Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading Texts

Rev. Dr. Charles Adams shared the following anecdote the other day: After a lecture at the University of Chicago Divinity School, an eager and curious student approached Paul Tillich and asked: “Dr. Tillich, do you or do you not believe that the Bible is the holy word of God?” Tillich responded: “If it grasps you, yes. If you grasp it, no.”

Adams mentioned this episode as a warning against a 'biblical literalist' reading approach. The impossibility (by definition) of truly arriving at a neutral, authentic, non-subjective exegesis aside, Adams' critique speaks more, I believe, to the danger in trying to pin down that which transcends and moves through. Bibliolatry rejects the contingency, dynamism and fortuity of God's immanent being-in-the-world. It elevates laws over love and, to quote Adams, "freezes Christ into a creed."

As Unitarian Universalists we need not necessarily be reminded of the danger of such textolatry. Our drinking water already contains a heavy dose of skepticism. Instead, we must guard against its equally harmful opposite - textophobia. Just as the former disregards God's indeterminate transcendence, so too the latter discards God's concrete manifestation in our lives.

Perhaps the middle way of 'cautiously reverential' reading will most powerfully guide us through the hard nights.

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