when I see his name on a piece I can be pretty sure that I’m going to disagree with it.

Today’s is no exception.

It’s a retread of the old clericalist captivity of the Scriptures: you can’t read it unless you promise to read it the way I do. One wonders how George believes that the Scriptures and the Christian faith were able to survive until the rise of German Rationalist scholarship in the mid-ninteenth century.

I need to write something more on this but currently lack the time…

32 thoughts on “On the Bible

  1. Christopher

    Well, given that as Anglicans our laity are provided with a rich set of intertwining interpretive tools Sunday by Sunday in prayers, creed, etc., in which devotional reading outside the liturgy finds itself held nevertheless in a liturgical matrix, the whole premise Fr Clifford puts forth makes an assumption that cannot be sustained, that the laity come to the Scripture unformed (and uninformed) for interpretive capacity or worse deformed by a supposedly thoroughly problematic pre-Modernity. This suggests to me that as Anglicans we neither bow to a clericalist captivity of the Scriptures, nor to an overly Protestant individualizing of them (personal though they be and yes God does speak to us through them). Now mind you, I say this as someone who has come to realize that in some very important ways, I remain pre-Modern.

  2. John Bassett

    Clericalist? Nothing can be worse than some of the idiocies that I hear from the pulpits of our Episcopal churches when it comes to exegesis. Our clergy are generally some of the worst guides to reading and understanding the Bible. I am stunned by how many of them seemed to have only skimmed most of us in the first year of seminary and never opened since other than to find some liberal clobber passages.

    Still, having said this, I do think we should encourage our lay folk to use the best Bible translations available – The Message is fun, but it’s a paraphrase – and preferably editions with some good critical notes. With that caveat, I hope that the campaign to get our folk reading the Bible goes full speed ahead.

  3. Paul Goings

    Goodness! That reads like a bad caricature of what the modern Episcopal Church teaches. No one who hasn’t been formed in a seminary should be allowed to own a Bible, because you’ll end up with all sorts of wrong-minded opinions, as opposed to the ones that I, a learned cleric, choose to spoon-feed you. Really?

  4. Bill Dilworth

    This is the first thing Fr Clifford wrote that I’ve ever read. It’s breathtaking – but not in any good sense of the term. It really does read something like a parody. I can’t imagine how people who hate the Episcopal Church will use it to show our apostasy and “walking apart.” Oh, wait – I find I can imagine it after all…

  5. C. WIngate

    Derek, I think you are misreading what he’s trying to say. It seems to me that his message is that the Bible needs to be read in the Christian community, rather than in isolation from it. In that, I think he is completely correct. Surely the fact that the JWs arose out of the Bible Student movement should give people pause. People who interpret the bible, by themselves, in their room, come up with crazy heresies. People who interpret it only in the secular community get their own set of misreadings.

    I agree with you that the clericalist (RC Church, I’m looking at you) approach has its own faults. They are in a sense the same fault turned upside down: a magisterial reading is also separated from the community, but within, not without.

  6. Jonathan

    I had almost the exact same reaction when I read the piece. While modern Biblical scholarship has an important role to play in the reading of Scripture, it’s very nearly crazy to condemn a “devotional” approach to reading Scripture since the arguments against such approaches could require one to repudiate every theological work written before the 1800’s more or less. He is correct, however, when he points out the alienation and bizarre conclusions that sometimes result from reading the Bible. I suspect the problem, however, is in our modern assumptions and understanding of the nature of meaning when it comes to texts. I mean, generally, when someone says “what does this verse mean” they, and we, assume that there is basically one correct answer and all other answers are false.

    Honestly, I’m sometimes tempted to respond to the question of what Scripture means by saying that it doesn’t, and is more like a place or situation in which we can meet God, since that’s easier to finish explaining than teaching that each bit of Scripture has many meanings, only some of which are true or edifying (which encourages the question, “so what is a true meaning of this passage”).

  7. Bill Dilworth

    He is correct, however, when he points out the alienation and bizarre conclusions that sometimes result from reading the Bible.

