Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Interpretive Pluralism

I've been reading much lately about the limits of language to fully express truth, whether that truth is transcendent and spiritual or physical and scientific. You might recognize the phrase "limits of language" as postmodernism, for years anathema in religious circles.

But more and more theologians are affirming some of the validity in what's termed postmodern. From authors such as Shane Hipps, Mark Dricsoll, and Donald Miller at the popular level to academicians like James K. A. Smith and Barbara Brown Taylor, the message is the same: as finite beings, we can know most fully only our own view (and that incompletely). With everything else, it sure helps to have the community of faith, past and present, as we grapple with interpretation.

So what does that mean for revelation or Scripture? Here are a few answers to that question from some favorite authors:

"...whenever people aim to solve their conflicts with one another by turning to the Bible: defending the dried ink marks on the page becomes more vital than defending the neighbor. As a general rule, I would say that human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God....I know that the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the realities they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place....Neither I nor anyone else knows how these stories will turn out, since at this point they involve more blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God's sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith."
--Barbara Brown Taylor
Her point, it seems, doesn't diminish the Word; rather it incarnates it.

Lauren Winner says: "I am much happier, much more comfortable, much more trusting, and much less terrified, when I know that it's me, the Holy Spirit, and 2000 years of church reading, arguing, teasing out, all together."

And finally from Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, Smith distinguishes between interpretive pluralism and deep directional pluralism (which he still maintains is interpretation): "Wherever there is interpretation, there will be conflict of interpretation or at least differences of interpretation...a kind of pluralism and interpretive difference is inscribed into the very fabric of created finitude, such that we all see the same things but from different angles and locations....In both Eden and the eschaton, we find interpretive pluralism that is rooted in this plurality of perspectives. As a factor in the conditions of a good creation, this kind of pluralism is something we must embrace as good."

He goes on to say that the deep dircectional pluralism--in which we interpret what it means to be human and our place in the universe--is endemic to our post-fall condition, that is, we will and do have dichotomous answers. But nevertheless all is interpretation. No answer is objectively true, "acknowledging the interpretive status of the gospel should translate into a certain humility in our public theology. It should not, however, translate into skepticism about the truth of the Christian confession. If the interpretive status of the gospel rattles our confidence in its truth, this indicates that we remain haunted by the modern desire for objective certainty....rather [than] on the convictional power of the Holy Spirit (which isn't exactly objective)..." Smith, as well, hails the need for the community of faith to wrestle together toward truth.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Communal Worship

On congregational worship:
"...once everyone was seated and the first hymn began, it was foretaste-of-heaven time. Our bread was given, not earned. We had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but sit there together, saying sonorous words in unison, listening to language we did not hear anywhere else in our lives...Although we could have sat quietly with Bibles on our laps and read these things to ourselves, we took turns reading them out loud to each other instead. The words sounded different...from the mouth of a young mother than they did from the mouth of a widow. This was because the words did not come straight off the page. They percolated up through the silt and gravel of real people's lives so that the meaning in them was fluid, not fixed. Listening to one another read Holy Scripture, some of us learned what is meant by 'the living word of God.'"
--Barbara Brown Taylor in Leaving Church

Monday, August 6, 2007


For all you chocolate lovers, from D.W. Congdon:
"I consider myself a connoisseur of many things: microbrews, pipe tobacco, foreign films, indie music. But recently I have been gravitating toward artisan chocolate. Not the stuff you buy at the supermarket. Not the bland, mass-produced Hershey’s bars (though I still love my Reese’s Pieces). Not sugar-injected chocolate that has lost any trace of the original cacao beans. No, artisan chocolates are to Hershey what microbrews are to Budweiser. They are crafted by small chocolate makers with unique flavors and ingredients."
Read the rest of his theology of chocolate here.

And more from Ben Myers: "To enter a little French or Swiss chocolaterie – the sight! the smells! mon Dieu, the taste! – is one of life’s most sublime experiences. The development of existentialist philosophy in France and of neo-orthodox theology in Switzerland can, in my view, be traced directly to the quality of the chocolates of those regions. (On the other hand, the dour humourlessness of the Religious Right in America can perhaps best be explained by unwrapping a Hershey bar.)"
Here are the rest of his musings.

And more: a Willy Wonka Version (WWV) of Galatians 5.13-26 or "chocology".

Personally I prefer dark chocolate. Is that because as a depraved being that's all I will choose? Or is the white chocolate masquerading as the good (wolf in sheep's clothing and all that) and only the regenerated can tell the difference? Maybe it's context that determines meaning. So it's all in the reading of the text, or the eating of the text.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Noticing Beauty

Several months ago the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten asked Joshua Bell, one of the nation's great violinists, to conduct an experiment. Would Bell be recognized or even noticed playing his music on his Stradivarious in a D.C. Metro stop during rush hour? (Thanks to Lydia for showing me this amazing video).

Beauty out of context. Though just days before tickets to his concert were going for $100.00, only a very few stopped to hear a master play on a master instrument. Would I have been one of them? I think I might have been one of the crowd tuning out. I've been thinking lately about Sabbath rest and wondering if, for us in this age of information overload, the rest should be from...information. From blogs and e-mails and newsgroups and facebook and google and ipods and reality shows. Maybe then we could again hear and see and smell and touch and taste, tune in to the real show, to the sacred in any context.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hipps' Website

I forgot to post this link to Shane Hipps' website, where he promotes his book using "soundbytes" of contextless information that scroll over a flat screen. Your choices to read about the book, author, reviews are on a remote. Cool intentional irony.