According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, August 26, 2011

How Should We Read the Bible?

Listening to Catherine Keller recently as she spoke on process theology (though not one myself), I became intrigued with several of her concepts related to how the Word of God is a living document that dynamically interacts with our lives. She spoke about letting the Word become incarnate in our language and within our relationships; to let language have a chance to become more of an event as it would be in a very intense, savory poem; and through language's linguistic openness discover its interaction within our very hearts and lives and those we meet. She was picturing God speaking to us, within us, through us, to the world that we live in. And that through this process God would be making his Word incarnate among us. That is, the divine Logos would incarnate his Word (his being, presence, person) to his creation to be Logos hosts-and-bearers of his incarnating Word. Speaking, living and breathing-out the life-giving Logos in real and daily circumstances where, in essence, both man and creation breath-out the Logos as the Logos breathes-in man and creation.

Catherine went on to say that God thus becomes enmeshed and entangled within our worlds as much as we become enmeshed and entangled within his being. That both Godhead and creation are in the transitional states of becoming (again, this is all process thought).  That these entanglements are delicate and are in the state of "blooming," as it were, delicately within us, and extending outwardly to those whom we meet, and even towards creation itself (within its various stages of evolving or blooming). And in all this process God is becoming in us, and in his world, through this expression and involvement of "God speak" (logos) through his Holy Spirit. True, this is all process language with its own theological foundations, but to my classical theistic mindset, I felt this language elevating and enhancing what I would normally describe as the living, breathing, Word of God through his Holy Spirit who leads and guides us in the Word's illumination, inspiration and revelation.

And so, as the divine Logos entangles within us, and we, as human logos' entangle ourselves within others, and within the world, both Creator and creation are enfolded one to the other or, one within the other. Hence, we are in a state of becoming embroiled and enfolded within the divine as the divine is embroiled and enmeshed within us. That we are each participants in-and-of the other: God in us and his creation, and we and creation in God. A foursome square as it were. I like to think of it as a rhombian fellowship, based upon the geometrical figure of the rhombus that evolves (for lack of a better word) from the Trinity's 3-part triangular fellowship, to a 4-part rhombian fellowship. Or, as another way of visualizing it, creation becomes part of a secondary triangular fellowship that completes the Godhead. Where all of creation, - and within it, mankind, - grows closer and closer in the becoming of one. Entangled, enmeshed, enfolded, until the Trinity (or Triunity) becomes complete as four in a four-pointed rhombus of fellowship. Which is carried out on a metaphysical, and not an ontological, level. As a fellowship retaining the distinction between of Godhead and creation. Where neither becomes the other, except in proximity or closeness in desire, plan, purpose, and intent evidencing a wholeness of will and fellowship.

And I think this is what Daniel Kirk is getting at in his two articles below where he at first removes the necessity of having an "inerrant Bible" (which is a late-addition evangelical idea voted on in the 1980s as a test of evangelical fellowship). But nonetheless, we do attest to having a divinely-inspired, authoritative  Bible (sic, as many post-conservative evangelicals and emergents are declaring without need for additional tests of fellowship being artificially and subjectively placed upon God's Word, which rests solely on the historical critical and contextual hermeneutical interpretation of Scripture.

Kirk then goes on to state that the divinely inspired revelation of the Bible is also a very human production. A divinely-inspired document that can slip from view when we spend so much effort redacting its historical, linguistic, and literary settings within its fleshly pages in neglect of its theologically revelatory material. And I would go on to add that because the Bible is the uniquely inspired revelation of the Godhead, and that because of its vital human authorship, we actually get a wide variety of views that each helps in individual-witness, as together in corporate-witness, towards completing a larger picture of God than if it were not a human autograph angelically-messengered, as it were, to receiving mankind.

An autograph based on the many separate lives of its authors tasked by the Holy Spirit with the Bible's inspired construction. Each of whom are writing and interacting with the source material from their separate backgrounds, their distinct insights, their separate cultural orientations and ethnicities, their unique timelines and historic eras, using a wide variety of literary forms - some essay, some biographical, some poetic - etc and etc. And because of all of these intermixed elements, the Bible dynamically re-discovers, re-tells, re-envisions God uniquely to us, its subtended recipients, who are as many and un-alike as the Bible's authorship is wide and deep. Presenting to us God's divine revelation in an enhanced, full-stereo techo-colour, rather than a silent black-and-white version of itself to mankind. A version that one wouldn't get if the Bible was a singular, undiversified, formulaic, ahistorical manuscript. Or written in a sterilized, mechanistic, culturally-bound, temporally-bound, singular historical setting, using robotic amanuenses (e.g., a secretary-like person that simply dictates revealed will without personal interaction upon the same material).

And so, knowing this, we must adjust our redactionary work accordingly - to take in all the richness of the Word of God, its heritage, diversity, and composition, - while stepping back behind its humanly constructed, but divinely inspired pages, to allow God to speak to us again on a relational, spiritual, theo-logos level. One where God would enfold us into himself, enmeshing and entangling himself into us, as Catherine Keller would say, in this most human of all processes of becoming, of being, within the divine mysteries of incarnating fellowship!

RE Slater
August 26, 2011


The Miracle of Scripture 

by J.R. Daniel Kirk
on August 24, 2011

What is so special about the Bible? Why do we keep talking about it? Why must Christians continually point to it as the way we know what is true about God?

Is there something miraculous about scripture? If so, what?

The answer that many of us encounter, and many of us cling to, is that the miracle is the perfection of scripture itself. Some might express this in terms of “inerrancy”: we believe the Bible, at least in part, because God has kept it perfectly free from error for us. Others might more generally refer to the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, majesty of style, and consent of all the parts.

