SCRIPTURE


I’m uncomfortable with the vision of reality that I was taught in my youth- both the vague version of my childhood, and the more rigorously scholastic one that I so fervently embraced as a young man. Law is not the final reality that lies behind all else. I used to believe so, but now I know that there is a deeper magic.

Because of this I tend towards knee-jerk reactions when God is depicted as angry. I equate them with the legal transactional-ism of former days. I see the divine bookkeeper who needs to give an account to ‘his ledger’, if he is to act graciously; but…

….then I remember that there are other reasons for anger and hatred. Chief among them is true love. I was reminded of this when I read Jason Micheli’s wonderful reflection over at Jesus Creed. Its worth your time: Wrath Reconsidered.

More good stuff from Daniel Kirk, who asks the radical  question that no one seems to directly address: What is the Bible?

In the past I’ve offered some thoughts for my kids: Some Random, Half-Baked Propositions on Scripture

Chaplain Mike of InternetMonk provided this helpful summary of his understanding of scripture.

Today, I would like to present, for your consideration and discussion, a ten-point summary of my perspective on Scripture (at this point in my understanding).

The Bible is from God. It is one of the means by which God has made himself known to human beings. The various books of the Bible were composed and edited and put together under the mysterious method of “inspiration,” by which God worked mostly through normal human processes to communicate his message.

The Bible is incarnational. That is, it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message.

The Bible involves a complex conversation of faith over time. The Bible contains multiple voices, a diversity of narrative and theological perspectives, and a development of thought over time. For example, Joshua and Judges present two sides of the conquest of Canaan. Ecclesiastes and Job protest the wisdom tradition represented by a book like Proverbs, which even in its own pages presents several points of view. The “history” of Chronicles presents a different scenario of the same events than we see in the books of Kings. This diversity is only a problem if we expect the Bible to be something it is not—a timeless and perfectly consistent, always harmonizable record that is precise in every detail according to modern standards of accuracy.

The Bible came to us through the community of faith. Recognizing that there were human processes involved in the final editing and canonization of the Bible also highlights how God used people to bring the Bible as a final product to the world. The Hebrew Bible was put together mostly during and after the Babylonian exile. The church took nearly four centuries to complete the canonization process for the New Testament. Our understanding of the nature, authority, and message of Scripture must take these human processes into account as well.

The Bible is the church’s primary authority (Prima Scriptura). The fact that the church functioned for the first four centuries of its life without a complete Bible means that it cannot have sole authority apart from the church, the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic traditions (the “rule of faith”). For Protestants, at the very least this means we must make a fresh commitment to learning church history, the creeds, and the early Church Fathers for a fuller understanding and practice of the faith.

The Bible is true. “True” is a better way of describing the Bible than “inerrant” or “infallible” or any such words that grow out of modern categories. After all, what is an “inerrant” poem? An “infallible” story? The Bible is true because it tells the truth about God, the state of the world, human life and death, sin and salvation, wisdom and foolishness. But most of all because it tells the truth about the Truth himself and leads its readers to him.

The Bible is God’s story. Any individual passage or part of the Bible should be read and interpreted in the light of its big picture, its overall pattern and message. The final form of the Bible tells a “Christotelic” story. From “in the beginning” to “in the end of days” the story constantly develops and moves forward to its culmination in Christ and the new creation. This story must always determine our emphases when interpreting its message.

The Bible’s central focus is Jesus. The apostles testify that Jesus taught them to see that the purpose of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings is to point to him and his good news, which restores God’s blessing to all creation. The New Testament, of course, tells Jesus’ story and accounts of the apostolic community that experienced and spread his good news. The Bible is not God’s final word, but is rather a primary witness to Jesus, God’s final Word.

The Bible does not contain every detail of God’s will for his people’s lives. In the Bible, God gives adequate instructions to guide his people to practice lives of love for God and neighbor. On the other hand, God expects that many implications of the Gospel will be worked out only over the course of time, in and through (and despite!) his people, until the consummation of the age. The Bible is not a “handbook” for living, with detailed instructions for every aspect of life. The Bible is not “sufficient” to answer all of life’s questions. It was not designed to do that, and we risk becoming pharisaical if we try to maintain that opinion.

The Bible doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend it. Christians do not need to prove that the Bible is a perfect book, free from “error” (as we define it today) in every way in order to have a secure faith or to present a case for Christ to the world. We need a credible, reliable witness that is self-attesting in its divine truthfulness, beauty, and power. This we have in the Bible.

I think this is exactly right- though in the second point I might change ‘to communicate God’s message’ to ‘to accomplish God’s purpose’ Like our own discourse, God not only asserts by speaking- he acts; and the purpose behind the words of the text might be other than what is communicated by the words. For example: ‘Is there salt?’ isn’t really a question. It is a request.

I’ve been influenced by all sorts of people: Michael Spencer, John Goldingay, Peter Leithart, Chris Tilling, Telford Work (whom I quote below), Wolterstorff, John Halton, Wright, etc. Those in the know might see them below. The particular recipe is mine, though. If I’ve ruined their perfectly good tomato by plopping it into a mess, forgive me.

Anyway, when it comes to scripture I’ve come to believe….. (more…)

Something every good parent and teacher will understand.

