Perhaps more than anything, the church is divided over varying approaches to the Bible. All Christians agree that the Bible is authoritative, but they don’t always agree on how that authority works, much less how to interpret each text. I recently discovered a book jointly edited by Jürgen Moltmann and Hans Küng on Biblical interpretation: Conflicting Ways of Interpreting the Bible. I picked it up via interlibrary loan, and was pleased to find a concise and insightful treatment of the problem of conflict over the Bible and ecumenical concern on page 1, in the introduction by Moltmann/Küng. They argue that we shouldn’t see this conflict in a negative light only, but also as an opportunity for vital dialogue surrounding the Bible, which gets to the heart of what ecumenical efforts are all about.
The Church of Christ has for many historical reasons split into a multiplicity of Churches, confessions and denominations. All Christian Churches, denominations do, however, have one thing in common: the Bible. As long as the sacred Scripture is opened, read and proclaimed in all Christian Churches, knowledge about Christ’s community cannot perish. The quest for the ecumenical unity of Christ’s Church goes on as long as the authority of the Bible is acknowledged. As often as we keep returning to Scripture we also keep seeking to turn towards the common ecumenical future of the divided Church. This is why Scripture and the common interpretation of Scripture are the principal instruments of the ecumenical movement.
The trouble is that the authority of Scripture and its proper meaningful interpretation are themselves disputed nowadays in most churches. The ‘conflict about the Bible’ cuts right across most churches. New boundaries are forming. New insights are emerging. Many Christians are learning to read the Bible with new eyes as a result of the company they keep with other men. Our point is that the conflict about different ways of interpreting the Bible should not be judged only in a negative way. No effort is too great where truth is at stake, and the passion of the struggle is a measure of the truth involved. There are many exegetical methods which complement each other. They display the full richness of the biblical testimony to the truth. There are however, also methods which contradict each other, as, for instance the historico-critical and the fundamentalist methods do. Such differences compel us to think for ourselves and make our own decisions. […]
Dialogue with the Bible, dialogue with each other about the Bible, and dialogue with him to the truth of whom the Bible testifies are for us the heart of ecumenicism.
For further reading on Moltmann and Biblical interpretation:
- Moltmann’s use of the Bible
- Moltmann’s Biblical Hermeneutic and the Gay Debates
- Jürgen Moltmann on Theological Method
- The Transformative Church (especially the listed “criteria of life”)
- Why Jürgen Moltmann Didn’t Write a Theological System