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Archive for August, 2016

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

“He who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” (Psalm 9:12)

DeathOfASalesman“I don’t say he’s a great man.  Willy Loman never made a lot of money.  His name was never in the paper.  He’s not the finest character that ever lived.  But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him.  So attention must be paid.  He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.” (Linda to Biff concerning her husband Willy, in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Act 1)

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Yandell“Historically, the identity of the church has been constituted in good part by its being that community which takes the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as canonical under interpretation…What goes into taking as canonical is rich and complex; but a rather good metaphor for expressing that complexity is that one inhabits the biblical text and its world…If the church no longer inhabits the biblical story, or inhabits it only so far as such habitation is compatible with inhabiting some other more fundamental story, then its identity, at least as traditionally secured, is threatened.  The church’s identity has been a story-constituted identity

All of us, when children, inhabited the worlds of stories we read or were told in such a way that our perceptions, our imaginations, our emotions, our actions, our descriptions, were shaped thereby…The same is true, though perhaps less obviously so, for us as adults: we all live story-shaped lives.  The issue is not whether we will do so; the issue is rather, which are the stories that will shape our lives?…Recovering the authority of Scripture in the life of the Christian community must include recovering the practice of inhabiting  the world of the biblical narrative…More than that: the story that most decisively shapes our lives must be the biblical story…If the church no longer feels obligated to conform its life to, and guide its narrative interpretations by, the biblical story, the authority of the Bible in the life of the church is seriously impaired, the church’s identity is endangered.” (Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Living Within a Text,” in Faith and Narrative, ed. Keith E. Yandell, pp. 205, 211-12)

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Frei“Western Christian reading of the Bible in the days before the rise of historical criticism in the eighteenth century was usually strongly realistic, i.e. at once literal and historical, and not only doctrinal or edifying.  The words and sentences meant what they said, and because they did so they accurately described real events and real truths that were rightly put only in those terms and no others…All those stories [in the Bible] together went into the making of a single storied or historical sequence…[Christians] envisioned the real world as formed by the sequence told by the biblical stories…

Since the world truly rendered by combining biblical narratives into one was indeed the one and only real world, it must in principle embrace the experience of any present age and reader.  Not only was it possible for him, it was also his duty to fit himself into that world in which he was in any case a member, and he too did so in part by figural interpretation and in part of course by his mode of life.  He was to see his disposition, his actions and passions, the shape of his own life as well as that of his era’s events as figures of that storied world.

A story such as that of man’s creation and ‘fall’ (Genesis 1-3) made sense in its own right and as part of the larger story into which it was incorporated by Christian interpreters, beginning with St. Paul.  But in addition, figuration made sense of the general extra-biblical structure of human experience, and of one’s own experience…Biblical interpretation became an imperative need, but its direction was that of incorporating extra-biblical thought, experience, and reality into the one real world detailed and made accessible by the biblical story–not the reverse.  As Auerbach suggests, in a striking contrast of Homer’s Odyssey and Old Testament narrative:

‘Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history…Everything else that happens in the world can only be conceived as an element in this sequence; into it everything that is known about the world…must be fitted as an ingredient of the divine plan.’

In the process of interpretation the story itself, constantly adapted to new situations and new ways of thinking, underwent ceaseless revision; but in steadily revised form it still remained the adequate depiction of the common and inclusive world until the coming of modernity.  As the eighteenth century went on, this mode of interpretation and the outlook it represented broke down with increasing rapidity…

The direction of interpretation now became the reverse of earlier days.  Do the stories and whatever concepts may be drawn from them describe what we apprehend as the real world?  Do they fit a more general framework of meaning than that of a single story?…In effect, the realistic or history-like quality of biblical narratives, acknowledged by all, instead of being examined for the bearing it had in its own right on meaning and interpretation was immediately transposed into the quite different issue of whether or not the realistic narrative was historical.

This simple transposition and logical confusion between two categories or contexts of meaning and interpretation constitutes a story that has remained unresolved in the history of biblical interpretation ever since.” (Hans FreiThe Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics, pp. 1-16)

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The Great Reversal

“The late Hans Frei of Yale University described the development of early modernity as a ‘great reversal,’ whereby the biblical narrative was gradually displaced from its centrality.  No longer was the Bible regarded as the ‘story-encompassing story’ within which the communities of Western culture located themselves.  Instead of the Genesis-to-Revelation narrative, secular humanity located itself within another narrative centered on humanity’s conquest of the natural world, its growing self-mastery, and advancing freedom.  Hegel wrote that ‘the history of the world is nothing but the development of the idea of freedom.’  The great reversal occurred when the world of the biblical narrative was accepted as valid only to the extent that it fit into a secular narrative of human advancement.  If Frei’s analysis of early modernity is correct, then Edwards’s lifework might be seen as a massive attempt to reverse the great reversal and reestablish a theocentric perspective within a culture increasingly alienated from God.  Rather than striking a deal with secularity by limiting God’s activity to special, supernatural occurrences (Paley), or abandoning the attempt to prove God’s presence and activity in the world by rational arguments (Schleiermacher), Edwards set for himself the prodigious task of rethinking the entire intellectual culture of his day and turning it to the advantage of God.” (Michael J. McClymond, Encounters With God, p. 112)

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