The following is part one of an interview with Robert Farrar Capon, an episcopal priest and author who has written some very interesting and challenging books about grace. This first part is about a book he has written called: "Genesis: the Movie."
Tim Brassell: Good morning, Dr. Capon. One of the topics in your new book, Genesis: the Movie, is what you referred to as biblical literalism. What is biblical literalism?
Robert Capon: Well, of course the book has a long, careful answer to that question. A short answer might be that biblical literalism is simply a mistake in the way people read the Bible. The object of Genesis: the Movie is to help people stop reading the Bible as if it were a manual of instruction in religion or spirituality or morality or anything else and to start watching it as a film, presented to you by the Holy Spirit, who is the director.
TB: What is the difference?
RC: When you watch a movie, you don’t stop 10 minutes into the film and try to decide what it means. You cannot fairly say anything about the movie until you have seen the whole movie and hold it in your mind as an entirety—as a whole piece. And that is what needs to be done with the Bible. It has to be seen as one thing. So I’d like people to see biblical inspiration, not as a matter of word-by-word inspiration, but as scenes in the movie the way the director wants to show it to you, that is, scene-by-scene.
TB: What are the pitfalls of not seeing it that way?
RC: The pitfalls are that you start teasing meanings out of things without seeing the whole picture. A simple example is that you cannot decide what the very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning,” mean until you see all the other occurrences of the image of “beginning” in the rest of the film.
In other words, you can’t properly understand that word beginning until you see Jesus, in John, say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And finally, at the end, where you have in Revelation, “I am the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega,” and so on.
So as the movie progresses, we find that in the beginning was Christ, the incarnate Word. You have clues woven into the movie such as, “He chose us in him before the foundations of the world.” When we see the whole picture, we can see what the director was doing with the film, what he was getting across to us, from the beginning. Before anything was made, it was all already done within the Trinity. The whole thing was accomplished before it started.
TB: Just as in Revelation 13 where it says, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
RC: Yes, yes, yes!
TB: Is there an opposite ditch from biblical literalism?
RC: Yes. I call biblical literalism the literalism of the right. Now there is also a liberal literalism of the left. And that would be all the Bible critics who decided that you can’t take everything seriously. They see the problem with literalism, but go to the opposite ditch, as you put it. In their view you need to try to find things you think are really true and say those should be taken seriously, but the rest can be tossed away.
TB: So really, the liberal ditch is bad for the same reason.
RC: Yes, because they still don’t escape literalism. They’re still saying there is a sacred, literal original in there somewhere and they have found it by taking out stuff. But in the imagery of a movie you don’t have that—you don’t take out nothin’—you accept the film just as it is delivered. And, as with all the rules of film watching—don’t interrupt!