… (the Bible combines) eternal ideal with timely compromise. If we had only the timely compromise, nothing would pull us toward the eternal ideal. If we had only the eternal ideal, nothing would help us live in the everyday world. There being this combination is a magnificent expression of God’s grace.

John Goldingay

HT: Undercover Heretic

In the past I’ve expressed some half baked opinions on the ways in which Evangelicals smuggle extra-biblical conceptions into the heart of the gospel. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is done both immediately and indirectly when secondary matters are included in the sine qua non of the gospel- secondary issues that are infected with modern categories, to which the advocate seems blind.

A recent blog post at Theologica reinforces that growing conviction. This is so for two reasons: The argument is ostensibly about issues on which the two sides agree- so what must the real controversy be? This happens because there are blatant and apparently unconscious conflations of key Xian ideas with prevalent extra-biblical models. For example, the theories of realism, foundationalism and the correspondence theory of truth- along with the various dualisms they assume, are assumed, when in reality they are the point in question.

The popular Evangelical battle cry that the denial of something called ‘objective truth’ is a denial of truth, reminds me of those Roman Catholics who insist that a denial of Aristotelian Transubstantiation is a denial that Christ’s body and blood are truly received in communion. It’s not, but it is proof of a good deal of…confusion.

The post is a continuation of a controversy that I had a hand in creating there. It revolves around a rather complicated set of issues: anthropology, Christology, epistemology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and biblical theology proper. Now each of these specialties is worthy of a lifetime of study. There are brilliant people who specialize in each. If they were mapped out, each would warn the intellectual traveler by having Mystery written in archaic script across great swaths of territory.

But the post seems to have identified a very particular synthesis of these varied areas of study as ‘The Truth.’ Hmmmm.

The author confidently refers to other posts for indubitable support. I’m not interested in attempting some sort of exhaustive critique. I’m out of my league and not really keen on making that apparent, but I would like to offer a few comments on each. (more…)

Ran across this helpful quote from Walter R. Thorson of the Dept of Chemistry at the University of Alberta. He brought Polanyi’s thinking  to bear on Hebrews 11:1: Good stuff.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1). Familiar as this verse is, we tend to let it roll smoothly off our tongues rather than think carefully about what it says, which at first seems either very surprising or else nonsensical. To retranslate: “Faith brings to substantial, actual realization things that are at first only hoped for; it creates a clear and convincing focus on things we cannot yet see.”

The first half of the sentence sounds perilously close to the view of some five year-olds that “if you believe in something hard enough it will come true,” and the second half sounds like “if you believe in something long enough, after awhile you will be quite sure about it.” We laugh at this-because we all know just how silly we should be to trust such naive maxims. Cheer up; the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is no five year-old. Yet I never really felt intellectually satisfied about this text until Michael Polanyi showed me what it really means by describing just how this principle functions as the dynamic element in scientific discovery (oddly enough, he never seems to have referred explicitly to this remarkably appropriate text.)

To make it clearer for all us academics, here is a third, technical rendering: “the indwelling of a true theory by persons responsibly committed to it leads functionally to the eventual manifestation and confirmation of realities which at first are only vaguely intimated, or but poorly perceived.” If you read Personal Knowledge, you will find a thoroughly fascinating account of precisely this remarkable phenomenon. I referred in an earlier talk to the story of the Copernican revolution, which illustrates the principle very well. For those who were committed to it, the Copernican hypothesis provided an integrating vision of the heavens; it was only within the framework of such commitment that previously unanticipated elements could be brought into clear focus, and the relevant activities conceived and sustained, which ultimately brought the truth of that vision to its full manifestation. For more than 150 years until Newton’s laws of motion were discovered-it could not be said convincingly that the factual evidence confirmed the Copernican, and refuted the Ptolemaic, view. Yet during that long period faith in the validity of the Copernican hypothesis sustained a chain of labors which finally vindicated it.

The point, of course-one to which the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is very sensitive-is that manifesting a hidden truth in hostile or indifferent circumstances is a laborious, time-consuming, and costly business, and one will not be able to sustain the effort required, unless he really is committed to a serious belief that the reality in question exists. In my own career as a theoretician I have experienced the validity of this principle in several specific problems, where belief in the existence of a certain type of solution to a physical or mathematical problem provoked imaginative responses or new insights, and sustained long periods of laborious and often fruitless search until at length one line of work ended in success. I am sure many others of you have also had similar experiences.

Of course, our Scripture text about faith takes it for granted that what is being believed in is true. It is certainly not saying (as the five-year-old does) that faith as such produces results, but that it is faith which sustains fruitful activities, when it is directed toward valid objects-and, without such faith, even a true theory remains barren and ineffectual. Again, it is partly for this reason that we must entertain of any serious theory that it is potentially true. In science, as in religion, I hope there is none among us who really believes that “to travel hopefully is better than to arrive;'” as C.S. Lewis acutely said, “If that were true, and were known to be true, who would ever start out upon a journey?”

It would be very fascinating if we had time to think a bit about spiritual and intellectual hope. According to our text, “things hoped for” are antecedent to faith, and perhaps we could infer they are in some manner stimulants to faith.

“Hope” in the New Testament does not mean wishful thinking, but a strong sense of anticipation of unheralded and certainly unspecifiable possibilities. Spiritual hope is not ultimately directed toward a seen object (“hope that is seen is not hope”); it is properly and ultimately hope in God.