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Journey Towards the Second Naïveté

Last night’s session of the Introduction to the Bible course was about the Psalms. As with earlier weeks, it was a fascinating and thought-provoking evening but, if I had to pick one thing to take away, it would probably be the detour into discussion of Paul Ricoeur’s theory of the journey of understanding.

Keith, the tutor, explained how in a Christian context this starts with a simple faith, taking the Bible at face value. Many people never stretch beyond this “first naïveté” but it does mean living in a house with many doors you dare not open. Beyond this is the development of critical thinking, taking a scholarly approach to the material and receiving the fruits of academic study. This is an an important step but also a difficult one. Common outcomes are retreating back to the first naïveté or abandoning faith, pressed down by the weight of conflicting evidence and theories.

Ideally though, the pilgrim should press onto the “second naïveté”, where the Bible can be understood with rigorous clarity and ever-richer appreciation of God’s love for us and call to us. We can wrestle with the angel and hold on for the blessing (Gn 32). I think this equates with the progression of pre-critical -> critical -> post-critical that Walter Brueggemann describes in Spirituality of the Psalms (part of my background reading for the course). Brueggemann stands as a senior academic theologian but, in exploring the Psalter, desires that critical thinking should be a tool to support rather than confound a faith-filled, faith-filling reading of the texts.

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