Sunday, 3 July 2011

On the Importance of Acquiring Ballast for the Journey of Life

For those not interested in Newman...

These days we seem to have an insatiable desire for the new. This is understandable, perhaps, in our incredibly inventive age, but as I grow older (and hopefully more mature) the more I appreciate returning to the wisdom of what is old. I was once told that, in days gone by (well before my time), students of my alma mater seminary were encouraged, when they became ministers, to make it a practice to re-read annually and make notes on several theological classics (one of these was Walther's 'Law and Gospel'). The classics are seminal; contemporary theology doesn't hold a candle to them. I think that really is the way to acquire theological wisdom, as opposed to mere knowledge or information, or having our ears tickled with the latest speculations. And if one day our books should be taken away from us, or we from them - no matter, for we will have educated ourselves inwardly.

Two or so years ago I heard the literary critic George Steiner on the wireless in the old manse (wireless radio, that is) lamenting the decline of memorisation in modern education, including memorisation of the Bible interesting given that Steiner is an agnostic Jew as far as I know. The memorised wisdom and culture of the past was, according to Steiner, like 'ballast for the journey of life'. Deprived of it, young people today are empty vessels tossed violently on the sea of life by the many winds of opinion which buffet them.

It doesn't take too much imagination to consider the impact of this 'cultural amnesia' on the church and the clergy of today. From sunday school through confirmation to seminary, memorisation is a practice increasingly difficult to inculcate in young people. As a result, compared to previous generations of Christians, we are today, in my opinion, impoverished in our intellectual and spiritual formation. It's not my purpose here to lay the blame for that at anyone in particular - sometimes swells in the general culture swamp the best of institutions and intentions. When the schools no longer require children to memorise poetry, or times tables, or even passages from the Bible, as previous generations once did, it requires a mighty and concerted effort from the church to actively resist the trend. Do we have the courage to attempt it? Do we have a choice?


matthias said...

I learnt the Bible whilst sittin gon my Mother's lap and she brought me THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS ,in the Olde English,when i was 8 I read it and still do. I think the farewell speech by Mr Valiant for Truth is one of the most moving,God inspired pieces of writing that has ever graced the English language. Perhaps it would be good if all Christians-Catholic,Lutheran,Protestant and orthodox to read it and meditate upon it .
"I am going to my Fathers, and tho’ with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the Trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My Sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my Pilgrimage, and my Courage and Skill to him that can get it. My Marks and Scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his Battles who now will be my Rewarder"
Will we be bale to say that when we are about to cross the River to meet Jesus Face to face. I pray to GOD for the strength to do so.
The other problem Pastor are the hymns of today. They seem effete,and appear to be more about "me me theology "
Will we see any of them surviving in 100 years-if the Lord tarries- like GUIDE ME O THOU GREAT JEHOVAH has done or ABIDE WITH ME

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

Your point is well made. I have struggled for years to get children to memorize (for confirmation instruction), recognizing that part of the problem is with current educational practice. When the 'skill' of memorizing is no longer taught and utilized, they simply will not even try. "I can't memorize," they say. "I'm not good that that sort of thing." Yet all children can be taught the tools of memorization; some have been used since the days of the classical philosophers. I only wish our American school system would incorporate this into its curriculum.

Re: the old theological classics - I agree that rereading these would be could for all of us and wonder if I am at a point in ministry (24 years and counting)where I need to start working my way back through selected 'classics.' You've made me think....

Anonymous said...

I am very glad I was still part of the generation that used memorization. It served me well when I returned to active church life and recalled what I had learned from Luther's Small Catechism, which in turn led me back to the riches of the Book of Concord. Also was instrumental in my realization that the Roman communion still has a long way to go until it is purged from its errors and that to be truly catholic I needed to be a Confessional Lutheran.

It is unfortunately true that memorization is no longer valued in much public education, and I think we are seeing the fruits of that.


Lvka said...

"One of the troubling aspects of the Protestant [Sola Scriptura] paradigm is the fact that Scripture cannot be separated from the interpretation of Scripture. If one’s understanding of Scripture changes, then one’s faith and practice will likewise change. This makes for a rather tenuous and unstable basis for faith and practice. This can be seen in the bewildering variety of Protestant denominations that have come about as a result of people interpreting the Bible in different ways and being unable to reconcile their differences. This raises the conundrum of how so many different readings can emerge while the text remains unchanged. The first major division took place as early as in 1529 at the Marburg Colloquy where the Protestant Reformers were split over how to interpret the words of Christ: “This is my body.” It is quite unsettling that Protestantism’s first division took place within its first decade of existence."


Pr Mark Henderson said...


Your comment is not apropos the topic, but nevertheless I will allow it and make a response.

The arguer's premise is faulty - scripture can indeed be 'separated' from interpretation because scripture is the Word of God written, whereas any interpretation contains human elements. Thus any interpretation will only be as accurate as the hermeneutical and exegetical principles which underlie it. This was the underlying cause of the dispute at Marburg - Zwingli had an improper hermeneutic which stood in the way of his underatdning the Lord's Supper texts, thus Luther's remark to him 'you have a different spirit'.
Arguments about scripture's meaning to not prove scripture's lack of clarity or disprove its ability to function as a rule of faith, they rather prove the lack of clarity and failure to submit of the human minds which erroneously interpret it!

Reductio ad absurdum - The arguer's reservations about Protestantism stemming from a dispute in the first ten years of its existence would also apply to the New Testament church, where disputes raged even among the apostles (Paul's confrontation with Peter), nay, even to the disciples (Judas betrayed Jesus).

Lvka said...

scripture is the Word of God written, whereas any interpretation contains human elements.

You are precisely wrong. (And you misunderstood the arguer as well).

Interpretation (meaning) itself is part of revelation.

Because the NT was written by men who knew what they wanted to say, and did not have to guess the meaning of their own words. And they had to preach at least for almost each Sunday of their lives. Their audience inevitably got their message loud and clear.

The Spirit that inspired them and their writings also disclosed to them the meaning. They were not kept in the dark about what they were preaching and writing. Nor did they keep anyone else in the dark either.

To hold therefore to a different view of the NT than that delivered to the whole world by the Apostles is absurd and fallacious. Making the new "reading" fit the words, while despising their revealed, disclosed, and well-known meaning. It is odd, insincere and dishonest [or at least that how it looks like].

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I certainly agree that the meaning of the Bible is clear, Lucian (that is a Protestant doctrine, you know!). But I think you skip over the point that interpretation is still needed to discover its meaning. For a start, the apostles' preaching is recorded in a language no-one speaks anymore - koine Greek. So, their words need to be translated (i.e. interpreted) to be understood. Then there are various religious and cultural factors that need to be interpreted or explained. We have rules of Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) in order that all this may be done properly. There is nothing fallacious about it. You also skip over the necessity of the Spirit and a proper disposition for scripture to be properly understood.

Lvka said...

...and what you are skipping over is the fact that the faith itself (and not just a book containing it that needs decoding through proper hermeneutics) has already been delivered to the Saints once and for all (Jude 1:3).

This faith then is the "meaning" and "interpretation" of Scripture, and belief in it is the "proper disposition for Scripture to be properly understood". It is inseparable from Scripture.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, if you put it like *that*, Lucian, I can probably agree with you. You've basically given me the Protestant position on the clarity of scripture.