Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Mind of the Church

Until a few centuries ago it was assumed by Christians of all stripes that one must read the Bible in the context of the mind of the Church. The notion that one could apply a particular interpretive methodology and then that methodology would yield assured results all by itself in a sort of interpretive vacuum was non-existent. Of course interpretive methodologies have always been used in the Church -- read Augustine's On Christian Doctrine to see one of the best treatments from the patristic era.

Now I am not against interpretive methodologies -- especially the historical/grammatical approach. One of my favorite contemporary biblical scholars is N.T. Wright. His work uses more than the historical/grammatical method but he definitely uses it. Can one say 2nd temple Judaism?

But for centuries it was understood that these methodologies were the tools of the Church qua Church, not the tools of individual interpreters to use to gain idiosyncratic interpretations. The Spirit was given to the Church and leads the Church to into all truth. This isn't set against the need for good methodology and rigorous scholarship. And it doesn't mean the Church doesn't need to refine its understanding of the doctrine based on the work of individual interpreters. It means the Church is the seed bed and context where rigorous scholarship happens. Each individual interpreter ought to submit him or herself to the 2000 year old conversation of the Church.

I recognize there are different models for the how the mind of the Church is discerned. But the greatest divide in methodology is not between those who embrace different approaches for discerning the mind of the Church. The greatest divide is between those who embrace the posture of bowing to the mind of the Church and those who do not. For me I find the model set forth by Bishop Ken in my masthead most satisfying: "I die in the holy catholic and apostolic faith, professed by the whole church before the division of East and West."

It is interesting that Bp. Ken states he dies in the faith of the Church rather than the faith of the Bible.

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