11 “Concepts create idols — Only wonder understands!”

These are some words that I have recently found on the internet but they express very well how my position within theology differs from that of conservative Christians.  I talked in the last blog post about ‘propositionalism’, the idea that valid truth has to be expressed in words, concepts or propositions.  Although I rejected the idea, my argument did not draw out a point which Gregory of Nyssa, the 4th century author of my quote, understood well.  His insight reminds us of the power of wonder, the contemplation of that which cannot be reduced to words.  The word contemplation also has a currency within Christian spirituality and prayer.  It indicates that prayer is not about asking but involves watching, waiting and listening.  To contemplate allows us to reach into the essence of something, whether it be beauty, the sublime or God himself.

I do not think that it would be exaggerating to suggest that some Christians have made the Bible into an idol.  It is held up on a pedestal and claimed to be a source of truth and guidance but the way it is actually used seems to hold it at arm’s length.  Quite often the words of scripture are used not to edify or spiritually feed but as weapons with which to beat an opponent.  To wonder at something can never objectify it in this way.  Just as objectifying another person makes it impossible for us to relate to them properly, so objectifying the words of scripture makes them into ‘idols’.

Approaching the words of Scripture with a sense of wonder is in no way to downgrade or devalue them.  But it does require us to let go of the attitude that wants to prove something or reinforce a position when we read it.  Wonder is open to the unexpected or surprising that can come from a perusal of Scripture.  Speaking personally as someone who has fairly regularly to find something new to say about a familiar passage of the Bible when preparing sermons, I find myself amazed that Scripture does go on finding new things to say to me.  Any attempt to articulate an idea in a sermon nearly always results in my having a new insight based on the passage in front of me.  Scripture is in this sense ‘inspired’, because it goes on being capable of producing new insights in me.  Because the Bible is a source of such insight, I can respect it as in some way as the ‘Word of God’.  But from all that has been said, it can be seen that that Word can particularly be grasped through this faculty of wonder.  The Psalmist captured something of this when he said: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps 119: 105


About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

5 thoughts on “11 “Concepts create idols — Only wonder understands!”

  1. Yes, so many people need to be set free from tyrant God (or gods), that have the brain police always looking over their shoulder! How can Love know fear?

  2. I am surprised that the person making the above comment has not
    “Got the Foggiest Idea” .

    Steven Parsons speaks of scripture being used to “Beat an Opponent”.
    This surely should indicate to any reasonable person that the conservative position on scripture is extremely dangerous and leaves victims with their back against the wall. John

  3. I think English Athena is making a comment on the anonymous contribution. I myself am not sure what he/she is saying about brain police looking over the shoulder.

    I agree with you John that using Scripture to ‘beat an opponent’ is extremely dangerous. I have just posted a piece about demonic abuse. That is even worse. Thankfully it is somewhat less common than it was when I first started my interest in this subject in the mid-90s. But there are still plenty of dangers around.. The Church is very anxious to protect vulnerable adults and children but the concept of Spiritual Abuse’ is slow to take hold. You don’t have to be ‘vulnerable’ or a child to be abused in this way.

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