Everyone In Cork Is A Clown

Wright And Whether He Is Right
So remember when I waxed lyrical about the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright’s ideas on how the Bible can be authoritative? No? You do. Here and here. Jaybercrow also had a go at explaining it to you. Well now Bob, the Corkonian Clown has gotten in on the act, which is terrifically cool because it almost seems as if we’re having a theological conversation. A bunch of young Irish guys (we may need to convince Jayber of that the Nordie Prod) are talking about big heavyweight things. And I’m allowed in the gang. How cool is that? I thought I should respond. That is what web-bloggers do, or so I read in the Churchman’s Guide To Modern Technology: From Blogs to Flying Butresses In 700 Pages Of Densely Packed, Scripture Annotated Text.

Right off the bat, Bob makes a mistake. Jaybercrow may read theology while D, his wife sleeps soundly by his side. Bob may be the same (well, not with D but you get the idea). But I have never fallen asleep after my wife. I am usually asleep before I reach upstairs, nevermind reading in bed. Maybe that is because of my gigantic cardboard mansion which takes five minutes to walk from the kitchen to the bedroom but the fact remains, I read theology in the morning or I laminate all the pages and read it in the shower but I could never do that brainy reading at night. Once sun sets I can really only last for forty five minutes before the Sandman takes me.

So now that my sleeping habits have been clarified, let’s do some discussion. I would agree with his diagnosis of Wright’s complaints in the paper but I would disagree when he says Wright doesn’t role-model or elaborate practical steps for applying his model to the actual text of the Bible. I would argue that Wright’s career has been marked by book after book after freaking book until there are now almost 50 in print where he interprets Scripture against the backdrop of the model he proposes. The widespread acceptance that has met his major works (like the Jesus And The Victory Of God that I finished yesterday) stem in part from the cohesion provided his arguments by the framework of authority that he interprets inside. But all of this is way outside my field of knowledge and it isn’t really Bob’s main point. Here is his main point:

My chances of challenging Jayber’s “improvisation” are no better than my chances of challenging his assertion of a “timeless truth” he has culled from scripture. They depend entirely on his (that is, Jayber’s) character — it seems to me my chances of entering into dialogue with Jayber are equal in each case.

Of course this is true in a sense. But I know Jaybercrow and he is really lovely and he would be very nice if you challenged him on something. Ok? Argument over? Good.

Wait. I didn’t understand the point Bob was making. Now I do.

The thing about Wright’s model is that it shifts the grip we use to hold on to Scripture from being one of Truth with a capital T and all the power claims that go with that to being one of Creativity and Faithfulness with all the openess that has to be absorbed by such a position. If I were debating one of Jayber’s former students in Norn Iron, they would undoubtedly come at me with a Platonic interpretation of Scripture as a set of timeless truths. If I was to challenge that I would be challenging the very core of their life. If you have Truth with a Capital T, there can be no space for diversity. If I cause the temple of Truth to shudder, I am killing the faith. He or she must wipe my interpretation off the court since that is logically demanded by the tight grip they hold on the Bible.

But the Wright model is a lot more engaged in the text as a conversation, as a journey with a mentor, as the guiding hand of a shepherd. The text (technically, the author of the text) may well know all that there is to know but it would not be possible to impart that to me. Instead, it guides me where I am. I live immersed in it, I swim in its waters and try to map my life on to its map- its preoccupation with redemption and reconciliation, justice and peace. I may go one way and you may go another but a challenge to my 5th Act performance is to be expected and welcomed. A critical appraisal is a crucial part of the theatre groups’ ongoing vitality. If you critique my position (say, that babies in Christian families should be baptised), you are not denying all that I stand for. You are asking why I think that this is a faithful interpretation of what has gone before.

Now as it turns out, I would talk about circumcision and covenant and all the adult baptists like Jaybercrow would have to say, “Damn that is a pretty convincing continuation of the major themes. Let us all quit our sillyness and start baptising babies” and then one of the worst things in the world, the Baptist Churches would be destroyed and God’s Kingdom would come.

What I am trying to jokingly get across is that the model we utilise affects how we respond to things. A totalising system like many unreconstructed evangelical authority systems demand that we go and wipe out the divergence. With Wright, we can let the divergence exist, even celebrate it, while having reasoned and gracious discussion about differences. The conversation is likely to be totally different because we aren’t hellbent on wiping the other out.

The other great thing about Wright’s framework is that Scripture does not come to us as propositional truth. Even where it does, for example in the Pauline letters, it is set within the ongoing story of the missionary journeys. An advantage for Wright is that his model does bear a closer resembelance to what Scripture actually is, which is what we’d expect from a good, decent, honest, sane Critical Realist like he is.

I don’t know if this gets to the heart of Bob’s hesitations. Neuro and I have discussed this topic at length. She was not convinced by this framework at all but is slowly coming around as she sees the very real way it can be applied to life and as she realises that the nature of disagreement would be categorically different if our dispute was based in aesthethics instead of dogma. It was always an arrogant conceit to think that a body of doctrine could be advanced as the universally complete interpretation of God’s action in our world. The model that Wright advances has another crucial attractive quality to it- it encourages us to turn our critical reflection inwards on our own theatre group’s interpretation in pursuit of faithful innovation and better delivery. It turns on its head, I suspect, the divisive and critical tone that has been our corner of Christianity’s most dogged and persistent contribution to Church.

Your Correspondent, He enjoys things he remembers

14 Responses to “Everyone In Cork Is A Clown”

  1. jimlad says:

    You’re going too fast. Please slow down. I can’t keep up.

  2. stigmund says:

    It’s official: this blog has lost me.

    Dumb down, dammit.

  3. zoomtard says:

    I know guys. I know. Even I was bored by this entry. Mea culpa.

    Damnit! Mea culpa means my fault.

    Idiots.

  4. jimlad says:

    Hey I’m not an idiot. When I said I can’t keep up I was actually speaking for Stigmund’s sake.

    (sly look at Stigmund)

  5. stigmund says:

    Jimlad actually sent me a text telling me to say that. Sorry to sound patronising, Jimbo, but it was simple to understand.

    To patronise is to ‘talk down’ to someone by the way.

  6. Babette says:

    I actually sent Barrett a text to tell him to say that.

  7. zoomtard says:

    I lost my phone so I can’t claim to have texted Babette.

    But I’m not stupid because I lost it in the Research Room of the Chester Beatty Library. Bob Heffernan, me and Jaybercrow were comparing sizes.

  8. […] Archives « Everyone In Cork Is A Clown […]

  9. jaybercrow says:

    … of our bibles, obviously. But Zoomie had a Catholic bible with 25% extra free so he was victorious.

  10. stigmund says:

    Zoomtard actually sent me a text to tell Jaybercrow to say that.

  11. jimlad says:

    Heh Heh, I actually sent a text to Stigmund to say that.

  12. jimlad says:

    This is great fun! I love messing with you guys, pretending to send texts and doing other fun stuff!

  13. […] There was a little flurry of activity around our tiny dark, dusty cupboard of the internet a few weeks back when the Nerdlingers (Jaybercrow, Peebles, Bob and me) blogged boringly about the Bible and what authority it might have. Because I was reading a book about homosexuality in the church (yawn) I started reading Tom Wright’s little book explaining his views on the topic. Oh what a book it is! […]