Tasting Chris Green’s Sanctifying Interpretation – Part 3: “Scripture as Divine and Deifying Foolishness”

Sanctifying InterpretationAnd a final excerpt from Chris Green’s Sanctifying Interpretation: Vocation, Holiness, and Scripture (pp. 127–29):

By and large, evangelical models emphasize the ‘glory’ of the Scriptures: their majesty, their beauty, their power. But the Scriptures are at-one-ed with Christ as the living Word of the gospel’s God only insofar as they share in his ongoing humiliation, in his weakness and foolishness that subverts worldly power and wisdom (1 Cor. 1.18–25). God’s glory is revealed above all in God’s humility, as the events of creation, the call of Israel in Abraham, the Incarnation, Passion and Ascension, and the Eucharistic gathering of the Church testify. And the same holds for the Scriptures. They are holy just in that they are ‘low and despised’, chosen to expose the pretensions of the wise and the strong, ‘to reduce to nothing’ our assumptions about God, ourselves, and the world works (1 Cor. 1.27–28). The sacred texts, in Hamann words, are like the ‘old rags’ twisted together into ropes to draw Jeremiah from his pit.[1] Receiving them in this way, we find ourselves humbled, made that much more transparent, opened in small and odd ways toward God in our neighbor and our neighbor in God.

God against Us for Us

This reveals one of the strangest strangenesses in the Christian life: on the one hand, we cannot even begin to read the Bible as Scripture unless we have some sense of who God is and what God is like, but, on the other hand, we never read the Scripture faithfully without having our sense of what God is like in some way dramatically upended and altered. We can be sure, for example, that God is not capricious or cruel. We can know that God is not in any sense unfaithful. But the awful truth is that even in knowing God’s faithfulness we misperceive what that faithfulness means for us and requires of us at any given time. Therefore, we have to let the Spirit rescue us from readings of Scripture that distort the image of God. Reading faithfully, our idolatrous misapprehensions of God are graciously wrecked, again and again, as we are drawn toward Christlikeness.

John 5 shows that many of Jesus’ contemporaries rejected him because they believed his actions on the Sabbath violated the Scriptures. But he responds by insisting that they are in fact misreading the sacred Scriptures. ‘You pore over the scriptures’, he warns them, ‘believing that in them you can find eternal life’ (Jn 5.39a NJB). Tragically, they cannot see how these very texts witness to Christ. ‘It is these scriptures that testify to me, and yet you refuse to come to me to receive life!’ (Jn 5.39b–40 NJB). Therefore, in the End, they stand accused by the very texts they claim to understand and wield in judgment against Jesus. 

45Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?

Jesus not only rebukes them for failing to keep the Law given by Moses (Jn 7.19), but also insists that they in effect have re-written the Law in their own terms. Twice he tells them, ‘In your law it is written …’ (Jn 8.17; 10.34), and in his last words to his disciples he says he has been hated without cause ‘to fulfill the word that is written in their law’ (Jn 15.25). Tellingly, at Jesus’ trial ‘the Jews’ tell Pilate, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die’ (Jn 19.7), and Pilate gives them their way: ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law’ (Jn 18.31).[2]

Like those who opposed Jesus then, we can, and no doubt often do, search the Scriptures futilely, to our own and others’ hurt. We can so distort the Scriptures that we make God’s Word unfaithfully our own. We need to be saved from these unsanctified and unsanctifying readings, and that salvation takes place only as we allow the Spirit to uses texts to threaten and overthrow our (mis)readings. Scripture sanctifies us by overthrowing the unfaithful uses we have made of Scripture, by being a Word not of our own making, a Word that is for us by first being against us. It is as we struggle with texts that wreak havoc with our interpretive grid that we, like Jacob, are seized by the unnamed one who speaks the saving blessing.

[1] See John R. Betz, After Enlightenment: the Post-Secular Vision of J.G. Hamann (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 43–45.

[2] Similarly, Paul differentiates ‘the Torah of sin and death’ from ‘the Torah of the Spirit of life’ (Rom. 8.2), a difference determined by how we read—and live in response to—the Scriptures.

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