I return now to Nicholas Lash’s book Theology on the Way to Emmaus, looking at the chapter entitled: “Performing the Scriptures.” He starts with a comparison:
There are some texts the interpretation of which seems to be a matter of, first, ‘digging’ the meaning out of the text and then, subsequently, putting the meaning to use, applying it in practice. That might be a plausible description of what someone was doing who, armed with a circuit diagram, tried to mend his television set. But it would be a most misleading description of what a judge is doing when, in the particular case before him, he interprets the law. In this case, interpretation is a creative act that could not have been predicted by a computer because it is the judge’s business to ‘make’ the law by his interpretation of precedent. What the law means is decided by his application of it” (38).
Texts, in other words, have genre’s and, if I can put it this way, teleologies. Lash, furthermore, compares interpretation to the performance of a musical text – a score - stating, “Even if the performance if technically faultless (and is, in that sense, a ‘correct’ interpretation) we might judge it to be lifeless, unimaginative” (40). Therefore, with some texts, interpretation does not properly take place until the texts are truly performed. Lash offers a brief summary: “…Christian practice, as interpretive action, consists in the performance of texts which are construed as ‘rendering’, bearing witness to, one whose words and deeds, discourse and suffering, ‘rendered’ the truth of God in human history. The performance of the New Testament enacts the conviction that these texts are most appropriately read as the story of Jesus, the story of everyone else, and the story of God” (42).
Reading the Bible therefore is not merely a private reading but is fundamentally communal. The biblical texts, Lash argues, is somewhat like a musical score or a script, but, unlike a symphony or a play it doesn’t end. The biblical texts bleeds beyond the boundaries of our private lives into everything we do and all that we are (alliteration is for James).
Lash therefore turns to offer some broad rules to this performance. First, there is a limited range of options when it comes to an interpretation of the text which is constrained by authorial intent. Second, the performance must be true to the questions the texts seek to answer. Lash explains:
To put it very simply: as the history of the meaning of the text continues, we can and must tell the story differently. But we do so under constraint: what we may not do, if it is this text which we are to continue to perform, is to tell a different story” (44).
As an example of how this might look, Lash turns to the Eucharist. It is here where the community of Christ performs the story of Christ, or, as we have seen in my posts on Mikoski’s book, baptism could serve in this function as well. Practicing death, as it were, becomes the basic Christian posture, as we drink the blood and eat the flesh, and as we enter the community by being drown in the waters of death. We perform that which highlights the end of this drama, and the beginning of a new drama; or, better, we point towards the fulfillment, reconciliation and perfection of this drama.
What are the implications of this kind of read? Any thoughts? What are the upsides and downsides to this?