    Yes, but he’s absolutely wrong in assuming that courses in Biblical scholarship innoculate you against this. There are all manner of bizarre conclusions that have been drawn from the Bible by alumni of Episcopal (and other) seminaries, where they took and passed courses in the Bible. The uneducated laity has not cornered the market on alienation and bizarre conclusions.

    Three points: A good many times people don’t get their goofy and dangerous ideas from the Bible. What happens is they have the goofy and dangerous idea first, and then goore the 1800′s more or less. He is correct, however, when he points out the alienation and bizarre conclusions that sometimes result from reading the Bibleto the Bible for supporting evidence. And once you know what you’re looking for in the Bible, you stand a good chance of finding it.

    Second: the Bible isn’t the only text that people have used for crazy and destructive ends. The same is true of any text of sufficient weight. Lots of people have read crazy and destructive stuff in the US Constitution, for example. We haven’t yet recommended that people stop reading it.

    Third: As my rector remarked yesterday on our way to Glostonbury Abbey yesterday, everyone who reads the Bible does so as part of a certain tradition, which influences the act of reading as much as the text does.

  8. Lee M.

    This is one of those issues where the correct answer also seems to be the obvious and boring one: Yes people should read the Bible individually, both for devotion and study. Yes, people should read the Bible in the context of a Christian community–both within the context of their own congregation and denomination and within the broader (both geographically and temporally) Christian community. People also seem to benefit from reading the Bible together with a few other people (the evangelical “small group” model). And, yes, Christian reading of the Bible should be informed by the best secular scholarship and by the church’s tradition and its best theology. For that matter, I suggest it should also be informed by Jewish scholarship and reflection on the Scriptures.

    In other words, this is a classic both/and, not either/or, kind of situation.

  9. bls

    The whole thing is fascinating, to me – and actually it’s not at all, as far as I can tell, about using modern methods of study vs. not using them. I don’t think one person commenting opposed the use of these methods (and it’s so interesting to watch others claim that this is what’s being said).

    I’d say what you’re seeing is instead a long-delayed reaction – by people who do understand and use those methods, BTW! – against our pinched modernist “leaders” – on all sides – and their ongoing efforts to destroy the religious imagination. And, of course, against “liberal” arrogance of the kind so evident in that post. For me, it’s completely delightful!

    One nuance that’s being lost in that conversation, BTW, is that laypeople are no longer in the dark about any of this, because of EFM. We know what the modern methods do – and we, unlike George Clifford, have experience with what actually happens when laypeople use them as study guides. Unlike Clifford, we know that use of these methods doesn’t imply anything like what he’s claiming it does.

    In my own case – although I must admit I’d never read the Bible before doing it in EFM – the use of these materials has been deeply enriching to my religious life, and if anything I’m far less inclined to the “literal” than I used to be.

    Anyway, it’s all very interesting – lots going on there!

  10. Geoff

    I find it unfortunate that no one seems to have bothered to respond to what Fr Clifford actually wrote, as opposed to a caricature based, perhaps, on memories of priests in the “bad old days” and which says more about the commenters’ baggage than the merits of the author’s thesis. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a baby boomer for whom every liturgical question is defined in terms of the glories of Vatican II versus the curate mumbling non-participatory worship on our behalf, but it seems to me that not being uncritical about Reformation perspecuity, especially after seeing some of its disasters (Harold Camping, anyone?) was a fairly unremarkable “retreading” of bog-standard Anglican via media. Sadly, it seems once again that if it’s not an unfettered endorsement of the cult of the Me generation and its closed-circle altar of Self, it must be a reactionary plot to wrench vernacular bibles from the hands of the laity. What a lot of drama queens *smh*

    I’m with Lee here. Anglicans encourage Bible study; private devotion not divorced from community exegesis: film at 11. But I guess that wouldn’t give us anything to whinge about. -_-

  11. bls

    Perhaps it’s because I’m not a baby boomer for whom every liturgical question is defined in terms of the glories of Vatican II versus the curate mumbling non-participatory worship on our behalf, but it seems to me that not being uncritical about Reformation perspecuity, especially after seeing some of its disasters (Harold Camping, anyone?) was a fairly unremarkable “retreading” of bog-standard Anglican via media. Sadly, it seems once again that if it’s not an unfettered endorsement of the cult of the Me generation and its closed-circle altar of Self, it must be a reactionary plot to wrench vernacular bibles from the hands of the laity. What a lot of drama queens *smh*

    And if Clifford had simply made an argument against “Reformation perspecuity,” I doubt anybody would have said “Boo” – and lots of people may have agreed with him. But, of course, he didn’t do that – it’s miles from being clear that that’s what he’s even getting at, in fact – and what you’re seeing on that thread is the reaction, exactly, to “what he actually wrote.” And in particular, I’d say, to the way he wrote it.

