Thursday, January 20, 2011

My old Kentucky books: The Interpreter's Bible

It's so, so great:

"A sense of history, as distinguished from the mere recollection of past events, is a sign of maturity. Without conscious manipulation, the disjunct episodes of the child's life begins to assume the appearance first of continuity and then of significance. This enables the child to make a beginning on the important job of understanding himself and his relation to events he shares with others. It is a paradigm of social growth. The development of broken ejaculations into sentences made continuity of discourse possible. Telling stories made continuity of experience possible. As folk tales became stereotyped, the gaps between episodes filled up, and the first adumbrations of the sense of history were seen. The record of social growth is found in the long process from primitive monosyllable to sophisticated history. Every linguistic and communicative device has been employed to make this possible: from grunt to grammar, from knotted string to reckless metaphor, from blazed forest trail to book index, the movement has gone on. Arnold J. Toynbee tells us civilization has reached maturity when it has a military establishment to protect it, a system of propaganda to rationalize it, a highly developed administrative system to give it internal stability, and a money currency to establish its credit. If these are factors in estimating social age, they are also helpful in understanding how mature cultures implement their sense of destiny, which is the moral imperative born of a sense of history. Depending on certain internal factors, it may be sinister or noble, edifying or destructive."

The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. IV. George Arthur Buttrick, ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1955) 431.


  1. I think the Interpreter's Bible is the high point of mid-century American thought. It was published just before the broad post-war consensus broke down under the pressures of the 1960s and before the decline of the humanities meant that we no longer produce scholars who can write with this level of polish and erudition.

    You should also check out the sermons of Peter Marshall, which were written at about the same time.

  2. I have a little book of his, based on one of his sermons. The art in it is fantastic.

    Also, a woman called Rachel and I have this movie in our Netflix queue. Ministers are awesome.

  3. Let me know if the movie is any good.

    If you go to any library that has a bunch of old books from the 1950s and 1960s, there's a good chance they have a book of Peter Marshall's sermons. They're really easy to find. They were all issued posthumously, after the success of his wife's book, "A Man Called Peter." (Your movie is based on that book.)

    I think the best book of his sermons is "Mr. Jones, Meet the Master."

  4. Vol. 8 also rocks. From Pages 194 and 195, about Luke 10:27-37: "(I)t is how I regard myself which determines whom I am going to regard as my neighbor. If what I most esteem in myself is something I share with only a small group of other men, my human interest will be largely limited to that group. If, on the other hand, the thing in myself by which I set largest store is something which every man at least potentially possesses, there will be no limit to my social concern. The priest and the Levite thought of themselves, esteemed themselves, primarily as priest and Levite; and the wounded man was neither. The Samaritan, however, thought of himself not primarily as a Samaritan of a certain class, or even as a Samaritan at all, but as a human being, and therefore to him the important thing was not that a Jew was in need of help, but that a man was.

    "For those who belong to the Christian tradition the significance of this common humanity is immeasurably deepened. For them the supremely important thing about themselves is that they stand in a certain relationship to God. The Christian makes the supremely significant affirmation about himself when he says: 'God made me, judges me, in Christ has suffered to redeem me. Whatever else may be true about me, nothing matters as compared with this.' But just that statement can be made also of every other man. In precisely the same sense God has made, judges, and offers to redeem all mankind. But it is only with man as man that God is concerned. And once I recognize this fact, I can no longer ascribe any great importance to racial, national, or cultural distinctions. God's love for me is no whit greater or less than his love for all my fellows.

    "One of the most terrible things about the world we live in is that it all but forces men to think of themselves in inadequate terms, to love themselves for the wrong reasons. The pride of one racial group forces another racial group to develop an equally false and divisive pride of its own. The selfishness of one industrial group forces another to develop a selfishness of its own. The nationalism of one country leads to the creation of an antagonistic nationalism in another. But such developments, understandable and perhaps, as things are, inevitable though they may be, do not belong to the essential order of the world. Humanity is really one; and the person who finds himself at his deepest level has found something which makes him kin with all sincere men."