Walter Brueggemann told the opening session of the 41st Trinity Institute Jan. 20 that 21st century Christians need to stop being mired in old quarrels over scriptural interpretation and instead approach the Bible as "an intricate set of symbols and signs and signals that are arranged in a certain imaginative, artistic configuration that yield a new kind of reality."One is foolishly tempted to ask what much of this means. But the point of course is that it not only means nothing in particular, but it is a sort of word smoke screen that is supposed to make something profound out of the reactive antipathy to established theological tradition.
Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar and professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, said that such an approach can help Christians engage with the Bible in a way that avoids pre-packaged interpretation. Instead, he said, Christians and the churches to which they belong need to engage with the Bible in a way that gives them a place to stand in their lives and their faith in the midst of "the power of nation states, the reductionisms of scientism and in the capricious power of the marketplace."
And it's easy to guess which tradition is the target:
"There is an enormous appetite for an authoritarian approach to the Bible," said [Mary] Gordon, adding that "a sense of certainty in God" can be lost in the sort of interpretation Brueggemann suggested.Well, part of the answer may be in their use of simple, declarative sentences. Look, as an Anglican I don't read scripture with the kind of point-to-point reading that characterizes a lot of the most authoritarian theologies. But this kind of burbling obscurity seems intended, for the most part, to escape from the wrong problem of scripture: not that it is difficult, but that a lot of it isn't difficult. Or to be more precise, the problem of the bible for today, for intellectuals, is that they come to it with a lot of manufactured difficulties arising from their unearned alienation from the text.
"There's a reason why fundamentalists are doing better than the likes of us," she said.