The Lutheran University Press has just published the lectures from last year’s Hein-Fry series, and that series included one from Mary Hess entitled Learning the Bible in the 21st Century: Lessons from Harry Potter and Vampires. Here’s an excerpt:
“To argue that the Bible creates community, is to make a claim which sharply contradicts some learners’ reality. There is a natural tendency for learners to want to draw back in one of two ways in engaging such contradiction.
One tendency is to accept that the Bible creates community, and then to assume that that community is narrowly construed and strictly defined. This is the path that leads towards fundamentalism. It offers a “premature ultimate” that creates rigidly defined identity boundaries.
A second tendency, which might at first seem to be the opposite, is to reject the claim that the Bible creates community all together, and hold onto individualized, privatized forms of religious knowing. In this case, everything becomes relative. The Bible’s meanings are understood individually and privately. What I take from the Bible is what I take from it, and what you take from it is equally true — for you — even if the meanings contradict each other. This is the path that leads toward relativism.
To get beyond either of these responses to the contradiction, however, we need to find, to provide, to offer, to glean continuity in the face of the contradiction. Something from our previous form of understanding needs to be connected to a new frame that resolves the contradiction. In this example, I think we can offer continuity by drawing deeply from the wells of personal experience that emerge from shared learning.
Communal forms of knowing, even the most basic participatory forms, have both resonance and dissonance with shifting notions of authority. They have resonance if authority is understood as emerging from but not wholly constrained by that community. They have dissonance, however, if the flattening of authority is understood primarily as heightening individual authority, heightening individualist forms of knowing.
One of the stronger claims that Christians make is that the Bible is best understood in community. It’s not simply a book for individuals. The Word of God is for all.
From the earliest texts of God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, to letters that Paul and other early Christians shared in the context of spreading the news of Jesus, these are texts that are of and for community. They are God’s story, God’s story of relationship with human beings.