I almost forgot that I posted on canon a couple of weeks ago, and along some of the same lines. That post received a note of appreciation from Angela Roskop, Danny Zacharias, and Jim Getz, all of whom, I wish to emphasize, keep excellent blogs.
Bob MacDonald has weighed in with comments on canon. He describes very nicely a number of strengths the canon he accepts has, and how it functions. He is grateful for the features of core and border a canon has, but that does not stop him from asking all over again: does a canon help or hinder? Questions like these admit of more than one answer. Bob is right to keep the question alive.
I noted a comment by Doug Chaplin in the first update. It gives me plenty of food for thought. I concur that it is important to describe what he calls the “liturgical hermeneutics” at work in the coordination and contextualization of read out texts in the context of worship. A history of reception of the contents of a canon is incomplete if it does not delve into the subject matter. I do so in an essay on the history of interpretation of Isaiah 1:2-20. If you are interested in the topic of liturgical hermeneutics, you will enjoy the essay, especially if you take the time to go through and savor the text sequences I cite therein, which I draw from both Jewish and Christian tradition.
But it’s important to distinguish between the narrative implied by a particular sequence of texts read out in worship, and the self-understanding of the community in which said narrative is inscribed. A community’s self-understanding amounts to a metanarrative specific in terms of time and place and confessional commitment above and beyond that implied by the liturgical narrative. The metanarrative transcends but is also called into question by the liturgical narrative. At least it should be.
Too often, the old formula lex orandi lex credendi has been abused in the sense that liturgical narrative and ecclesiological self-understanding have not been distinguished. Lex orandi in that case becomes shorthand for the self-understanding of a church in a particular time and place. This is an oversimplification.
Another problem lurks. The above formula is true enough but must also be turned on its head: lex credendi lex orandi. That was the original meaning of the formula anyway.
It may be helpful to think in terms of a phenomenology of change across two interacting realms: doctrine and worship. As focus and narrative in worship are renewed, does renewal of doctrine follow? Or is it the other way around: as focus and narrative in doctrine are renewed, does renewal of worship follow?
This is a false alternative. Change occurs in both ways. During a stay in a monastery, I noted that the friars sang the christological hymns perfunctorily – these go back to late antiquity - but really warmed up when they sang the mariocentric hymns – these are more recent. The mariocentric hymns, full of warm sentimentality, are closer to the heart of contemporary monastic piety. How long this has been the case, I don’t know; for centuries, perhaps. Concurrent with this trend in worship, the development of dogma relative to Mary has been intense. This appears to be a case of lex orandi lex credendi.
On the other hand, the opposite phenomenon is well-attested. In my view, it is more salutary in effect. The biblical renewal in Catholic circles has contributed to great changes in the liturgy. This is a case of lex credendi lex orandi. That is, focus and narrative of doctrine were renewed, through a rediscovery of the centrality of the biblical witness (think Vatican II, but it started earlier), and renewal of worship followed.
I imagine Protestant readers are yucking it up right now, so it’s time to stick it to’em. In my own context, a sequence of hymn-types is identifiable: the older hymns, like the Latin-based ones and those of Luther and Gerhardt; those of Charles Wesley and such; those of Fanny Crosby and such; those of Pat Boone and such (I’m thinking of “You light up my life”). This is a gradual descent into warmer and warmer sentimentality, not to mention doctrinal insipidity. Guess which kind of hymns people like best?
Thank heaven for exceptions to this rule, and spirituals and Catholic charismatic stuff that have made it into the repertoire. Some of the scripture songs work too, though I am far from advocating biblicism in hymns. Generally speaking, biblicism boomerangs on traditions that move heavily in that direction. Even a Baptist knows that, if she/he has read Bultmann (exhibit A: Jim West).
(Ed.: don’t wear your biases on your sleeve. Do you prefer them close to the vest?)
Should I leave Jewish readers out of the conversation? Absolutely not. The congregation I worship with on occasion has incredibly moving music. The service is pretty much cantor-led, with the rabbi fitting in where he can. I can’t get Lekha Dodi as the cantor leads it out of my head. (I’m sorry if you don’t know what I’m talking about; I don’t know how to explain it in print.) So then, are we to assume that the rule at work is lex orandi, lex credendi? I don’t see that at all.
Let me take the discussion to another level ever so briefly. I wouldn’t downplay the importance of scripture in the authorization of lines of doctrinal development. I think Doug runs this risk.
(Ed.: hey, that’s not fair. The language you are now using is more nuanced than it is in your original post. – I can learn from my interlocutors, can’t I?).
I realize that doctrine and dogma are terms with negative connotations for most. It is virtually a commonplace that doctrine is to life as the letter is to the Spirit - a classic misuse of Paul’s famous comparison (2 Corinthian 3:4-5).
Ideally however, even actually - in my experience - dogma is about truth, that is, about what is true. I don’t know about you, but I care about what is true.
In saying that canon and dogma are correlative, a correlation of what is true with what is found in scripture is affirmed. I pity anyone who has not experienced the power of that correlation.
The scripture-truth correlation is more fundamental – in the sense of foundational – than the church-truth or tradition-truth correlation.
I admit, those are fighting words. The reality has been, and still is, more usually another matter.