I’m reading a book just now that makes the repeated claim that the New Testament itself, the plain sense of the text, requires assent from its readers — and that provokes me to refine the point I was making yesterday. I don’t want to assert that any reader who picks up the New Testament and reads it “competently” confronts the challenge to accept it or reject it, with ultimate salvific implications. Rather, I would argue that for someone (like me) who recognizes the gospels to speak divine truth, a reader who appreciates the Bible but does not participate in the life to which we understand them to point has forgone the opportunity to share the fullest resonances, insights, possibilities, and truth. I expect that an uncommitted historian of the ancient Mediterranean could say that someone such as I who has already given his profoundest allegiance to the New Testament misses out on the fullest understanding of Mithraic, Gnostic, even non-religious Hellenistic texts, and they would be right.
The point isn’t to construct a binary opposition between True Believers and Woebegone Doubters, or to set up the biblical text as self-determined Salvationometer. The point is that sympathy inescapably inflects understanding, and someone who withholds full sympathy (for whatever reasons, I’m not judging the reasons in question) holds back from the opportunity of fuller apprehension.