Leader: Picking up the Bible’s tune

by
18 April 2007

“JESUS CHRIST lives in his Church through the Holy Spirit according to his promise, and . . . the Church is therefore both guardian and interpreter of Holy Scripture; nevertheless the Church may teach nothing as ‘necessary for eternal salvation but what may be concluded and proved by the Scripture’. . . The Conference gratefully acknowledges our debt to the host of devoted scholars who, worshipping the God of Truth, have enriched and deepened our understanding of the Bible, not least by facing with intellectual integrity the questions raised by modern knowledge and modern criticism. . . The Conference invites the Churches of the Anglican Communion to engage in a special effort during the next ten years to extend the scope and deepen the quality of personal and corporate study of the Bible.”

So run, in part, the 1958 Lambeth Conference’s 12 resolutions on the Bible. If the Conference said no to obscurantism, it gave a clear yes to zeal. The Bishops’ Resolution 7 affirmed “the importance of preaching, both evangelistic and expository, ministered as a means of grace, by men who have experienced the power of the gospel in their own lives”. The Conference also linked scripture and liturgy closely.

Episcopal mutton these resolutions may be, but to the untutored eye they could be lamb, if it were not, of course, for that word “men”. What makes them seem apposite this week, however, is the Larkin Stuart lecture by Dr Williams in Toronto. In it, he refuses to take the Bible out of its relation to the eucharist; and more than one reader is likely to hear echoes of the “biblical theology” of the 1950s. “Some of our present difficulties are, at the very least, compounded by the collisions of theologically inept or rootless acounts of Scripture, and it seems imperative to work at a genuine theology of the Bible as the sacred literature of the Church,” Dr Williams warns. “. . . The canon is presented to us as a whole, whose unity is real and coherent, even if not superficially smooth.”

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Will Lambeth 2008, visible on the horizon, find a consensus on this? Many will hope so. Not everyone will quickly grasp what Dr Williams means by “tracing the ‘time’ of the text so as to chart where it is moving”. But, being interpreted, the Archbishop, wary of taking up either “conservative” or “revisionist” postures, is warning readers against an impatience to find what they expect to in the text. They are to listen to these scriptures as from a different time and place, and not to assume that they are already singing the same tune. The Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, has drawn attention to the revolutionary cultural diversification of the Anglican episcopate since the imperial twilight in which Lambeth 1958 met. If there is to be sincere agreement rather than merely division or compulsion next year, he and the other bishops may need to put a premium on following these hints from Dr Williams.

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