The ‘Bible’ of Thomas Merton: A Biblical Reading of American Identity in Selected Writings of Thomas Merton, and Specifically Opening the Bible (1970)

In: Horizons in Biblical Theology
Anthony Purvis The Priory, Society of the Sacred Mission Newport Road, Willen, Buckinghamshire, MK15 9AA UK

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Opening the Bible (1970) is Thomas Merton’s major critical account of the Bible and biblical theology. Writing the book made him anxious; and the first version of the book for Time-Life Books in 1966 was never published. Yet he also knew he had to complete the book. For Merton, the Bible’s message is urgent. In times of great crisis, everything human culture holds sacred must come under scrutiny and judgement. Everything must be measured according to the Bible’s mandate to love God in neighbour. Yet there is a central paradox in Merton’s discussion, and it is this which makes what he says all the more compelling. On the one hand, Merton commends a book which he claims offers no explanations. It asks us to look to the future; and it asks us not to put faith in ourselves but in a truth which is not seen. On the other hand, the Bible is God’s word and it is authoritative. Its authority, however, is revealed in human history. The Bible’s over-arching historical narrative is one which asks those who hear its message to transform lives and human relationships. Using a range of critics and writers, including Barth, Bultmann and Faulkner, Merton contends that the ‘word of God’ is recognised in actual experience and in its power to fundamentally change how people see each other and the created world.

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