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Scripture Notes

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Christian Moral Reasoning - Scripture O O'Donovan : A Conversation Waiting to Begin Scripture and Obedience The humanity of the Scriptures does not entitle us to patronise them. Just as we speak of the sinlessness of the human being Jesus, so we may speak quite appropriately of a perfection in Holy Scripture. Its perfection is sui generis, a fitness for its own assigned task. Perfection : That God truly attests himself and his deeds through this poetry, these letters, this history. The faith required of the reader of Holy Scripture is obedience to the testimony that God bears within them, and that is one and the same as the faith that leads to salvation. In more ways that one the Christian world now finds itself living 'after' the fundamentalist controversy, downstream of those white-water rapids that imperilled theological navigation for a century. There is a widespread sense, for one thing, that the historical exploration of the biblical texts has played itself out, that most of what can be done intelligently on those lines has been done, and that further work is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Those who first raised problems about the Bible's historical veridicality through they could be confident of its authority in everything that really mattered - faith and morals, two things that might, to a thoroughgoing liberal, melt into one.

- To the liberalism that new out of the skeptical project of historical criticism, the moral authority of the Bible, or at least of the New Testament, was simply self-evident. In order to get a view of what authority means in this context, we need a clear view of what it means to make moral discernments. Certain phantasmic conceptions, which liberals and conservatives often used to hold in common, and which hang around today's discussions likes ghosts at the feast, had better be exorcised.

- Moral truths were conceived as something like self-evident speculative truths to which the moral consciousness bore independent witness : Kant said as much in a famous assertion in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. That meant that practical moral crises could be viewed only as temptations to the weak in faith, not as real dilemmas to which the answer could be in any doubt : They were challenges to our resolution, to be countered by a more unflinching reassertion of the principles taught from the beginning. Ethics has now fallen out of the realm of the self-evident into the realm of the contested, to which, in truth, it always belonged. This has made moral consistently look less like a confident conviction of truths evident as they day, more like a faith in truths not seen : It restores to practical reason the atmosphere of insecurity and risk that is native to it.

- The reader does not know everything there is to know about Scripture or about the challenges of life ; he does not have the answer to ever question; but he is willing to rely on this teaching, to receive it on its own terms, questioning and being questioned by it, in the expectation that God will open up his way before him as he reads, recites and revisits those testimonies to God's purpose. Authentic practical reason : Real meaning of discipleship - there is danger here, that arises in relation to two conjoined intellectual tasks :

1. Interpretative task : Discerning what the text means

1. This is the text before us, about Jesus and we see something that is said about those there at the time etc.

2. Conscientious task : Discerning ourselves and our positions as agents in relation to the text.

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1. This sheds light forward upon us - provides categories and analogies we need for questioning ourselves and understanding ourselves. We must judge for ourselves how to take in things, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Everything the Scripture does tell us about truth and falsehood will contribute to making that judgment possible. The second of these discernments is the more dangerous : The most mysterious question that one has to face is what does the situation I am facing mean? If we have begun to appreciate the nature of this question, and how a false judgement of ourself can lead us to destruction, we shall be on our guard against any hermeneutic proposal to reverse the sequence of discernments, starting with our own situation and turning back to Scripture to look for something there to fit it.

- That presupposes that we already know the answer to the one question we dare not presuppose an answer to.
- Such proposals are common enough in theological discussion, sometimes with a liberal, sometimes with a conservative, slant. Conservative : Thinks that all the scriptural witness to moral behaviour can and must be honoured somehow. Liberal : Only some of it, or only most of it, must be honoured.

- What difference does that make if each thinks that conclusion has been reached from some self-evident intuition about what the times require, so that the appeal to the Scripture merely confirms what has already been decided? This is not to take Scripture seriously as an authority. And it is not to take living in the present seriously as a risky business. Heinz Schürmann : 'among the particular New Testament values and precepts…there are time-bound judgments of value and fact, and they show that the Holy Spirit has deepened moral sensitivity through the course of the Church's history and the history of mankind' Judgements of value being time bound : This is illustrative of a moral sensitivity that has deepened since they were made. These occasional time-bound judgmental are an intractable residue, a clinker i the furnace that refuses to burn up. When the author proceeds to urge that a 'moral-theological hermeneutics' is in place to handle this recalcitrant material, we know that the word 'hermeneutics' cannot bear its customary sense. It does not promise, as might be expected, an interpretation of these judgments - it promises only a refusal of them. Authority of Scripture : Evokes belief and obedience, and questions of belief and obedience are all, at root, moral question - not in the superficial sense of being related to the details of our behaviour, but as concerned with the way we dispose of ourselves in our living.

