Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Brueggemann on the imagination necessary for Scriptural interpretation...

"Responsible interpretation requires imagination. I understand that imagination makes serious Calvinists nervous because it smacks of the subjective freedom to carry the text in undeveloped directions and to engage in fantasy. But I would insist that imagination is in any case inevitable in any interpretive process that is more than simple reiteration, and that faithful imagination is characteristically not autonomous fantasy but good-faith extrapolation...

[I]magination is the hosting of 'otherwise', and I submit that every teacher or preacher invites people to an 'otherwise' beyond the evident. Without that we have nothing to say. We must take risks and act daringly to push beyond what is known to that which is hoped for and trusted but not yet in hand.

Interpretation is not the reiteration of the text but, rather, the movement of the text beyond itself in fresh, often formerly unuttered ways. Jesus' parables are a prime example. They open the listening community to possible futures. Beyond parabolic teaching, however, there was in ancient Israel and in the early church an observant wonder.

As eyewitnesses created texts out of observed and remembered miracles, texted miracles in turn become materials for imagination that pushed well beyond what was given or intended even in the text. This is an inescapable process for those of us who insist that the Bible is a contemporary word to us. We transport ourselves out of the 21st century back to the ancient world of the text or, conversely, we transpose ancient voices into contemporary voices of authority.

Surely Paul was not thinking of the crisis over 16th-century indulgences when he wrote about 'faith alone.' Surely Isaiah was not thinking of Martin Luther King's dream of a 'new earth.' Yet we make such leaps all the time. What a huge leap to imagine that the primal commission to 'till and keep the earth' (Gen. 2:15) is about environmental issues and the chemicals used by Iowa farmers. Yet we make it. What a huge leap to imagine that the ancient provision for Jubilee in Leviticus 25 has anything to do with the cancellation of Third World debt or with an implied critique of global capitalism. Yet we make it...

We are all committed to the high practice of subjective extrapolations because we have figured out that a cold, reiterative objectivity has no missional energy or moral force. We do it, and we will not stop doing it. It is, however, surely healing and humbling for us to have enough self-knowledge to concede that what we are doing will not carry the freight of absoluteness."


(from the article "Biblical Authority" in The Christian Century; italics mine)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

R Christopher Heying said...

Thank you for this which the Spirit led me today in hope of a tomorrow that looks more like God's dream for us.