Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Tom Wright: "A Scripture-formed Communion?"

Like a good Calvinist, Wright begins with God's authority. Scripture's authority is a way of "...recognising that, not replacing it." It matters how we read the book; it's an expression of authority rather than its origin. In His freedom, God has spoken to us through this strange and sprawling gathering of texts. Wright knows that as far as hermeneutics is concerned, we need to remember that this isn't simply a matter of information; every text has a context. Scripture comes to life in history; souls and communities witness to God's great work through us and for us. It demands a response, so we find ourselves "...actors in the ongoing drama". 

Community formation doesn't turn around the question of legislative leniency but how we are to live with each other as the kingdom. This is about recognising our vocation and responding ethically. Scripture gives account of His authority; we're called to do the same. The conversion of the heart we're called to is a conversion of our nature and as such is concerned with our desire. This, for Wright, is where the question of what constitutes a Christian sexual ethic figures as inescapable. We can see it in the epistles as Paul works to imagine the community of the Early Church. There is no setting apart ethics from doctrine. While I would take a different view on human sexuality, I know that the only arguments with weight cannot dismiss any scriptural claims as cultural.

Towards the end of the essay he fleshes out the idea of a covenant community: familial obligations (we are one family). This is the same community that we find in Acts and the Epistles. He also looks at what this means for the Anglican Communion today.

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There are times when I like the plain approach of Wright; it's rare that I find myself in agreement. A good reason to keep reading him, I suppose. There's little I disagree with here, although there remains a good many passages of scripture I struggle with that make an easy living with the whole of the canon impossible. It's never enough to make metaphor from the God sanctioned violence. What part do the passages on ethnic cleansing play in the coming of the Kingdom? What are we to do with this as a covenant community? We should take people's struggles with scripture seriously - hold on the book and take account of the moments of revulsion and incredulity.

What grabs me here is the idea that narrative matters; it shape us. The great tale held in common that scripture is can infuse the very flesh of us, calling each life to the one life through and after the last page. This is the bible not as reportage - the text as somehow unmediated - but the blossoming of a vision. Wright knows that when we talk of both the Law and the Prophets, we are talking of something irreducible, an epic to be heard again and again where we're to reinscribe ourselves; the story where our stories begin. Rather than sifting through the epistles setting the ethical wheat aside from the cultural chaff, we should trace there the struggle for a living, unified, believing community.
Alan Moore in a recent interview talks about finding the poetry in the ordinary street and letting ourselves become mythic figures. As far as scripture and the kingdom is concerned we don't have that kind of imaginative autonomy. However, we shouldn't doubt that what's here for us is a living world, that in the dust and struggle, the wealth and the poverty, the violence and complacency, God was writing out his poetry and drawing unexpected people to a curious form of heroism. We ourselves are called to the same field of action, to the same risks and anomalous moments.

1 comment:

  1. It's strange to read a piece like this after the shifts in thinking over the last year. Poetry has given my faith the shakes but it won't spirit it away.

    I'm not sure how hungry I am for "the great tale held in common" any more.

    As for the "believing community", while I may have made my way through the gates, I'm the dissonant note, the boy at odds.