- The questions we pose to Scripture look for answers to help us live as those reborn from death and destruction, exercising our powers of thought and decision anew. To a word of God we turn, then: a word that gives the world its original meaning and intelligibility, and gives our engagement with the world its meaning too. Hermeneutic Distance A discipline of biblical 'hermeneutics' i.e. of interpretation, has no point unless we are resolved to be obedient. The other side of this : obedience is a duty that needs the disincline of hermeneutic reflection if it is to be carried though. We cannot 'obey' in a vacuum of understanding.

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'When I say 'jump' you just, and ask how high on the way up' - Is this not the right model? Must we not obey God blind, acknowledging that the ways of providence are beyond our grasp? The story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac would hardly make sense if there were nothing laudable in simply doing what God commands, questions aside. Implicit obedience demands a measure of understanding. Commands are events that occur within a relationship. They are given by somebody to somebody at a particular juncture. There must be an understood relation between barker and barked-at. Otherwise what is barked can have no reference, and if it has no reference, it cannot be obeyed. We need a context, and we need to relate ourself correctly to the context. Commands are acts, and acts are performed at certain times and in certain circumstances for certain definite purposes. Divine commands are acts of God. They exert a claim upon their own historical context primarily, on those to whom they are directly addressed. But because any act has a certain intelligibility in its context, and the context of God's acts is his constant will to bless and redeem the world, God's commands may always have implications for other times and circumstances.

- We too, in our time and setting, have ways of honouring our father and our mother and of not coveting our neighbour's goods. But in order to judge the bearing of these commands on other times and circumstances, we must observe their place in their historical contexts first.

- Some of the commands in the Bible are so very 'bare' so free of wider implication, so wholly defined by their historical situation, that they could never be obeyed more than once. There are on the other hand commands whose content can always make some claim upon obedience, however different the circumstances. Consider the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says "You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…Be reconciled to your brother…" These divide into two types : Moral rules and public laws : The moral rules the Sermon on the Mount are concerned with dispositional attitudes - conciliatoriness, self-discipline, restraint, forgiveness etc. They are radically and surprisingly expressed, without much interest in whether we will find them easy to obey or not.

- Moral rules are capable of directing our conduct in a wide variety of circumstances and producing a very varied style of conformity. Public laws are designed to be straightforward and easy to keep with a measure of uniformity in execution. We have an outstanding example of a legal code in Deuteronomy 14-23. Shaped, very evidently, out of preexisting legal traditions, it aims to maintain a practical continuity with these while achieving certain dominant reforming aims.

- Moral and Public laws look different and do different job.s Moral rules are more portable. There is a moral teaching as distinct from doctrine in the same sense that there is practical reason as distinct from theoretical reason. The distance between the text and ourselves can never be, and should never be supposed to be, swallowed up by our understandings. Whatever I may have concluded from my reading of the Scriptures, my conclusion must always be open to fresh scrutiny on fresh reading - and will in fact always be, whether I know it or not, because the Scriptures will be its judge. Authority : We have to keep looking back to this source.

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Christian Moral Reasoning The Role of Scripture in Christian Moral Reasoning B Brock : Singing the Ethos of God : Learning about Reading the Bible for Ethics The Bible is always read in historically particular context and thus for or against other readers. Exegesis is always 'rhetorical' in using language to reshape social perceptions and behaviour. Our biblical hermeneutics are inseparable from the meaning frameworks that order our moral perception. The Bible is not self-evidently 'historical data' or 'evidence' for establishing truth claims ; rather, it is an artefact that forces us to make explicit how our ethical and theological questions reveal the interpretative grid through which we perceive all reality. Hermeneutical Solution : The authors all share the classic foundation of modern biblical scholarship, the presupposition that faith must be methodologically separated from scholarly exegesis in order to read Scripture ethically. It is morality that is certain, the Bible, the church are foreign by design. Reading Together : The Communitarian Solution This is a still popular communitarian response that explicitly locate itself within the life of the Church's 'ordinary' practices of reading Scripture, yet still espousing some of the critical skills of the academy. This response draws heavily on virtue theory, with its focus on habits and performances of these habits in traditions as developed in the neoAristotelianism of MacIntryre. This focus on the solidity and continuity of habits and traditions allows them to affirm that individual moral claims are always in flux, a flux regulated by the narratives and stories that shape Christian character.

