Monday, May 18, 2009

Which came first the community or the Scripture?

I have finally come home, so to speak. As far as a text is concerned, my journey into theological studies began with Stanley Hauerwas', Unleasing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America. With a title like that you are correct to assume the he is an ornery little b-word (choose your own b-word). Incidently, ornery is a fun word. I certainly can't say that my theological education began with this text because that would be in total contradiction the point Hauerwas is trying to make, which is that texts (oh, say, the bible, for example) don't exist as such. They exist because there is a community prior to text that allow's such a text to have authority over them. They have said that such a text serves as a guide, a rule (in the best sense of the word), that keeps them on the road and not in the ditch.

Thus Hauerwas says, "Therefore we cannot ask how we ought to interpret the text because we assume that the text exist prior to such interpretive strategies. We must acknowledge that interpretive strategies are are already at work in shaping our reading, and hence our conception of what a text is."

The interpretive strategy at work is a way of being in the world that is already embodied in the people of God. Yes, the strategy IS a way of being. The Scripture has authority in the sense that that way of being in the world that the Church affirms is captured in the form of a story about ... yes, you guessed it ... about how to be in the world in a particular way as the people of God. The discipline (discipleship) of being a follower of Jesus was already at work when the church discerned (and mind you this discernment occured over hundreds of years) which texts helped them maintain a continuity with the Jesus way. You might say they discerned which texts helped them continue their discipline as followers of Jesus. The need for such an authority became more and more apparanet as the years went on and Christ did not return.


Brian Postlewait said...

This has always been interesting to me. I'm in agreement for the most part.

I like Richard Hayse's Moral Vision of the New Testament here. What was first, chicken or egg? Perhaps it's not either/or as you've suggested, but both/and.

In some sense, these texts were so localized and so embodied, that I wonder if it's not incorrect to say, "the text was the community," and "the community was the text." They are inseparable. It's only in our modern sensibility that we are able to separate the two. Like the Hebrew understanding of knowledge (yada-to know). Knowledge can never be separated from active responsibility towards that knowledge.

Of course this is very controversial in our circles--in requires at the least a modified vision of divine inspiration.

Scott Savage said...


Your mentioning Hays reminded me of what McKnight says in The Blue Parakeet. Essentially, he says that the bible reveals a pattern of discernment and that it is authoritative because that pattern of discernment helps us discern for our own times and places. I think this guards against the particularity of Scripture, thus allowing it remain appropriately contextual. But is also doesn't negate the authority of Scripture. It is that to which we return so that we can be immersed in a story in which we are simultaneously already characters. We might say the Scripture IS the community because it is a pattern of discernment from those who have gone before, a gift for us by our neighbor in the power of the Holy Spirit (divine inspiration?) for faithfulness.

But who can say it all in one blog post.

Hope things are going well with you!

Scott Savage said...

Through Hauerwas we might say that the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit is the reality that makes the Scripture possible.

rick savage said...

Furthermore, if I might add, "Scripture can be rightly interpreted only within the practices of a body of people constituted by the unity found in the Eucharist.' (p. 23)

Scott Savage said...

Yes, the Eucharist reminds us, as Hauerwas states, that the Scripture is not self-interpreting.

Scott Savage said...

I'd also add that the Eucharist is about a reality that stands over and above the interpretive community. As I was thinking about it, the Eucharistic meal indicates that the final move is always God eschatologically calling our lives, i.e. our interpretations into question. We work hard to discern the pattern of the Jesus way for our time and place only as a people whose conclusion's are simultaneously called into question.