1.5.09

O'Donovan on Scriptural interpretation

This is great stuff and beautifully written. O'Donovan makes some interesting points for how we are to read scripture:

The writer wraps his truth in bulrushes and pitch and sets it afloat on the river of history; the reader, like Pharaoh’s daughter, picks it from the reeds and hears its cry. If we will not read seriously, we shall miss the instruction of former times, prisoned in the villagy parochialism of our little moment in civilisation. The text has its purpose beyond its own age and circumstance, and no text can be interpreted merely by careful evocation of the moment in which it arose. Interpreters who reduce the meaning of written words to a note about their provenance, merely misunderstand them. But neither is the text interpreted by what our age makes of it. The fact that the reader stands alone before the text and its claim does not make the reader sovereign, licensing any imposition on the text that fancy or the need of the moment may dictate...We cannot think of colonising the text, like an under-populated continent, of occupying it so thoroughly with the culture of our own civilisation that it becomes precisely what we want it to be. It must always be possible to challenge, out of the text itself, even the most historic and consensual readings if they are downright wrong...it is because God freely summons us to obedient freedom, that “there will always be more questions put to us by what we encounter.” How could there not be questions put to us if authority is genuinely a practical, not merely a speculative category, and if obedience is the final term of revelation, not merely assent? Obedience is never predetermined, it has always be thought through and sought after. If, then, we are to take seriously the Jerusalem Declaration’s call for obedience to Scripture, we shall need to take seriously the Archbishop’s call to engage with the “further questions” that arise as we seek to obey the norms the text communicates. There is no way of doing the one without doing the other...What we are called to in the difficult discernments of our age, many of them without precedent, is an act of two-way interpretation, reading the text for our time, but also reading our time from the text.

Sometimes, Evangelicals talk past each other and engage in conversation with presuppositions blazing about each other's way of reading. I have felt at times that because I support women in ministry, other evangelicals are assuming that I am a product of my culture, a feminist; someone responding to social mores. It is very difficult sometimes to persuade others that you have come to your decision from scripture alone. I continue also to find it very frustrating that in some conversations I have had, it is assumed that the consecration of women will lead in turn to the consecration of Gay Bishops or the church marriage of a man to a man or a woman to a woman. I really do not understand how the one is thought to lead to the other.

I must admit I struggled for a while to understand how a case can be made for prohibiting women in ministry to mixed congregations from scripture alone, I had suspected at first that this reading was bound up with tradition and perhaps even the product of patriarchal thinking but I understand it differently now - I recognise both integrities. Perhaps it is only fair, therefore that I have been on the receiving end of presumptuous thinking, for I have been guilty of it myself.

I still hold to the idea that where there is ambiguity, we have to allow for it.

There are, of course, certain fundamentals which are set down in our creeds and the 39 articles and I do understand the Bible as quite prescriptive about our sexual expression, for example.

There are many curtailments of our behaviour which are proscribed for our own protection because we have a loving God who wants to protect us from the harmful consequences of our own sinful actions. We are miserable wretches because of the struggle within us (Romans 7:15-20). However, I do not consider my support of women in ministry (ordained and consecrated) to be the product of this sort of struggle. I have other behaviours caught up in this battle, as we all do. I might not always express myself as I should, I am conscious of my sinfulness here, but holding to the idea as a position is not tantamount to going my own way and being disobedient to God and I think it is this which I am hoping will be recognised. On a practical level, I still struggle completely to understand how it might be sinful for a woman to explore God's word with both men and women. I am trying really hard to understand. it's just that I am always left asking myself questions like 'What will happen? What are the consequences? If a woman is the vehicle that the Spirit uses to bring a man into a living relationship with Christ through her preaching and teaching of the scriptures, how can this not only be a cause for celebration, just as much as it would be if it all happened the other way around?

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.