Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury on Reading and Hearing the Bible

~from American Anglican Council

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan WIlliams, has told an audience of theological students that both intensely liberal and ultra conservative readings of the Bible are 'rootless' and are limited in what they can contribute to the life of the church. In the Larkin Stuart lecture, delivered today at an event hosted jointly by Wycliffe and Trinity theological colleges in Toronto, Dr Williams said that Christians need to reconnect with scripture as something to be listened to and heard in the context of Jesus's invitation to the Eucharist and to work for the Kingdom.

"... The Church's public use of the Bible represents the Church as defined in some important way by listening: the community when it comes together doesn't only break bread and reflect together and intercede, it silences itself to hear something. It represents itself in that moment as a community existing in response to a word of summons or invitation, to an act of communication that requires to be heard and answered."

This, he argues, is crucial in the way in which the communities of Christians are informed by what the Scriptures say:

"Take Scripture out of this context of the invitation to sit at table with Jesus and to be incorporated into his labour and suffering for the Kingdom, and you will be treating Scripture as either simply an inspired supernatural guide for individual conduct or a piece of detached historical record - the typical exaggerations of Biblicist and liberal approaches respectively."

"For the former, the work of the Spirit is more or less restricted to the transformation of the particular believer; for the latter, the life of the community is where the Spirit is primarily to be heard and discerned, with Scripture an illuninating adjunct at certain points."

Dr Williams says that neither isolating texts from their contexts nor dismissing them as limited by prevalent cultural understanding were helpful approaches. Quoting from St John's Gospel, Dr Williams said that Jesus's teaching that 'no-one can come to the Father except by me' (John 14 v 6 ) could not be used simply as a trump card in discussions with other faiths: the verse needed to be heard in its full biblical context as the development of the question posed by his earlier saying, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' (John 13 v 33).

" ... This certainly does not suggest in an direct way a more inclusive approach to other faiths. But the point is that the actual question being asked is not about the fate of non-Christians; it is about how the disciples are to understand the death of Jesus as the necessary clearing of the way which they are to walk."

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