Exchanges like the one yesterday always put me in a pondering mood. Also yesterday I noted on my stats page that someone had visited this old post and I got to re-reading the comment thread. The discussion there kept my thinking going along these lines:

  • How do we go about communicating the essential truths and varied riches of the Christian tradition both to those new to the church and to those who have been in it for decades?
  • How do we do it in such a way that communicates the doctrinal and propositional truths but foregrounds the contemplative and the mystical?
  • How do we invite others into the life hid in God–especially when we are still fumbling on the way there ourselves?

I’ve got some initial ideas but nothing terribly firm yet… What are your thoughts?

20 thoughts on “Thinking…

  1. lutherpunk

    Not to sound trite (or depressing), but I am not so sure that there is agreement anymore on what the “essential truths and varied riches of the Christian tradition” happen to be. How is the Church to proclaim what it seems to no longer know?

  2. bls

    The thing is, it takes real study – and good scholarship – to understand the Bible, and etc., and what the main themes are and have been. And of course even then, more commentary is being written all the time, and more connections are made from the various research disciplines.

    Nobody can think intelligently about these things without this kind of study. And that is what is lacking, for the most part, I’d say. It does seem as if more people are enrolling in EFM each year, though, so that’s a good step.

    The Bible has lots of mystical material – or at least, lots of possible mystical interpretations – so that can be done quite easily with the education.

    Prayer, to me, is the crucially important thing in answering your last question – and there are many, many kinds of prayer available, too. At my first parish, prayer was disdained; it was viewed in the Spongian way: “Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.” There was no sort of idea communicated about what prayer could be. And of course, kneeling is disdained in many places also; “Get up off your knees” is the new theme.

    Church members are aware of the problems, you know; they know the spiritual life of the church sucks. They know they are missing out. People respond positively to discussions about this, and want something more.

  3. bls

    I think maybe EFM ought to offer mini-courses, too, on individual books of the Bible, or on several together.

    EFM is a big time commitment, which might make it hard for people to feel they can do – and of course parents of young kids and others who are very busy really probably can’t do it.

    So why not offer study on a couple of books each season? A class in Job, or in Luke, or in the letters of Paul? That would be doable for almost everybody. The EFM materials are really, really good, and people would like this; it fills in lots of holes and draws from history and anthropology and literature and all kinds of things.

  4. bls

    (The other good thing about EFM is that the groups are mixed; there are first-years and fourth-years in there together, and all are studying different things.

    That’s why I think it would work for both newcomers and long-termers; it already does.)

  5. Derek the Ænglican

    Ah, but don’t forget, bls, the scientific study of the scripture and their associated commentaries began in the nineteenth century. But there were Christians for 19 centuries before then.

    Prayer is the key. The Bible is meant not just to be read but to be prayed.

    And that’s what’s missing…

  6. bls

    No, Derek, that’s not it. Nobody knows the Bible at all anymore – at least, not in this area.

    Your view on this is very skewed because of your education. People in this part of the country – where lots of Episcopalians live – and in other parts not the South, I presume, have no idea what the Bible says about anything. They’ve never read it, and wouldn’t know where to start; many don’t even know the stories.

    Scholarly study of the Bible is very important. And it’s interesting besides; people really get an idea of where the world came from.

    People can’t have intelligent conversations about their own faith because of this problem. It’s got to be fixed.

  7. bls

    (Not, of course, that I’m arguing that we shouldn’t focus on prayer. As I said above, it’s crucial – but the Bible is mystery territory (if not complete gibberish) to many people today. In days past, it was the main or only form of literature; today it gathers dust on the shelf, if it’s there at all (which it’s not).

    People who’ve been Christians all their lives do not understand this, but I assure you it’s true. The urbanite in America, outside the South, does not know the Bible at all.

    When I first came back to church, and even before that, when I was arguing with anti-gay Christians on the internet, I started reading about religion, and found it to be fascinating because it opened windows on many things I just didn’t know anything about. So while I agree that prayer is central, I think we can and have to do both.)

  8. Derek the Ænglican

    Yeah, you’re right. It’s a both/and. The problem I’ve seen is that it does often turn into an either/or–either prayer or modernist study.