No really. Some people do. I swear.

Such lofty exaltation of scripture can come at a price, however. For example, if someone holds scripture in high esteem based on a valuation of its inerrancy and then discovers that there are historical mistakes (e.g., Luke 2), unfulfilled prophecies (Haggai, Revelation), theological disagreements (Gen 1 & 2; Mark & John), or scientific problems (all the animals in the whole world on that Ark?), this can come with a loss of confidence in God, Christianity, the church, and one’s personal faith.

Might there be another way forward?

Karl Barth argues quite strongly that, yes, there is another way forward (Dogmatics §19).

The miracle of scripture does not consist in the fact that God kept the Bible free from taint of humanness, and especially of human limitation or sin.

Instead, the miracle of scripture consists, as in the salvation of humanity more generally, in the fact that God makes himself known through what is all too human, all too limited, all too often mistaken.
… the prophets and apostles as such, even in their function as witnesses, even in the act of writing down their witness, were real, historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their action, and capable and actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word.
To the bold postulate, that if their word is to be the Word of God they must be inerrant in every word, we oppose the even bolder assertion, that according to the scriptural witness about man, which applies to them too, they can be at fault in any word, and have been at fault in every word, and yet according to the same scriptural witness, being justified and sanctified by grace alone, they have still spoken the Word of God in their fallible and erring human word.
And finally, this, which probably ends up going further than I’m entirely comfortable with, but by and large sums up some things I’ve been dancing around for years:
If God was not ashamed of the fallibility of all the human words of the Bible, of their historical and scientific inaccuracies, their theological contradictions, the uncertainty of their tradition… but adopted and made use of these expressions in all their fallibility, we do not need to be ashamed when He wills to renew it to us in all its fallibility as witness, and it is mere self-will and disobedience to try to find some infallible elements in the Bible.
In other words, this is the Bible we actually have. To demand another, an inerrant one for example, is to demand of God what God has not seen fit to give. It is to spurn the gift given and demand something better.

If God is not ashamed of an all-too-human Bible, we should not be either. This human collection of documents is the actual Bible that is the Word of God.

About J. R. Daniel Kirk: Professor at Fuller Seminary, resident of San Francisco, consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O'Connor, watcher of the Coen Brothers, listener of The Mountain Goats.


Word of God and Theological Interpretation 

by J.R. Daniel Kirk
on August 24, 2011

Yesterday’s post probed a bit of Karl Barth’s doctrine of scripture. Today I want to think a bit about what such a view of the Bible as the Word of God might mean for how we conceptualize theological interpretation of the Bible.

The conference I attended in New Zealand last week was on theological interpretation. In short, the movement is designed to muster Christians to read the Bible as Christians, and not as ostensibly detached historians.

Scholarship has been mired by the idea that our goal is to use scripture to find a history behind the text that is the actual history we are concerned with. In general, scholarship has worked to assess the human hands’ work in inscribing the Bible, setting God entirely to the side.

So what does it look like for Christian scholars to embrace our conviction that this scripture is the means God has chosen to speak to the world in order to reveal, ultimately, the redemption offered in Jesus Christ?

I typically approach this question with a hermeneutical type answer: we read the Bible Christianly when we read it as a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A christological reading strategy keeps our readings focused rightly on Christ and on the fact that our calling is to live faithfully after him and in him.

An interesting question that was raised at the Colloquium last week, however, had to do with the fact that many of us spoke as though theological interpretation is an ecclesial practice. What does it mean to read the Bible as something written in, with, and for the church?

Many of us used such language in our presentations. But all of us were academics. Ok, there were one or two folks who were also ordained ministers. But we were engaging in a decidedly academic task.

All of this (Barth plus the Colloquium) got me wondering: if theological interpretation is predicated on the notion that the Bible is the word of God, is it viable to think that we can read the Bible theologically in the academy at all? If the Bible as the word of God depends on the fact that God chooses to take quite humans words and make himself known afresh through them, does that make academic study of the Bible, by definition, the wrong kind of practice for hearing the Bible as the word of God?

I think academic study of the Bible is crucial. And my seminary classroom regularly becomes a place where that academic study confronts the church with a demand for more faithful practice.

Moreover, rigorous scholarship opens our eyes to the thought world within which the scriptures made a certain kind of sense and bore various connotations that are too often lost on current day readers. So academic study of the Bible is crucial for hearing what was said. And, such study should help us see more clearly how, in fact, the Bible speaks about God.

But after we’ve said all that, can we expect that the Bible, studied in the academy, will be the Bible as word of God? Or will that experience of scripture depend upon participating in the hearing of scripture with a body gathered to hear it–or at least, listening to it as proclamation?

Or, to put things differently, might we expect that a group that has gathered to study the human hands at work, the human history as such, will be inherently less likely to be confronted with those human hands as “word of God” than a group gathered to hear (and listen!) to and for the word of God?

These really are questions, and I’d value your feedback. At root what I’m trying to figure out is whether Barth doesn’t offer us a doctrine of scripture that offers a helpful way forward in doing historical biblical scholarship without growing anxious that it does not immediately address us as word of God.

Given that the word is spoken in such historically contextualized modes, and that these are what God has chosen to speak through, might the process of shaping understanding of what the scriptures “meant” be the best way forward for Christian academics?

About J. R. Daniel Kirk: Professor at Fuller Seminary, resident of San Francisco, consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O'Connor, watcher of the Coen Brothers, listener of The Mountain Goats.

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