‘The Discipline of Scripture’ by Rowan Williams

Chapter 4 in On Christian Theology (Oxford; Blackwell, 2000)

In the tradition of Copernicus I ask:  Is the bible flat or round?

For the last half century Philosophers have grappled with the problem of subjectivity.  It seems the veil has been lifted from our eyes and we can no longer deny that texts are flat.  Reading unavoidably involves interpretation.  Human knowing is always mediated – through ourselves and through others – and thereby is always subject to the particular set of life experiences and definitions of the reader.

I cannot understate how important I believe this question is for the contemporary  Church.  Evangelical Protestants in particular came through the Enlightenment with a burdened view of Scripture as FLAT.  That the bible has one message, only one interpretation is acceptable.  Unfortunately, the only way to enforce a single interpretation of a text is through the exercise of social power- domination and control!

Williams suggestion is not so much that the Bible is round (global!), but rather that it is kind of wobbly, dynamic, like the pictures of sound waves I remember drawing in year 8 science class!  His concern is that the eschatology (end time) of God does not get blocked by the book cover – a kind of sound barrier that has the capacity to repel the sound waves back upon itself if the unfolding of time is not allowed to continue beyond the page.  Rather, the story of God continues to unfold each time a person interacts with Jesus and the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God to life in a new life, a new context.  Only God has control over the actions of the Spirit and only God will decide when the final Word has been said.

One thought on “‘The Discipline of Scripture’ by Rowan Williams

  1. Or to pull some other metaphors from science: (1) as light is confusingly both a particle and a wave, interpretation is both objective and subjective. (2) Like electrons can never be pinned down to a particular location, the subjectivity we bring to the process always eludes our grasp.

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