    Your reaction is very interesting, too, though; it seems that thread is now functioning as a sort of Rorschach test, with everybody projecting their own issues onto it! Very funny!

    (But really: I’d suggest you read the comments again – all of the comments this time, without picking out just the ones you want to be a drama queen about yourself – and try to understand what people are actually saying. Which has nothing to do, BTW, with the “Me generation and its closed-circle altar of Self,” but precisely its opposite.)

  12. Christopher

    Geoff, I would note that several of the commenters are not Boomers. I find it fascinating that in several recent posts at the Cafe where criticisms are offered, it is assumed that we are older than Xers or Yers irrespective of the criticism raised, and so therefore, the criticisms we raise, criticisms that are part of any real conversation, are uninformed, self-centered, outmoded, etc. This flight to generational generalizations is a way of dismissing disagreements that cut across generations.

    I take issue with a dismissal of devotional reading as something pitted over and against scholarly reading, or that suggests that only the tools of modernity can make for good reading of the Bible as if what interpretative tools came before the 19th Century compound the problem of just creating more “biblical literalists.” And that is how Fr Clifford’s piece reads to me, suggesting the pitting of devotional reading over and against scholarly engagement. Had he wrote something like, “We do ourselves a disservice as Church if we do not avail ourselves of scholarly tools for our ongoing devotional engagement with the Bible,” the entire tone of the piece would be different. And I have to add, the entire lectio way of reading Scripture, a time-honored approach, falls under his “devotional” category and something to be considered dangerous.

    Vatican II does not play into my memory directly, as I was born in the 1970s; and as Anglicans, we should be wary anyway of taking up Roman categories around liturgical participation. Our liturgies have been in a languaged understanded of the people for quite some time. Our prayer is common. The Bible along with the Prayer Book have long been our staples of personal devotion as well as communal worship for priests and people alike. I don’t dismiss modern bible scholarship, and I don’t think it’s the bees knees. What several of us are critical of is not modern scholarship, but the singular assumption that modern scholarship alone is the answer to interpretation without problems in relation to faith and reading of the Bible.

  13. bls

    I think the problem in the Episcopal Church is much, much simpler than “Baby Boomers” vs. “Not” or “Reformation perspecuity” vs. “Not” or “Vatican II” vs. “Not” or “Via Media” vs “Not.”

    The problem is precisely the tendency to say “It’s all the fault of those people over there.” The problem is precisely intellectual (hah!) and spiritual arrogance. The problem is needing to be right all the time. The problem is – just as it is for alcoholics – “self-will run riot.”

    Now, this is just a human problem, not peculiar to Episcopalians. But we have no way to deal with it that I can see. And we won’t, either – until we hit absolute bottom eventually – because we pay very little attention to the inner life or the psychology of the individual human being. We don’t offer any real teachings on the topic, as other forms of the faith do – nor do we have any formal tools to use to help us deal with our character defects, or even talk about them openly so we can recognize their reality. It’s true that our Common Prayer can help form us – but that’s somewhat hit-or-miss these days and anyway it’s a long-term project.

    The problem, I think, is that we aren’t expected to be obedient to any will but our own, really. In the past, people were more willing to submit to outside authority, but that’s no longer the case in society generally – and we don’t have any way to ameliorate the problem. It’s no real wonder, at least not to me, that the church itself is running off the rails. We believe we can say and do whatever we want, with few or no constraints; this, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be a brilliant recipe for success. (America as a whole has this problem, too, I’d say – and take a look at our politics at present!)

