Verbum Tip of the day: from the blogs- The church fathers focused on the images that reveal the repeated patterns of God's activity.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Jul 17 2016 6:47 PM

It's been a long spell since Verbum got it's own Tip so from Christianity Today comes an article by David Neff  "How the Early Church Read the Bible". Yes, this is the Protestant site that has had some complaints lodged against it in the forum.

Like the members of my congregation, the late theologian Robert Webber had been taught to mine the Bible for doctrinal facts.

This intellectual spirituality colored every aspect of Bob's Christianity, including his way of reading the Bible. He eventually came to realize that "an intellectual spirituality is situated not in God's story, but in my knowledge about God's story …. This quest to know God through the mind was just another self-focused spirituality." When he realized that narcissistic potential, Bob headed in a different direction: to the early church and its typological way of understanding Scripture.

The early church was as thoroughly convinced of the Bible's historical reliability as modern evangelicals are. Yet, thought Bob, those Christians were in better tune with the way the Bible tells its own story: focusing on images that reveal the repeated patterns of God's activity.

The more that Bob concentrated on the grammatical, cultural, and historical facts connected to the text, the more remote God became for him. "When the cognitive aspect of the person dominates the symbolic side, a vital part of humanity is neglected and the human spirit is squelched." We need to recover the use of image, symbol, and metaphor in the church, but that doesn't mean that we must start from scratch with only ourselves as reference points. The images are there. And the church fathers can open our eyes to them.

Bob turned especially to Irenaeus, the second-century foe of Gnostic heresy. Irenaeus offered three typologies through which the Bible tells its own story: creation and recreation; the first Adam and the second Adam; the Exodus event and the Christ event. I mention these because it is not unusual to hear that if we follow the church fathers' approach to Scripture, there is no limit to our use of imagination in interpretation. But there were limits: for the most part, the Fathers' interpretations are centered on Christ and his Cross.

Here's an example that goes beyond the plain sense of the text, but which stresses Christ's work on our behalf. Augustine (354-430) wrote about the boat that carried Jesus' disciples across a stormy lake. Jesus walked on the water, he said, to show there was a way. But the disciples, who could not walk on water, needed a wooden boat. The wood of the cross, said Augustine, is like the wood of the boat. Jesus shows us that he himself is the way to the homeland, but "there is no way to cross over to the homeland unless you are carried by the wood."

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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