Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Non-Reducible Text in the Service of a Non-Reducible God

Texts do different things. And because they do different things, they have different characteristics. The stop sign around the corner from my house only works if it is not open to interpretation.It always comes in the same shape, size, font and color. We don't want anything subject to the whims of the reader. This text needs to be reduced to one meaning and one meaning only.

The thing about a stop sign, though, is that I never imagine a person behind the text.I don't think of an author or it doesn't make me ponder the meaning of my life in relation to the person who authorized it. I doubt this is a maxim related to texts, but their might be some sort of correlation here--the more reducible a text, the less relational it is.

So, I'm thinking that a text designed for relationship, especially a relationship over time and space, has to be more porous to meaning than a stop sign.And this might especially be true if a text were hoping to serve relationships across time and space. In other words, certain texts have the ability to communicate beyond their immediate circumstances. My grocery list from Monday is a perishable text and fairly reducible in meaning. No one will be reading it tomorrow, much less 2000 years from now, even though as grocery lists go it's a pretty good one. For a text to continue to speak to new audiences, it has to be fairly open or porous to meaning. And this might especially be true if the relationship to be secured by the text has as its subject a non-reducible subject. Like God.

Now, its conceivable that a text speaking for God might serve the same kind of purpose as a stop sign--to get people to obey certain signs.Then we might want a reducible text. But if the text speaking for God was primarily interested in sustaining across time and space relationship with a holy God, a non-reducible God, then that text might have to be fairly porous, open, interpretable, relational, or dynamic in its capacity to make meanings.

I would submit that this is what we have with the Bible: a non-reducible text in the service of relationship with a holy God.

This is not, however, how many of us have been taught to regard or use or study the Bible. Ironically, we have thought that for it to speak for God it has to be reducible to one meaning, to one interpretation. We think it has to be like a stop sign. I have a spate of books on my bookshelf dedicated to the pursuit of making the Bible hold still. I think this says more about us, particularly those of us conditioned by the modern story of human mastery, than it does about the Bible.

So, I'm trying to rethink all of this without overreacting, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, without reducing things to an either/or approach. Stay tuned.


Warren Baldwin said...

Good use of the stop sign as an analogy, esp with the idea of an author behind it. I certainly don't see the Bible in that light.

I have many of the same books you do. They worked for me for years but now have me wondering. Can the Word of God be more dynamic than we want to allow it to be?

Looking forward to more on this.

Karen Sampson said...

Mark,very interesting. I'll be looking for more!

Lisa Gonzales-Barnes said...

Waiting for the rest of the commentary.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Love the post Mark.

It parallels some of my thoughts recently about the overarching nature of the Bible text. One non-reducible way to think about the biblical text is to view it as the 'Periodic Table' of spiritual elements--the raw material God gave us to build the spiritual world he intended for our habitation. The kingdom of God.

Just as surely as the earth contains all of these basic and varied elements he MEANT for us to discover, explore, use, and build with, the word and the Word contains all of the elements we need and are meant to take and shape and craft in our own place and time. Not to suit ourselves, but to suit God AND ourselves--to suit 'The Relationship'. We didn't perceive glass from sand or steel from ore until we had made progress to certain levels in our development. I like to think of theologians and other spiritual leaders as the 'spiritual scientists' that help us achieve new levels of accomplishment and proficiency in spirituality and Christlikeness (Eph 4).

New discoveries in scripture are the new 'raw material' and how to 'refine' them or 'synthesize' them, then combine them holistically to build new and remarkable lives, facets of the kingdom of God.

Jesus is our 'prototype'. Well, Adam was our prototype, but he chose poorly and ceased to be the 'right stuff'.

Jesus, our second Adam, chose the Father and so proved to be made of the right stuff. God took the same raw material he has given us, and produced Jesus our Lord--a true son of the kingdom of God who grew to be its Lord. And He has told us we can 'build' the same kind of life and kingdom in our time if we let him help us.

"Nothing we purpose to do will be impossible for us..." Genesis 11

(Come to think of it, Walter Brueggeman even looks like a scientist... You would too, if only you would start preaching in a lab coat and using a clip board to hold your Bible! ;o)

BTW... I'm working on a version of the Periodic Table of Spiritual Elements


Mark Love said...

Ray, Thanks for adding to the discussion. As you probably know, I like environmental metaphors for talking about many aspects of faith. I might steal this periodic table thing. I like the diversity your image brings. I do want, though, something a little more moving through time-ish. I want for their to be a way for some of these elements to go inert and for new ones to come into existence. That's why I tend toward narrative metaphors.FWIW