    In my view, until we get serious about self-examination, or at least about talking about the inner life and the human condition itself – until, IOW, we get hold of some sort of decent view of reality – we’re going to continue to flounder.

  14. bls

    (I mean, dismissing a thread, and all the people who’ve commented on it, as “drama queens” is a very good example of what I’m talking about above. It’s patently untrue that this was the entire content of that thread; that particular statement is just another way of avoiding dealing with reality.

    People on that thread have things to say. If you don’t think they’re helpful or valid, then disagree with them, by all means, or – and here’s an idea! – just skip reading the blogs entirely. But brushing the whole thing off as “somebody else’s problem” is really just banal.

    This is the reality of the state of church. I’m very sorry if the (perceived) failings of other people inconveniences you; perhaps another line of work might suit you better in that case? Because, you know: you’re going to have to deal with actual people in the priesthood.

    Sheesh. Priests-with-attitude are really getting up my nose lately, I guess….)

  15. Bill Dilworth

    Yes, exactly what does pre-Vatican II liturgics enter into this at all, Geoff? And if we drama queens have so misread the post’s thesis, what exactly was it?

  16. bls

    Sorry for the above remark; that was a bit over-the-top. (But see what I mean about “self-examination”? We all need to do it.)

    Here’s what I should have said instead: Why is it so hard to listen to what people are actually saying? Clergy get a public forum for their opinions by default; laypeople generally speaking have none – so it’s mighty frustrating to have people dismissed as “drama queens” when all they’re doing is responding to what’s been written. And I have to tell you that what people said made perfect sense to me; I’d disagree with a few things, but generally found a lot of complex, nuanced, and interesting thought there.

    Most of the people who responded to the article do evidence the very measured Anglican approach you mention. I didn’t see anything at all about any “reactionary plot to wrench vernacular bibles from the hands of the laity,” or anything close to that; that’s in itself “drama,” and not reflected in what was actually said. (OK, there are a couple of comments you could sort of take that way if you had the desire to go there. But you could also simply respond to the more reasonable ones – right?)

    Personally, I keep wondering why this stuff – discussion of outlandish interpretation of Scripture – is continually talked about in the Episcopal Church when it seems clearly to be addressed to non-Episcopalians. As we all know, a number of well-known Episcopal “leaders” have been talking about this subject, to people who are not in the room, for 30+ years now – and this article continues in that tradition. (And then, for good measure, up pop individuals who clearly don’t believe, themselves, in a “literal” interpretation of, say, Genesis, to argue in favor of it as proof that the church probably really isn’t necessary at all. It’s really just a total freak show at this point.)

    But this is the reality of the church at present – the downward trend in attendance and membership has been repeated over and over again as evidence that something’s not right – so I really don’t think it can be dismissed as “somebody else’s problem.”

    And again: that was a clergyperson writing, not a layperson. If people don’t know what the Anglican approach is, it’s because nobody’s bothered to inform them – or, better, to show them. Further, I’m really not sure why as readers we’re expected to respectfully pick through an article like that to find a thesis like “Reformation perspecuity” when the writer hasn’t bothered to inform us that this is his issue.

  17. Geoff

    Well, well, what have I missed.

    Bill (and bls): I don’t think “pre-Vatican II liturgics” does enter into it – indeed, my point was precisely that a lot of the heat being generated seemed to have very little do to with had been “entered into”. I would consider the distribution of English bibles in churches a part of the English Reformation’s liturgical legacy but if you think it fits better in some other quadrant of that legacy I’ll not quibble.

