Books encourage a second look at Scriptures for church’s renewal

By on May 1, 2004

When I first picked up Genesis: The Movie by Robert Farrar Capon, I was fully expecting a rather frivolous read. How wrong I was. But it is certainly a different approach to the first book of the Old Testament.

GENESIS, THE MOVIE

by Robert Farrar Capon

Eerdmans

356 pages, US$28.00

For those who enjoy having their understandings stimulated and stretched, who see the world in terms of poetry and imagination, who appreciate the pursuit of truth over a registry of facts, then this a book you will not only enjoy but return to, time and again, to freshly invigorate your mind and your soul.

The author’s goal is to provide a “new slant on Scripture” and in the process rise above, go beyond, sidestep, the pitfalls of both ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal approaches which today seem mired on a battlefield, hopelessly entrenched. He aims to reclaim the importance of poetry if we would truly understand Scripture. “But in ecclesiastical circles, it was precisely our loss of that sense of poetry that most vitiated our preaching. Our seminary professors generally wrote off such image play as mere allegorizing – as an imposition of alien interpretations on the text rather than a legitimate, if poetic, way of getting to its truth. But images are not allegories. They don’t mean something other than what they are; they are something other than what they literally mean.”

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In making his case he brings into play a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Latin as well as familiarity with the King James, Revised Standard and New Revised Standard versions of the scriptures, to which, when he feels it is required, he adds his own. He also draws heavily on the commentary on Genesis by Augustine in De Genesi ad Litteram, which he admires not only for its economy of words but also its perceptions of depth in the meaning of words.

Is this a book for literalists, or for those liberals who have dismissed portions of Scripture because they are inconvenient? Perhaps it is time for both camps to go see the movie. It is Oscar-winning quality.

Many will remember Hans Kang’s 1974 book, On Being A Christian, which received wide ecumenical acclaim. In retirement since 1996 he has now published volume one of a proposed two-volume autobiography. In My Struggle For Freedom – Memoirs he relates the experiences of growing up in a small Swiss town, his attraction to the church through a priest in whom he saw the reflection of the spirit of Jesus, his rigorous course of studies in Rome, his involvement in the Second Vatican Council, how he became a good friend of the Swiss

MY STRUGGLE

FOR FREEDOM

Memoirs

by Hans Kang

Novalis/Eerdmans

506 pages, $42.00

Protestant theologian Karl Barth, and above all his struggles to remain free in the fields of critical intellectual and academic enquiry in the interests of the integrity of the gospel and the Roman Catholic church.

He covers the first 40 years of his life to 1968. It was a period of intense creativity as he tackled the problems which were to be addressed at the council, preparing papers and drafting speeches, and also engaging in a political context dominated by the Vatican Curia, most of whose members were less than enthusiastic about the council’s reform agenda. In this period (1957) he also produced a monumental theological work in his doctoral thesis on the doctrine of justification. On the basis of his research he concluded that there was no essential difference between Barth’s Protestant interpretation and that of authentic Roman theology. For Hans Kang it was a triumph theologically, but politically a personal disaster.

The Holy Office in Rome had decided early that he must be watched and following the continued publication of reformist views, all were censured; his designation as a Catholic theologian was withdrawn in 1979. Fortunately we no longer burn rebels, but churches do their best to marginalize them (e.g. Bishop John Robinson of Honest To God notoriety). However, his position at the University of Tubingen in Germany was tenured and secure, and so his writings have continued to receive well-deserved notice.

This is an enlightening book for all who seek renewal in the church at large. So many of the questions addressed are universal. All churches suffer from a similar malaise – established governance and power become threatened when faced with questions of radical reform. Perhaps this is why, for many reformers, the continuance of an entrenched past is a far more frightening prospect than any uncertainties that reform may pose. Hans Kang’s struggles articulated will encourage all who struggle for freedom in the truth of the gospel. I look forward to volume two.

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