Thursday, November 16, 2006

The bible for the Church

A neat essay in the Homiletics and Pastoral Review on the nature of and ends of Catholic biblical scholarship today. HPR | Biblical Scholarship with a Pastoral Purpose The article examines the underlying pre-suppositions of a "non-confessional" academic approach (widespread in the biblical-studies guild today) with that of Scripture scholarship that is directed to the pastoral ministry and work of the Church. He engages the document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission "Interpreting the Bible in the Church" (which remains an important point of reference), and then talks about the challenges and pitfalls.
It is perfectly legitimate that the academy and the church have differing orientations to the Bible. Problems arise, however, when the differences in presuppositions, goals and concerns between the academy and the church are not adequately taken into account. Often Scripture courses in Catholic colleges, seminaries and other graduate programs that prepare ministers of the word offer what could be described as “Academic Exegesis Lite.”

At the undergraduate level Scripture courses often imitate the example of secular universities. Robert Hill describes this type of curriculum in Breaking the Bread of the Word: “The emphasis in such a program falls on imparting and absorbing information about texts, authors, historical and social contexts. A Bible as Literature program can likewise be conducted without presuming a faith dimension to the study.” Hill doubts that this kind of teaching of Scripture leads to the koinonia of I John 1:3.

In graduate programs for future pastoral ministers, knowledge of critical questions, secondary literature, and exegetical methods receive more attention than knowledge of the text and its message. Emphasis is placed on the differences among biblical writings rather than their underlying unity. Scripture and Church doctrine are perceived as separate spheres of knowledge. The unintended consequence among some Catholics is to diminish their estimation of Scripture’s importance leading to what Cardinal Ratzinger aptly criticized as “magisterial positivism.” Because they have not learned the roots of doctrines in Scripture, they are unable to explain their faith and rely on magisterial documents, as though these had the power to communicate divine life as the inspired Scriptures do.

An academic approach to teaching Scripture leads future ministers of the word to consult commentaries when they write research papers, but, when they prepare homilies or catechesis, to resort to a superficial or subjective approach to actualization. They have not learned a method of Bible study (exegesis) that is practical for use in pastoral ministry. (Emphasis added)
(And, I'd add, once the authority of Scripture is diminished, its moorings loosened, relativism of different sorts creeps in. If the Gospels are not reliable, then why is anything else reliable?). I would also add that those studying Scripture tend not to have the kind of deep familiarity with the texts that say our evangelical sisters and brothers grow up with. We are not steeped in the text. That is a huge deficiency, that, I feel, catechesis needs to start addressing. This isn't just so that one can prooftext this or that bit of doctrine. It's so that the Word can be internalized and become a part of one's mindset and worldview.

The only other thing I'd add to the article is the role of Lectio in the appropriation of Scripture into the spiritual life.

Thought provoking article!

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