    bls, I’m not a priest (for starters) but again, the assumption that I am is interesting. As someone who is capable of being a drama queen himself, perhaps it doesn’t have for me whatever resonation it does that’s brought the claws out. it certainly wasn’t a “dismissal”, nor was it meant to suggest that all the comments on the thread were monochrome (after all, if I had been making a wholesale generalization about “all the people” on this thread, I’d be including myself and posters like C. Wingate expressing similar thoughts) To me, it’s fairly straightforward when we have people criticizing Clifford for saying “No one who hasn’t been formed in a seminary should be allowed to own a Bible” (where?), or “mak[ing] an assumption that cannot be sustained, that the laity come to the Scripture unformed” (sorry, no) and “taking issue with … the dismissal of devotional reading as something pitted over and against scholarly reading” (so would I, and if you find me someone who’s written that, as opposed to something that makes you “feel” like it “reads” that way – the po-mo “Me” lives! – I’ll be right behind you) that we’re fairly far removed from actually talking about the article itself – I agree the Rorshach image is apt. (As it happens, V2 is not a part of my “consciousness” at all, as I was born a good 20 years after it wrapped up and was initially nourished in the exclusive use of the modern Roman Rite, but it’s striking to me how its shibboleths continue to be evoked for many : we must continue to be vigilant against the “priests with attitude” [God grant us more!] waiting under our beds to tell us we’re reading our Bible wrong, a form of window-making I myself would have no part in, though many have not seen fit to extend the courtesy to Clifford).

    I pick my battles but refusal to engage with what is actually written in a text is one I’m not ashamed to own as a bete noire. I’d be happy to be shown wrong, but so far, I’m a seeing a whole lot less in the way of “disagreement” and a lot more of “scrolling past” actual posts and “banal”.

  18. Geoff

    Now, as for what we *do* find in Clifford, I don’t think that the importance of devotional Bible reading means that we need to encourage the kind of naive-realist ethnocentrism that the nineteenth-century American fundamentalist revival championed – the Bible is A book through-composed by someone whose frame of reference was essentially mine. Entering into the “dance” of Scripture’s witness involves putting on the sandals of those who heard the words. Now that doesn’t have to mean formal seminary Bible classes (and having taken some that’s probably a good thing) – efforts as simple as paraphrases such as the Message can help us with that. Is it a sign of our dependence on the full-time residential seminary model that that’s what so many of us jump right to when we hear Clifford (for example) suggesting informed, critical readership? If the suggestion that readers of the Bible should be educated about it “reads” to us as an assertion of clerical preserve over Scripture, then don’t we need to question the “clericalist” assumption that educated = clergy and promote such reading in our parishes?

    That someone who opens the Bible as a tabula rasa is not going to be able to “get” it on its authors’ terms is, as a statement of fact, unremarkable, and getting upset about it won’t do any good. As a normative statement about the proper place of the laity it would of course be reprehensible – but the more we find it so, the more we need to be on board with Fr Clifford and anyone else who is open to exploring how we can bring Biblical literacy to the pews and homes beyond the homily.

  19. Jonathan

    Um … In the fifth paragraph of the original article Fr. Clifford suggests that devotional reading is naive (“Devotional reading of the Bible naively presumes …). In the next paragraph he says that the devotional approach was the pervasive approach among Protestants whom he then describes as good people and ignorant heretics (to put it ungenerously). He goes on, in the next short paragraph, to talk about a “straightforward, uneducated reading of the text” as if that’s what he’d been talking about this whole time and lists the options he thinks one has with this approach, become a fundamentalist, separate one’s faith from the rest of one’s life and probably pick and choose which bits of Scripture you pay the most attention to, or reject Scripture and possibly religion. He then condemns TEC as complicit in perpetuating this situation, and ties lectio divina in using the same terms to describe it as he had previously used to describe devotional reading. Having described the problem as he sees it with encouraging people to read the Bible, he turns to his proposed solution, seminary classes restructured for parish use (or EfM). In the second to last paragraph he summarizes his argument. “Encouraging devotional reading … devalues Scripture and [insults the people]” while a constructive alternative would be a Bible-and-quality-commentary combo, or, even better, for the group to pretend to be Biblical scholars by using the sorts of resources scholars use.

    My summary: devotional reading bad, academic Biblical scholarship good. Which is precisely what many of us are complaining about. Devotional reading isn’t bad, and it’s a mistake to lump every approach to Scripture that isn’t modern Biblical scholarship into the category of devotional reading or bad reading.

    Have I missed something crucial in my summary?

  20. bls

    Yes, yes, yes: as I noted, there were a couple of remarks like that. My question above still holds: why did you decide to respond to those few, so you could dismiss the whole issue, rather than to the (many, many) others that didn’t? Why not engage the interesting points in a positive way, rather than choosing to focus on the negative and then wash your hands of the whole thing? Unless, of course, it really just doesn’t matter to you – which is fine, of course. But at least have some respect for those of us for whom it does matter, and who want to talk about these things.