- This formation of character takes place in communities. Where modern liberal society values independence, the communitarians see themselves as resisting the forces of capitalist, Enlightenment atomisation by emphasising our dependence on other humans the role of community in making us the 'individuals' moderns believe themselves to be.

- A canonical decay narrative explains the predominance of this problem. The earliest church we deeply communal, but it soon imbibed Greek concepts that broke it up into dualisms, culminating in Constantine's disastrous discussion to identify the community of the church with the whole empire.

- Individualism's victorious triumph was secured in the 17th / 18th century Enlightenment, which obliterated any vestigial appreciation of community and its goods.

- Over time, with the loss of community came the loss of moral virtue.
- The writers below see their basic problematic as how to reinvigorate the community of character that is the church, and how to understand the role Scripture plays in this process. Birch and Rasmussen : Moral Deliberation as Communal Self-Definition

- Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life This is an important text in inaugurating the current discussion of the role of the Bible within the discipline of Christian ethics. Their treatment beings by validating the results of historical criticism and its emphasis on the difference between 'biblical ethics' and contemporary 'Christian ethics', casting the translation of biblical ethics into Christian ethics as the main task of the discipline of Christian ethics. They place themselves under the Bible's power to reveal moral problem and grant that it is 'formative and normative' for Christian ethics.

- Critically, there remains a historical gap that is maintained between the Bible and the present, and this gap is understood as primarily one of temporal distance.

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Birch and Rasmussen are similarly clear about their ethical methodology. Christians area already engaged in moral deliberation even if they are unable to articulate the proper role of the Bible in shaping this activity. In this the church is no different from any other community, because 'in its most fundamental sense, community refers to any social grouping, any collection of people sharing something important. In this sense, we all live in many communities… a fact of human existence'

- This is a non theological definition of community : all humans are communal beings, and the community of the church differs only in having a special understanding of the purpose of that formal unity : living out faith in God.

- To fulfil this task, the church must school its members to appreciate its basic moral commitments.
- Scripture : Supplies a fund of communal memories about what it means to be a faithful community. These images shape moral identity rather than function as a catalog of eternal moral commands. Bible : Plays a twofold role in Christian community - it keeps the centrality of moral deliberation at the heart of the community's self-definition, and it supplies the content of that morality. It reminds the church that moral deliberation is where the church continually defines itself through moral deliberation according to the image of communal life that Scripture provides. Contemporary Christians will wish to share the ethos of the faithful in Scripture - but they may well dispute many specific moral claims made in the Bible. The narrative of Jesus in the Gospels frames Christian moral formation by providing a point of unity for all social criticism, identity formation and moral deliberation. It brings order to our fragmented moral perception but does not freeze it by fixing it in specific moral claims. The Christ story orders Christian's lives as they tell their own stories through the lens of that story. Basic form of the story : (1) God is like that which is seen in Jesus, Jesus in the Spirit is a disclosure of God; (2) and God, the source of all being, is on the side of life and good

- Christianity is the community 'bound to this particular story…and is carried on among those who strive to make this life their own' This is why Birch and Rasmussen believe that the community is formed as it deliberates about its life tighter under the unifying force of this narrative. This church's problem is that it is insufficiently claimed and formed by Scripture, and thus it needs to spend more time deliberating about its life together and the society in which it lives in the light of its guiding narratives.

- The church is a community carrying a vision of moral identity that it inculcates over the long term, nursing in believers the character traits expressed in the biblical narrative. The church is the bearer of tradition - 'traditioning' people by introducing them to the fund of images and narratives that make moral deliberation possible.

- Having supplied this, it is also an arena within which public issues can be discussed and mora positions can be developed.

- It acts to reform itself, it generates social activism, an outward movement of engagement in public democratic politics, with a primary interest in speaking up for the protection of the oppresses. Assessment For those who follow this view, the church discusses the Bible only because it is God's chosen community. They cannot help but conclude that 'Christian's abilities and successes in reading with the Spirit and reading the Spirit depend on their participation in a particular set of practices .

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