    I know where modernist study will get you at the end of the day–that’s why I don;t want prayer either squeezed out or forgotten.

    You are right that the study is necessary to give folks a grounding in the contexts tht produced the texts so that they an be interpreted well.

  9. bls

    Well, I’m not sure I’d call EFM “modernist” – at least, not in any pejorative sense. It’s good.

  10. Joe Rawls

    I graduated from EFM in 2000; I agree with bis that it’s not “modernist” but very middle of the road–in the good sense. But by that time I knew deep in my gut that theology unintegrated with contemplative practice is basically just a head trip–and this is one of the things wrong with Western Christianity, whether we’re talking Catholic, Anglican, evangelical, or mainline. The monasteries are the big exception, of course, but they’re marginalized almost by definition.

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    Sorry all, I should have made it clear that I wasn’t using “modernist” in a perjorative or polemical way–more of a descriptive sense. It’s modern as opposed to medieval, patristic, contemplative or what have you.

    Yes, as I’ve noted before I am coming out of a context where the modern is the dominant mode and others are scoffed at.

  12. Christopher

    Now, here’s the thing. I was having an interesting conversation with an OT prof the other day. I was arguing that we need a new liturgical translation of the Bible in modern English comparable to the Psalter of Coverdale and the whole of the Authorized Version. I reject this notion that modern English is incapable of comparable poetry and poetic prose.

    He could not see my point. Rather, it should be translated (as NRSV) to meet the structure and such of the Hebrew (forget that for Christians, it was the LXX that was the standard)–even if imho in the translation, the heart is lost. Rather, the Bible is to be studied in and of itself and for itself outside as not formative of a whole, but of its own. And that got us to the Hebrew Scriptures versus Old Testament/First Testament bit. Our Christian Bible is not the Hebrew Scriptures, even in those parts we share. We have ordered the texts according to the revelation of God in Christ. That needn’t necessitate anti-Judaism simply because that is our vital orientation.

    Derek, you are the rare biblical scholar that I’ve met who is concerned about relating scholarship adn prayer, bible and liturgy.

    What our recent translations tell me is that the Bible is not first a liturgical book. That it is neither the Church’s book, nor the book that proclaimed makes present the Word by the Spirit, but is rather a dead letter to be picked apart (and to pick faith apart) and even used to undermine essential doctrines of the faith (as found in our creeds)–which to me undermines the core of the bible itself.

    There is a place for deep and rich and varied and even disagreeing scholarship, which is not only the scholarship of the modern period, I might add (patristics is not quite rich in this regard as well).

    But for me, first and foremost the Bible is a liturgical work that “reads” us, and can only do this when approached in a prayerful way in proclamation and lectio and such. When we do, it gives riches and meaning and value and places us and our existence within the life and story of the Trinity.

  13. John-Julian, OJN

    Joe and Christopher, you are spot on.

    I think we need to realize that the vast majority of devout Christians who have existed in this world (and almost certainly the majority of those recognized as “saints”) never even SAW a Bible, to say nothing of reading or studying it. What they basically learned was prayer and liturgy (and the place of scripture within liturgy, of course). And (as Joe says) the contemplative dimension of prayer was the most serious. (Surely, there were theological mechanists who saw prayer as blessed bribery or magic, but the devout went beyond that.)

    I think scripture is a great enrichment, but we ought to be led to it by prayer and liturgy, not the other way around. After all, 75% of the Bible (certainly, the NT) was composed to be recited (or even chanted!) aloud in a liturgical setting, and not taken home to “study”!

    And the scripture that has its place in liturgy ought to be poetic and specifically translated for liturgical use (i.e., with emphasis on style and beauty rather than only on academic details). What we need is more poets and actors on translation commissions! Under obedience (sic!) our Order has just changed from REB to NRSV, and it is so prosaic, so “American”, so sterile. (I always loved the Johannine Prologue where REB has “And what God was the Word was.” instead of “And the Word was God.”)

    I often think of a tiny example: the use of Psalm 19:4 – “Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.” The pronoun subject of the sentence refers to “the heavens” and “the firmament”, but from time immemorial, the verse has been used in graduals, antiphons, etc. for commemorations of missionaries and apostles. Scripture USED liturgically.