    I’m sorry to tell you that I really don’t understand a lot of what you’re saying above, either. I have no idea at all what you’re trying to say in your last paragraph, for example – the problem is the double negatives – nor can I make head nor tail out of the parenthetical section in the preceding paragraph. I should tell you, though, that I have no experience with any sort of priests other than Episcopal ones, since I only joined the church as a whole 7 years ago or so; thus I have no long-term issue with worry about anyone “hiding under my bed.”

    I do think something new is happening, though – that some new pattern of thought is emerging – and that’s the reason for the Rorschach effect. I’d say that happens when what’s being said is just not on the radar in general, so people tend to fall back on what they already know and project what they already believe on what’s happening. It’s clear that many people don’t understand the whole EFM process, for instance, and the effect it has on people who participate in it. (This is a big part of my objection to the characterization you’re making here, BTW; I don’t think anybody realizes the amount of time and effort that people put into this program – especially the mentor/leaders – simply out of love for the doing of it. There’s not much recognition of this in the parish environment, either, in my experience. Probably I’m resentful about that, too .)

    FYI, on the blog you use as a link you call yourself a “a seminarian in Toronto, and an Anglican in discernment for Holy Orders.” So, no: it’s not “interesting” at all that I assumed that you were studying to be a priest; I just believed what you yourself said, that’s all.

  21. bls

    Hmmmm. I don’t think we actually do find “in Clifford” any discussion of the “naive-realist ethnocentrism that the nineteenth-century American fundamentalist revival championed.” I’m really not sure how you’re able to locate these ideas in the text – but as far as I can tell they simply aren’t there.

    You really can’t blame readers for responding to what writers actually say, you know.

  22. Bill Dilworth

    Geoff, Clifford sets forth the educated clergy / naive laity dichotomy in his first sentence – unless you think that the untrained “Christians” he says he and “most clergy” have hitherto encouraged to read the Bible include the clergy themselves, which doesn’t really fit the context. It’s true he holds out hope that we are educable, but as it stands most of us had better leave the Bible alone.

    How many Episcopalians are really approaching the Bible from the literalist point of view he (and you) seem to be concerned about, anyway? The issues he outlines simply don’t apply to most Episcopalians I know. Clifford is an ex-chaplain of the US Navy; there are (and I speak from experience) a fair number of literalist, “all I need to know about God’s will is the KJV and the Holy Ghost” Protestants in the enlisted ranks of the USN, but not that many active Episcopalians; I think his chaplaincy career (during most of which he was, I believe, a Baptist) colors his view of the laity in ways that don’t just dont apply to most Episcopalians.

  23. Bill Dilworth

    Actually, his profile on LinkedIn says Fr Clifford went to Wesley Theological Seminary, so chances are he was a Methodist for most of his naval career, not Baptist.

  24. Geoff

    No, I can’t, and as I said I’d like to see more of it. Instead, as Jonathan said above “My summary: devotional reading bad, academic Biblical scholarship good. Which is precisely what many of us are complaining about”. Complaining about one’s “summary” instead of the actual message is something that I can and will call people out on, especially when that “summary” actually appears to involve heavier redaction than the word can bear.

    Since I’m obviously no more clear how so many other ideas presented here can be ‘located’ in the actual text, it would probably be worthwhile to address that gap, get some common clarity about what Clifford is saying, and examine where our readings of it diverge – preferably before we start throwing around words like “parody”, “retread” etc to describe its contents. You want to make a moral equation between others doing that and me observing it and finding it frustrating. Part of being a part-time drama queen is knowing the limits of drama: I may *respond* dramatically (sometimes) to the intellectual dishonesty of _substituting_ drama for an argument, but that doesn’t make me “just as bad [sic]” as those who do, and even then my “dramatic” response must be read in the context of a thread which at the time consisted largely of a string of unquestioned name-calling, so it’s not as if my “drama” was exactly lowering the tone of the thread as it stood. (Of course its advisability and utility may be questioned on other grounds, and clearly had I known that my usual “kaffeeklatsch” editorial style would put people off the argument rather than drawing them in, I would have chosen a different tack, but I’m doing my best to rectify that now, and that’s all I can do now).

