Okay, so the quote I left off with in my first post on Joel B. Green’s book Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture went like this: “Christian formation [grows] out of the interrelations among our patterns of faith and thought, our allegiances and commitments, and our practices” (p. 19).
The point of chapter one builds to this: formation of God’s people is the ultimate aim of Scripture so in our work of interpretation, we must read and listen to the text in a way that prioritizes formation over information. Far from casting aside the importance of learning the information, prioritizing formation actually demands an informative reading of the bible. Just not only or merely an informative reading because that would fall short of what Scripture is interested in providing.
Green states: “Practices sculpt character. We can only do what we are, but, paradoxically, our becoming what we are is shaped by our practices” (p. 20). This nails what I’ve been wrestling with regarding our personal identity categories of “being” and “doing.” “Being” is our character, who we are. “Doing” is our actions, what we do. But, like Joel seems to be saying here, there is a paradox because our actions both reveal and shape our character. In the alternate language, our “doing” both reveals and shapes our “being.” There is no neat wall of separation between these categories of “being” and “doing” that allows for this to be a linear process with simple variables to control.
So, how might reading the Bible specifically as Scripture help us with this question, the question of our ethics?
Green writes: “Whereas the church and its related institutions tend to focus on ‘moral acts,’ Scripture is far more concerned with shaping our imaginations, our patterns of thinking, which, inevitably, find expression in transformed commitments and practices. Behavior serves as a display case for our deepest commitments” (p. 19-20).
Shaping our imagination seems to be more important than instilling a cookie-cutter ethic according to Green’s take on the NT here. This is important because of how we experience life. Life is too complex and “unruly to be carefully scripted” (p. 20). Life just comes at us in the form of a vast array of data that we must structure into a coherent plot in order to make sense of it and live in it without going crazy. We make sense of things as we go along–as we learn more about life, we fit the new data into our current structure/plot, or we adapt the way we had structured life–the narrative, or story, we’d been telling ourselves–to help life make sense. There comes a day when the structure or plot we are working from must reckon with new data: stovetops are hot, sometimes people are jerks, sometimes your parents don’t know as much as you thought they did, sometimes your parents know/knew more than what you gave them credit for, sometimes people we love die, etc.
This action of taking new data into account and making sense of our larger narrative about life in light of that data is basically the work of interpretation. And the way it works is that we use what we know already in order to help us make sense of the new data we are processing. Sometimes we even “actually perceive stimuli when none are physically presented” (sometimes I think I feel my cell phone vibrate on my hip even though, upon checking, it didn’t actually happen). “This is what ‘interpretation’ does: it render the significance of the present in terms determined by the past, and allows people to anticipate a future that flows out of the past” (p. 22).
We are not trapped in our past experiences or ideas or narratives, though. Our minds test and retest the data and the story we’re telling ourselves to see if they are aligned.
“There considerations underscore the importance of the church, that community within which we might be formed and transformed, and the Scriptures, that theological vision that incarnates itself in our way of experiencing and interacting withthe world around us” (p. 23).
Green closes chapter one this way: “As Scripture, the Bible is present as an alternative framework within which to construe our lives, and so challenges those who would be Christian by calling for a creative transformation of the patterns by which we make sense of our lives, and by which we interact with and within the world” (p. 25).
Taking up an issue relevant to church life, I wonder as I read Green’s words about formation and in particular about the church’s (and parachurch groups’) concentration on the “moral acts” themselves rather than on shaping our imaginations and our patterns of thinking what the implications might be for teaching morality in the local church. Taking up our well-known efforts with large crusades like “True Love Waits” and other such campaigns attempting to teach Christian sexual morality to young people, how might this approach to ethics address the weaknesses of the program/s. It has been broadly said that statistically speaking, the “True Love Waits” and other such efforts have had little or no impact on the percentages of Christian kids who are sexually active. Don’t know that I’ve got the answers yet, but I’m thinking about that (for example) as I’m reading this.
Chapter 2 is on its way soon. Thoughts so far?