Bodies and the Body

Yesterday we managed to divert both Cyril O’Regan, Huisking Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, and Matthew Levering of Ave Maria University to St Andrews to give us papers. In the morning Prof O’Regan explored von Balthasar’s apocalyptic trinitarianism, which helped me to understand why Halden has thought McCormack’s ideas echo Balthasar. In the afternoon, Dr Levering gave us a paper soon to be published in Pro Ecclesia on the theological interpretation of Scripture, a topic we talk a lot about in St Andrews.

Levering explored proposals from O’Collins and from the Princeton Scripture Project before giving us his own account of what theological interpretation ought to look like. It was good stuff. One point got me thinking, however. He suggested that theological interpretation should be ‘embodied’, which he glossed by saying that the lives of the Saints (and, perhaps, saints) should be read as privileged interpretations of Scripture.

I don’t disagree with the point (I’ve explored something similar in passing in chapter 2 of my Listening to the Past, indeed), but when elevated to the status of a normative principle for hermeneutics, it made me pause. My instinctive, Baptist/Congregationalist, reaction was to resist locating the normative performance of Scripture in individual lives, and instead to locate it in the lives of Christian communities. ‘Is not the visible church of the New Testament with all the ordinances thereof the chief and principal part of the Gospel?’ asked John Smyth as the Baptists began. I actually believe that the answer is yes.

2 Comments

  1. Tony
    Jan 12, 2008

    “My instinctive, Baptist/Congregationalist, reaction was to resist locating the normative performance of Scripture in individual lives, and instead to locate it in the lives of Christian communities.”

    But this really is a false dichotomy, isn’t it? Why choose one over the other? Why not both, in some dialectical tension with each other? The saint after all is never alone; he belongs to, if I remember right, a “communion” that, in St. Paul’s word, is also the “Body of Christ.”

  2. Steve H
    Jan 12, 2008

    Hi Tony, welcome.

    To an extent I agree with you. However, (1) Matthew was insisting on one rather than the other; (2) Am I allowed to be thoroughly fed up with ‘dialectical tensions’?! (3) I do think there are two arguments in favour of prioritising communities.
    The first is the Hauerwasian point, which I tend to agree with (I don’t always with Stan’s stuff…), that people are formed by communities. The second is that I think there are both exegetical and theological reasons to suggestion that communities can instantiate virtues, perhaps particularly central gospel virtues, that individuals simply cannot. I was preaching last week on the first few verses of Col. 1, and one of the points made in the commentaries (Tom Wright in his little Tyndale commentary particularly stresses it, I recall) is that Paul is stressing the fact of Christian community as the key witness to the reality of the gospel. As Jonathan Edwards once said, ‘One alone cannot be excellent…’

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