    As for my lay status, my faculty has about 40 students in it, a decided minority of whom see themselves in some kind of ordained ministry, and even further subset are formal postulants. I am not among them, not having even settled on a priestly or diaconal discernment process, much less tied myself to any diocese. My ministry – reading, visiting the sick and homeless, and assisting in the administration of Holy Communion – is thoroughly lay and I reject any suggestion of a quasi-clerical role because I sometimes wear a surplice to do them as itself clericalist. In any event, even your reasonable assumption that I’m (I hope!) a potential *future* priest doesn’t account for your accusation that I’m making a priestly power grab *now*. And if I were, there certainly wouldn’t be anything priestly about doing so, as if the views being attributed to Clifford would get one some kind of clergy “cred” (on the contrary, I suspect any candidate who showed up to an interview talking about the futility of lay devotional reading would be politely asked to reflect further and return later).

    I’m sorry the ending came off semantically garbled (Job, anyone?) but it was meant as an affirmation of what you yourself had said. Since “scrolling past” arguments and “writing them off” without reading them is precisely what I’m faulting, I’m a little bemused by your suggestion that I would be better suited doing those things myself. I may not have listed every point that had been made with which I agreed before responding to what I found objectionable, but that doesn’t mean I filtered it out And as I said, it was not disagreeing arguments I was taking exception to, but the pawing off on non-arguments and strawfolk. At the very least, many of the words put in Clifford’s mouth were far from self-evidently “there” to me and called for more than “I read it this way and am going to proceed as if that’s what he said …”

    So, in other words, I agree with what you profess to want, I’m just not clear why you’re not following it more closely yourself. Yes, let’s talk about what was said, and if there are disagreements about what that is, let’s address them instead of jumping into a dogpile on the author for something he may or may not have said. Maybe my reading is completely wrong – like I said, I welcome the possibility – but simply declaring an alternative reading and assuming its superiority speaks for itself doesn’t get me there.

  25. Geoff

    [PS – you made a comment earlier which didn’t get picked up but which was, I think, probably the most insightful thing said on this thread, where you pointed out that it’s “miles from clear what he’s getting at.” I agree: the studied blandness of Clifford’s piece is one thing I _would_ fault him for, but it’s also the reason why I’m so taken aback by the heated reaction to what seems to me a very Anglican way of saying very little in several words. As Bill notes below, under at least one interpretation (including the one I’ve advocated), Fr Clifford’s caution is directed against a culture of piety which probably doesn’t exist on any large scale in the Episcopal Church, so it would make even less sense for us to take exception to it.]

  26. Jonathan

    Geoff, perhaps bls thinks you skim, scroll and respond because you seem to have used a number of responses in the same way in which you used my response to you above. In the case of your use of my response, you cite my brief summary but appear to have entirely skipped the preceding paragraph in which I give a careful extended summary of the original post. Indeed, if you want to explore the divergence of our readings, that extended summary would probably be a good place to start. Where are the unwarranted leaps in that extended summary? If there aren’t any then perhaps the brief summary can be permitted to stand as accurate.

  27. Bill Dilworth

    Fr Clifford’s caution is directed against a culture of piety which probably doesn’t exist on any large scale in the Episcopal Church, so it would make even less sense for us to take exception to it.]

    Perhaps because he explicitly accuses the Episcopal Church of fostering it.

  28. bls

    Perhaps the simple takeaway is this: if you write an ill-reasoned and vague “call-to-action” piece filled with personal opinion and sometimes rather offensive anecdotes, without taking into account the facts of your own readers’ situations – well, there’s just no telling what the reaction will be….

  29. Bill Dilworth

    He’s baaack. Fr Clifford has posted another column on episcopalcafe about reading the Bible. It’s all about the historical-critical approach as THE way to approach the Bible, and could be subtitled “Why I’m still right and most of y’all are aren’t.”

  30. Jonathan

    I saw, and I’m still not impressed as I hope I have already made clear on the Facebook version of the article.

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