    I know I am far out here but it seems that all everyone thought they needed was a translation of scripture in order to understand it — which is utterly ridiculous (unless it is being read very mystically by contemplatives).

    The whole Bible-First thing comes, I think, from theological and mystical poverty and deprivation. And that comes from the move to “relevance” in liturgy, so that the source becomes contaminated and the only thing left is bible stories.

    Imagine Sunday School stories which tell children that God murders sinners by drowning them (Noah), that cheaters always win (Jacob/Esau), that God might want daddies to slaughter their sons (Abraham/Isaac), that God kills first-born babies (Egypt), etc., etc.

    I know I’m a dinosaur (I apologize, but what do you expect at the age of 76?) but I’d like to see the Bible put back on the liturgical shelf where its writers intended it to be, so it is seen again as a “product” of theology and spirituality rather than the “origin”.

    There must continue to be biblical scholars like the Greek classicist Ann Nyland (“The Source”) or Gerd Thiessen (both sociologist and bible scholar), and that scholarship needs to be accessible to those of us part of whose ministry is to help our congregations to get a little past kindergarten level, but for scripture to displace serious prayer and liturgy has no justification historically or pragmatically.

    Finally, I think “the essential truths and varied riches of the Christian tradition” can be taught best by centering that education on the nature of the Church, the Sacraments, and the Saints. (You know, I decided to be a priest at the age of 8, but I never even heard of “Bible Study” in the Episcopal Church until I was 28 and ordained for four years.)


  14. John-Julian, OJN

    I can’t resist one more word:

    Early Judaism had the Temple and its liturgies.

    Then, with the destruction of the Temple, its place was taken by the synagogue and Torah, and the Temple was never re-built.

    Christianity had its liturgy and the Sacraments until their place was taken (in Protestantism, at least) by “Bible Study” and sermons, and the liturgy and spirituality has suffered ever since!

  15. bls

    The “vast majority of devout Christians who have existed in this world” knew what was in the Bible from a very young age; many, many people today don’t have the first clue. They’ve never heard or read much of anything in it; they don’t know what its contexts are. What they hear is what the “religious” right spews about it. It’s quite an eye-opener to find out what the thing really says.

    Anyway, the Bible is literature; people study literature all the time.

    People don’t know how to pray, either, BTW, so advising them to “pray the Bible” is total gibberish. (It’s gibberish to me, too, BTW.)

    You know, I was outside the church for 35+ years; I really do know something about the topic….

  16. bls

    Fr. John-Julian, I think I remember you said one reason you started your community was that the liturgy was so bad in the parish churches. So how is it that people are going to get what they need from Scripture from once-a-week attendance at a parish church?

    And didn’t you also say that the RCL would simply increase the number of “stories” that parishioners would hear? Again, how are parishioners supposed to get what they need?

    It’s all well and good to say the liturgy should be better – but if it’s not, what then? Tough luck for the parishioners?

    Sorry, I think we deserve better than that.

  17. Derek the Ænglican

    You’re right, bls, there’s a lot of teaching that needs to happen.

    People need to be taught how to read the Bible as literature and the implications thereof, they also need to be taught how the Bible is one part of God’s self-revelation and how to use it as a means of fostering and deeping the relationship with God through it.

    This should not be the Bible as literature *or* liturgy—it’s both, of course, and neither angle gets everything.

  18. bls

    The Ethiopian Eunuch was converted by reading Scripture; isn’t that something worth remembering? People died during the Reformation because they wanted ordinary people to be able to read it.

    If we didn’t teach it – the very thing ordinands swear they believe to “contain all things necessary to salvation” – then what does that say?

    If we don’t teach it, we’re simply engaged in mystification.

  19. Patrick Coleman

    Interesting that this thread has moved from the general question of communication to Bible translations… I also like the REB, but I don’t think any one translation should be held up as a whole. The pocket Celebrating Common Prayer office book I use mixes the sources of its Scripture passages.
    A footnote: the forthcoming OT of the Orthodox Study Bible will be based on the LXX, not the MT. I wonder how it will read. However, they picked the NKJV for their NT, which is no solution at all.
    I’m also an EFM grad, and I liked it very much, but it is a big commitment for many people. The Theological Reflection method got a little mechanical for me.

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