Stirring the Pot

You should know by now that I love Stanley Hauerwas. He’s pithy, provocative, and faithful. And he likes to stir the pot. Here’s something he wrote in “Unleashing the Scripture:”

“Most North American Christians assume they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important for the church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to every child when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked….Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.”

Wow. That’ll turn some heads. Essentially, Hauerwas is arguing that if we read the Bible without being shaped by the practices and norms of the Church and the Christian life, then we will read into the Bible all of our own presuppositions and worldview. For example, if we have not yet learned to follow the nonviolent example of Jesus, then reading “turn the other cheek” will have no power in our lives. Rather, we will justify those times when we don’t turn the other cheek and repay with violence and say something like, “Well, I had to use my common sense.”

This is Hauerwas’ point. We have to learn a new common sense. We have to learn, from the Church, the saints, and our tradition, how to live as a Christian before we can make sense of what Jesus says. It is necessary to first acquire the habits of a virtuous Christian life before really understanding what is going on in the scriptures.

Different, huh?

3 thoughts on “Stirring the Pot

  1. Modernity and its attendent individualism don’t fit well into the Christian story. At the same time, this is in the air we breathe. Good to have Hauerwas shaking us out of our assumptions.

  2. Or, as Rowan Williams puts it:
    “The Reformation was an attempt to put the Bible at the heart of the Church again–not to give it into the hands of private readers. The Bible was to be seen as a public document, the charter of the Church’s life; all believers should have access to it because all would need to know the common language of the Church and the standards by which the Church argued about theology and behaviour. The huge Bibles that were chained up in English churches in the sixteenth century were there as a sign of this. It was only as the rapid development of cheap printing advanced that the Bible as a single affordable volume came to be within everyone’s reach as something for individuals to possess and study in private. The leaders of the Reformation would have been surprised to be associated with any move to encourage anyone and everyone to form their own conclusions about the Bible. For them, it was once again a text to be struggled with in the context of prayer and shared reflection.”
    ― Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

    1. Right on stich. The scriptures have to be read from the heart of the church. I also think that the ready availability of the Bible for personal use has done much damage to our thoughts about the Bible. Scripture is seen to be Scripture because it was inspired, not because it was used by a majority of churches in the fourth century.

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