‘Our personal stories indicate our experience of the transformative power of the biblical text.’
Gathering in Salt Rock, Durban, South Africa, 15-18 November 2010, members of the Steering Group of The Bible in the Life of the Church project were encouraged to hear about the work accomplished so far in regional groups and enjoyed making plans for the next phase.
During 2010, regional and user groups linked to this project have explored how we, as Anglicans, read the Bible, using the Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion as our starting point. The Fifth Mark, which commits Anglicans ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’, was chosen as our initial case study because it relates to a major concern in our world today. It is also a topic for which, at least until recently, biblical resources have not been sufficiently explored.
The wealth of responses received by the Steering Group indicated the rich variety of ways Anglicans engage with the Bible, but also made clear the common experience of Anglicans that the Bible is a source of ‘transformative power.’ A reading group in Sudan noted how the Bible indicates that ‘humans are meant to have a genuine relationship with animals.’ In East Africa the regional group reflected how ‘human beings cannot be saved anywhere apart from the world in which they live.’ This same group acknowledged that there were insights to be gained from East African primal religions in relation to care for the environment, and it was helpful to be aware of different ways of respecting and cooperating with the stewardship of the natural world. In the United States and Canada some participants vocalised the challenge, ‘How do we read scripture for and from within a common life that is meaningfully witnessing to the goodness of creation or God’s love for all creatures?’ The perspectives of readers in Cuba suggested that, ‘We have to change our anthropological perspective of seeing ourselves as superior beings in God’s creation… and become a responsible constituent element in the creative process.’
From Australia it was noted that ecological action is seen in the light of Christian belief about the ‘new creation’, though it was also acknowledged that Australian Anglicans can struggle to use the Bible in working with the Fifth Mark of Mission. The United Kingdom regional group commented that the relevance of the topic chosen – environmental concerns – had given energy to this process of exploring biblical interpretation in the life of Anglican Churches. In meetings of the Southern Africa regional group the different ways of translating the Hebrew verbs ‘radah’ and ‘kabash’ (often rendered as ‘have dominion’ and ‘subdue’) had provided a lively subject of discussion. Reading groups in South-East Asia, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea and Ireland have also begun to be involved with the project, although they were not yet at a point to provide a report.
As well as insights gained into this specific case study, a number of key threads had emerged about the process of biblical interpretation itself. The importance of taking ‘context’ seriously in our engagement with the Bible was widely appreciated. This contextual dimension is written into the Bible itself, as the Bible ‘is a book full of memories that reflect the faith of a people, their walking in dialogue and relation with God, their interpretation of the events of their lives and history in the light of faith and spirituality’. It was noted that indigenous peoples have specific gifts to offer in ‘acknowledging a necessary complexity that implies an interpretive humility’. The reality that for many Anglicans the primary place where they encountered scripture was in liturgy was acknowledged, and it was recognised that this liturgical and community context rightly played an important role in Anglican interpretation of the Bible. The ambiguous role of the Apocrypha in Anglican understanding of the canon of scripture was observed, as was also the difficulty of engaging young lay people in the process of biblical interpretation. The importance of reading the Bible ‘through the eyes of others’ was a challenge that Anglicans needed to explore.
As the Steering Group reflected on the varied reports they had received they also noted a number of ‘gaps’ that were apparent. These included: between what we say and what we do; between the particular and the whole within scripture; between insights from scripture and insights from other sources; between pedagogical methodologies; between different interpretive horizons; between our relationship to the rock from which we were hewn and our sense of being on a journey now; between different reading communities; between liturgy and study. In the case of some of these gaps it is the task of the Church to ‘bridge’ them, in the case of others it is the role of an individual reader.
The Steering Group also listened with interest to a presentation by its Chair, Archbishop David Moxon, in which he shared the experience of the process of ‘Hui’ through which the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia had, over a period of years, sought to have a respectful discussion about Christian ethics and human sexuality from a biblical perspective, in a context of deep prayer , drawing in all three tikanga, and the range of theological views expressed by Anglicans in this Province.
Seeking to take forward its remit in 2011 and 2012 the Steering Group proposed that as the next topic (case study) regional and user groups might focus on the Fourth Mark of Mission (‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society’), and suggested a range of biblical texts to help groups explore this – one selection focusing on economic issues and the other on gender justice. In the course of their work groups would be encouraged to reflect on some of the interpretative insights that had emerged in the course of the earlier topic relating to creation/environment. To assist with this process we are preparing a list of principles and strategies that groups will be encouraged to take account of.
The Steering Group also began to consider various products which might emerge from its work, to allow the wider Anglican Communion to share in its fruits. Among these is a course for Lent 2012, which we will aim to have available from September 2011, and which will encourage Anglicans throughout the world to explore various dimensions of biblical engagement with the Fifth Mark of Mission. We also plan to publish during 2011 a short booklet setting out key and historic Anglican statements on scripture.
The Steering Group will meet again in May 2012.
For more information on the work of The Bible in the Life of the Church Project visit the website http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/theological/bible/index.cfm (The website will be gradually updated with material from this Steering Group meeting over the next few weeks), or email the Project Manager Stephen Lyon at firstname.lastname@example.org
NB: Comments in inverted commas indicate direct quotations from the reports of the individual regional and user groups.