Friday, September 24, 2010

The Boundaries of the Word

As I mulled over a post earlier this week on the dynamic between the Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture, I found myself wrassling with one of the concerns that I've heard from conservatives whenever I suggest that the Spirit has primacy over the texts of the Bible.   When I came before a committee of the Presbytery charged with reviewing my pastoral qualifications,  a conservative member of the group listened to my position, and then asked (and I paraphrase, though he put it well): "Well, then what is it that makes the Bible significant?  If the Holy Spirit has the level of primacy you state, how can you clearly delimit spiritual authority to the texts of canonical Scripture?  That seems to open the door to other texts having the same level of authority, and if you do that, where are the boundaries?"  His point was well taken, and it was offered up not by way of hostility.  He really wanted to talk about it.

In my own personal journey as a Christian, I've experienced just such a blurring.  My introduction to Jesus of Nazareth and the foundational concepts of Christian spiritual and ethical life seem a good representative example.  As a child, I didn't really read the Bible all that much.  I got little snippets of Jesus stuff in Sunday School, sure.  Eventually, I ventured into those texts on my own, but not until I was a tweener.   By then, though, the teachings of Christ and the great narrative of the Gospel had already been imprinted.  Christian faith already felt familiar, because as a voracious reader, I'd already read about it elsewhere, even though the name of Jesus had never been mentioned.

As a child, I learned my Christian faith in the green fields of Narnia. 

Yeah, they're just fantasy, and a bit fusty and oh-so British.  But those stories serve a particular purpose.  They introduce all of the central concepts of the faith, and have woven into them some sophisticated apologetics.  In their own gentle way, they teach about sacrifice and redemption and repentance.  They teach about resisting cynicism.  They teach about the nature of God's justice, and about the distinction between destructive syncretism and the deep universality of God's grace.  Over the years as my adult faith has encountered challenges, I've marveled at how robust a ground was created in those books.  They are remarkably sound.

I know I'm not alone in having been formed by C.S. Lewises writings.  He has appeal across a broad swath of Christianity.  I've heard Aslan invoked by both conservatives and progressives in my denomination.  He's almost universally viewed as articulating what is most essential about Christian faith.  Which gets me to wondering.  If these stories can form faith, providing an intentionally crafted and reliable foundation for understanding Christ's role in the world that echoes and shapes even into our adulthood, does the Holy Spirit work in them?   Surely, surely it must.  And if so, how can those wonderful stories not be a manifestation of the logos

Not canon, of course.  But in a very real way, the Word, just as so many of our small efforts to preach and teach the Gospel each Sunday are the Word.