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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

the philosopher and the archbishop...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"If I know God in a way that allows me to rest with this knowledge, then I do not know God, because God's life is infinite and impossible to possess. If I love God in a way that allows me to rest with the love, then I have tacitly believed that God's goodness is somehow manageable on my terms, that it is not a goodness that seizes me and continues to take me out of myself towards the divine life. So again I deny God's infinite life. But furthermore I cease loving. To love is to give myself away, but if I rest in a certain experience of God's goodness in this mortal life then I admit that I have no more giving to do, no more growing to do, no more dispossession that is required of myself. To love is to continue to go out of myself and to realize my present love, my present self-gift, as inadequate."

The above quote is taken from Jeffrey McCurry's paper, 'Towards a Poetics of Theological Creativity: Rowan Williams Reads Augustine's De Doctrina after Derrida' (Modern Theology, 23:3, July 2007). This may sound mind-numbingly dull to some, but the gist of the argument is that the 'true' and final meanings of the 'texts' of Scripture and church tradition are always both future (yet to arrive) and, subsequently, different to what we interpret and understand them to be in the present. Although this calls to mind Derrida's 'différance', a term he invented to mean both 'to defer' and 'to differ', Williams (and McCurry via him) puts forward a more robust theological framework of finite minds attempting to understand the infinite God.

"So what?" you might ask! All of this serves as a reminder to us of the inadequacy of our (current) understanding of God and interpretations of Scripture and tradition. Not that we cannot hold dear to certain beliefs and doctrines, but that we must do so always being aware of the limits of our own concepts and understandings when they come to describing the limitless God. When we approach Scripture do we come expecting it to confirm what we already (think we) know to be 'true', or do we come to it expecting it once again to unsettle our current understanding such that we can experience afresh the mystery of the infinite God?

I guess this is why I love contemporary parables such as this one, which cause us to read familiar biblical texts in new ways with previously unimagined twists and turns. Not to say that the parable is a more accurate (or 'true') reading of the text, but simply that it causes us to remain open to our own interpretations not necessarily being 'true' in any final sense either. I guess this places the Christian 'texts' comfortably within the analogy of journeying faith, in which we grow to know them and re-know them as we journey with Christ, as opposed to them being already arrived-at endpoints. As McCurry puts it, "Christian tradition is always undergoing a process of being re-imagined and even re-made in ways that are both profoundly discontinuous and continuous with the re-imagining and re-makings of earlier generations."

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:35 PM


Hi Malcolm. Good to see this very good article making the rounds. I was greatly energised by it - not "dull" at all [winking]. I appreciated your take on it.

Hope all is well with you.


commented by Anonymous Paul Fromont, 11:49 PM  

Hi Malcolm,

I need to contact you on the the DREAM idea that is happening around the UK.

In reference to the continued reinterpretation and unfolding of peoples idea what scripture means or does not mean, do you think that the new streams of emergent, etc... will come to the point or maybe it already has, that Jesus will no longer be seen as the unique, exclusive and final revelation of God's expression to humanity?

I am all for seeing things in new ways but not at the expense of the foundations of the Christian faith.

To me its like coming to see my wife in new ways every day, with new ways to express my appreciation and relationship to her but never surpassing her in that expression of seeing her as my wife.


What do you think, are my concerns rational, maybe you do not believe that Jesus is not unique , etc... ?

commented by Anonymous Tim Wright, 7:07 PM  

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