In the last couple of days I have found a couple of things in my reading which have come together in a really encouraging way.
Several years ago, in Walter Brueggemann’s fabulous Theology of the Old Testament I read the idea that the creation stories (in Genesis) offer us a world into which we may live. They are inviting texts.
I’ve lived with and played with this idea, in my teaching, preaching and scholarship, for some years.
The idea is that reading the Bible is not so much about dredging into the past, to find out what was meant, and then somehow trying to bring that meaning into the present.
Rather, the text casts our vision forwards.
So in a sense we may speak of the future meaning of the text: it asks us to go forward to find what it means.
Clark Pinnock wrote of this, in an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, in 2000, ‘Biblical Texts —Past and Future Meanings’.
Here are some of his words:
‘We need to cultivate an eye and an ear, not only for the meanings of human authors in their various historical settings, but also for the directions and trajectories that belong to the flow of God’s historical redemptive project. While making use of literary and historical scholarship, we are not the prisoners of the textual past, but listen for the word of the Lord and watch for the fulfilment of God’s promises that are still outstanding.’
This resonates with so much of the anticipatory sense we feel in the Gospels: ‘watch and pray’.
A number of theologians have spoken of the idea of Christian hope as creating the space or even a ‘clearing’, into which we may move and live. A very early idea of salvation, in the Bible, was this idea of living space, room to be.
Here then is its literary equivalent, the idea of the text as laying out before us a ‘space’ into which we might move.
Luke Timothy Johnson has even suggested that the text of the Bible invites us to leap into this space, not just move. We make an imaginative leap, into a new possibility:
‘If Scripture is ever again to be a living resource for theology, those who practice theology must become less preoccupied with the world that produced Scripture and learn again how to live in the world Scripture produces. This will be a matter of imagination, and perhaps of leaping.’
(from an essay, ‘Imagining the World Scripture Produces’, in a book edited by L Gregory Jones and James J Buckley, Theology and Scriptural Imagination).
Long ago Karl Barth wrote about the ‘strange new vista’ set before us by the Bible. This is not the familiar world we call ‘our world’. Nor is it the world we can investigate and in some degree ‘manage’ through historical and cultural study. This is a new world, a world of possibility, in which humans live with God, and together we grow into what Pinnock calls God’s redemptive project.
Much more scary! Much more inviting! Much more life-giving—for all of us, not just the experts.