Julian Long: to fix a canon

General Convention / Religion

Julian Long over at “out the backroom window” has a long and thought provoking critique of Rowan Williams recent presentation on Anglican hermeneutics. Julian’s post is long and dense, and as such is hard to really summarize – but here’s a taste of what he’s saying:

“Writing, for Derrida, is aphoristic, always pressing against the reader who must reconstruct it and against the closure of the book. For Dr. Williams, a chief characteristic of the text of scripture is closure. The lessons we read in our churches are characterized by closure just as the canon of scripture is closed. ‘It is not that we are given only a method of interpretation by the form of Scripture — a method that, by pointing us to the conflict and tension between texts simply leaves us with theologically unresolvable debate as a universal norm for Christian discourse . . . . There is a substantive and discernible form. The canon is presented to us as a whole, whose unity is real and coherent, even if not superficially smooth.’

I am thinking that Dr. Williams makes scant use of Ricoeur (whose ‘world in front of the text’ allows for a far more relativized reading of scripture than Dr. Williams is willing to accept) and is more in line with various critiques of Ricoeur that argue in favor of determinate meaning (‘the re-readability of the text risks the appearance of indeterminacy’). And I am thinking perhaps Dr. Williams shares with Professor Habermas the conviction that the goal of discourse is the achievement of consensus. But I am also thinking that ‘theologically unresolvable debate’ is the norm in the Church and has always been the norm. There may be no more normative document in the church than the Nicene Creed; yet its construction was surrounded by debate, which even force of arms could not end. To this day there are rival versions of the creed, and to prefer one version over another is still to make a sectarian claim.”

Read the rest here: to fix a canon

(Via out the backroom window.)

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. john 2007 says

    I won’t presume to address Julian Long’s understanding of Ricouer or Derrida–or ask him why we should, after digesting them, assent to them. He seemingly (though who knows) has read alot of them. I will, however, say that it doesn’t seem like he has read much Williams. I can think of a number of places, off the top of my head, where Williams speaks precisely, and favourably, of theologians or theological positions that resist ‘closure’, even using the exact word. In The Wound of Knowledge he speaks of Scripture giving us a unity of ‘vision’ not ‘formulation.’ In his article on Balthasar and Rahner he appreciates the former precisely for avoiding ‘closure.’ And, anyone who knows Williams’ admiration for the interrogative mode of theology–and again is deeply immersed in this theology–will know that Long’s criticism here rings hollow. I’ll read the rest of the piece but this snippet seems as if Long is trying to show what he knows as he plays it against a single statement or speech of Williams.

  2. John 2007 says

    Long says “My own view of scripture is primarily historical rather than theological.” It is good for him to make this admission which is where the comparison of his views and Williams might now begin. Long for instance has no time for Williams speaking of the “summons” of the Bible or the gospel precisely, one would think, because he (Long) has no idea of the Scripture being the vehicle by which God addresses, calls, summons, actively engages, the creature. Too bad. Williams doesn’t champion such a view to the exclusion of other means of address by God, but he does have a view which gives God’s activity, God’s address, some priority over human poetics. A good thing in my book.

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