Continuum, London, 2001, £18.99
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed January 2003; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
At first I wondered if this would be a useful book for those engaged in dialogue with Christian or Moslem fundamentalists who find security in their infallible book Certainly it is a very thorough, scholarly examination of 'word-centred' and then of 'non-verbal' theories of biblical inspiration, giving the strengths and weaknesses of each. The author lectures in the history of Christian Thought in the University of Manchester and the book resulted from research during a visiting fellowship in Kiel University: it has the quality of Germanic detail and the teacher's repetitive summaries. I enjoyed his description of theories of inspiration, through Farrer to Hanson and other contemporaries.
But it was the third section of the book that interested me. Recognising that beyond all human knowledge there is a factor he calls 'the Transcendent', he takes Karl Jasper's word 'ciphers' for the signs or pointers to this factor. These clues can only be decoded by those committed enough to engage in an interactive way. This will take them beyond the subject/object distinction. An exact prose rendering of a poem, for instance, misses the poetry. In Christian terms this leads to recognising that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is both the writer and the reader, each with their human limitations. He concludes the argument (which is worth the struggle to follow) by saying that, though the Bible is full of 'ciphers', the ultimate cipher is Jesus, the Incarnate Christ.
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