Theologian wants to take the Bible out of the hands of Christians

I just read a jaw-dropping section from Stanley Hauerwas’ book Unleashing Scripture. Keep in mind that even though Hauerwas is not an evangelical, many evangelicals hang on his every word. He writes:

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own…

To suggest that the Bible should be taken away from North American Christians will strike many as absurd. They may assume that I am not serious. Is it not the very hallmark of Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, to encourage people to read the Bible? I certainly believe that God uses the Scripture to help keep the Church faithful, but I do not believe, in the Church’s current circumstance, that each person in the Church thereby is given the right to interpret the Scripture…

The reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, joined to the invention of the printing press and underwritten by the democratic trust in the intelligence of the “common person,” has created the situation that now makes people believe that they can read the Bible “on their own.” That presumption must be challenged, and that is why the Scripture should be taken away from Christians in North America.

I am aware that this suggestion cannot help appearing authoritarian and elitist. I am not, however, particularly bothered by such characterizations, because I am challenging the very presumption that communities can exist without authority.

Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993), pp. 15, 16, 17.

I understand what he’s trying to say—that some Christians make mince-meat of the Bible through sloppy interpretation and that they need to read scripture within a disciplined church community. But I can’t imagine a worse remedy than the one he proposes here. Taking the Bible away from Christians is not going to make them better readers of the Bible. It is astonishing that he thinks it will.

Instead of taking the Bibles away from children, I would recommend this:

6 And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

-Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Much better indeed.