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

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Seeming Incorrigible Perspective of Christian "Blik"

Bewildered by “seeing as”

by Roger Olson
November 27, 2011

I admit to being a soft perspectivalist, but I also admit to being uncomfortable with it. My mind is wired to think rationally, to look at other people who radically disagree with what I see clearly as either ignorant (even if only in the sense of not seeing some evidence I see) or irrational (even if only in the sense of embracing paradox comfortably). And yet, I am convinced by experience that there is such a phenomenon as perspective–two people seeing the exact same evidence and “seeing” different things. It bothers me because it throws a monkey wrench into the works of trying to reason together toward agreement which is important for public truth.

I once had one of those “Aha!” moments about this. I was arguing with a colleague about necessary criteria for being Christian (something I still think we cannot escape). He was one of those cultural relativists I wrote about earlier. I said to him “If someone draws a giraffe it MUST have a long neck.” My point was that there must be essential marks or characteristics of Christianity or else Christianity becomes meaningless, just as there must be essential marks or characteristics of (for example) animals for us to recognize them (for example in a drawing). His reply was “Not if it’s seen from above.” Indeed.

“Seeing as” is illustrated by Wittgenstein (or perhaps it was one of his disciples) with the famous “duck/rabbit” picture–a simple drawing that can be either a duck or a rabbit depending on how one sees it. There are other similar pictures (e.g., the old lady or the peacock). Sometimes a person looks at the drawing and can ONLY see a duck while another person looking at the same drawing can ONLY see a rabbit. Of course, that’s mundane; the point is that we all tend to see the world as something. One person looks at a plot of ground and sees a garden that needs tending; another person looks at the same plot of ground and sees wilderness that coincidentally has some apparent order to it (playing on Flew’s famous example).

Philosopher R. M. Hare called this phenomenon of seemingly incorrigible perspective as a “blik.” Two people look at exactly the same evidence and see very different things and are often radically committed to their own perspective and tempted to think that others looking at the same datum while seeing something else must be either crazy or stupid or blind.

The Enlightenment attempted to do away with bliks–at least in important matters of public truth. The idea was that reason (in either its rationalist or empiricist forms) can settle such disputes and bring all reasonable people to agreement about reality. Of course, even the choice to be either a rationalist (a priori deductive approach) or an empiricist (a posteriori inductive approach) seems to be a matter of blik. Can anyone prove Descartes and his followers right and Locke and his followers wrong? Well, both seem to be wrong about the role of perspective; it seems to be irreducible in some cases. All one can do is appeal to the other person who sees the same evidence radically differently to try looking at it one’s own way rather than their way–to see it “as” something other than how they do see it.

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I have written before here about Calvinism and Arminianism as bliks–perspectives on God and scripture. When I wrote Against Calvinism I didn’t think that I was showing Calvinists some evidence they hadn’t noticed (although that is probably true for some not-so-dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist readers). I was attempting to explain why I see the same evidence Calvinists see and “see” something different. I know some Calvinists believe the same about our disagreement. I routinely invite a group of educated Calvinists to speak to my class on Reformation and post-Reformation theology. At some point in the discussion they usually appeal to some kind of conversion-like experience that gave them a new perspective on God and the meaning of scripture and salvation.

This is what John Wesley meant when he said about Romans 9 (as if both sides don’t read it!) that whatever it proves it cannot prove “that”–the Calvinist interpretation. Why? Because IF that’s what it means God is a monster. (Wesley didn’t use that word, but he meant the same thing I mean by it.) He knew very well that he and Whitefield and others saw the same chapter and book and canon. What he thought was that they, his Calvinist friends (and some enemies like Toplady!), were simply seeing it “as” the wrong thing while he was seeing it “as” the right thing (or at least more closely to right). Of course, Wesley did not think these perspectives were incorrigible or he wouldn’t have written his anti-Calvinist rants.

I tend to think that in some cases, at least, our perspectives so seem to be incorrigible bliks. And I’m bewildered by that AND by the fact that at least most of my Calvinist conversation partners DON’T see our disagreement that way. In other words, my perspective on our disagreement and theirs is itself a matter of bliks. From where I sit, I have trouble fathoming that they think our disagreement is a simple matter of one side honoring scripture and the other side not honoring scripture. (Of course, some Calvinists do seem to have the same blik I have on this–as in the example I gave above of my Calvinist friends who appeal to a conversion-like experience that drew them to Calvinism.)

It seems to me that MOST evangelicals who write about hermeneutics do not take bliks into account. Bultmann did, of course, but most evangelicals shy away from his approach. One of his basic axioms was that there is no such thing as presuppositionless hermeneutics. Most evangelicals who write about hermeneutics seem to think there are objective rules that, if practiced rightly, will always lead reasonable people to the same interpretation of scripture. In that case, of course, either Calvinists or Arminians are simply not practicing sound hermeneutics.

This pops up every time a Calvinist points the finger at me and cries “Where’s your exegesis?” as if exegesis is the solution to everything. If only it were. And I agree it is the solution to some things. In other words, there are cases where people are simply practicing bad exegesis and hermeneutics and arriving at blatantly wrong interpretations of scripture. But I suspect many of our disagreements about scripture have more to do with blik than objective exegesis. I know that no exegesis could convince me that God is a monster. If I thought it possible that God is a monster there would be no point in doing exegesis because a monster cannot be trusted.

And that brings me to a deeper level of blik involved in this disagreement (and no doubt many others). It seems to me that SOME Christians view the Bible as divine. That is, they regard it so highly that they put it on the same level with God himself in terms of authority. This is what Brunner meant when he accused fundamentalists and evangelicals of treating the Bible as a “paper pope.” But I would go further and say that some Christians treat it as if it were God himself or somehow participated in the divine essence. This appears when people say they would believe whatever the Bible said EVEN IF it said God is a monster. Then I know they are investing too much faith in scripture and not enough in the God who inspired scripture. In my opinion, they are flirting with bibliolatry. From my perspective, anyway, scripture is the divinely inspired, infallible witness to God; it identifies God for us. But I only believe that because through it I “hear my Master’s voice” (to use another metaphor from Brunner). My experience of WHO GOD IS is not limited to scripture; I have unmediated experience of God as good that convinces me that scripture is God’s Word–the oracle of God.

I am convinced this is a watershed difference between contemporary evangelicals. There are those of us rooted in Pietism and there are those rooted in Protestant Scholasticism (e.g., Turretin and Hodge and Warfield). I claim Calvin on my side even if it would be wrong to call him a Pietist. He appealed to the Holy Spirit and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit as the only ground of Scripture’s truth and authority. Post-Calvin Calvinists largely forgot that.

When I look at scripture I see it “as” the testimony to the God who I experience also outside of it. The experience I have of God outside of scripture does not communicate doctrines, but it does “speak” to me of God through my personal relationship with Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit within me. But that experience always points me back TO scripture as God’s written self-communication for understanding him more fully. Nothing in my experience of God contradicts scripture; that’s not even possible. But neither is God the prisoner of scripture.

So what is the blik difference I’m talking about here? Some evangelicals seem to see experience of God as always mediated through scripture which, from my perspective, seems to incline them toward bibliolatry. This is why they say they would believe God is a monster (or the author of evil or whatever) IF scripture said so. Other evangelicals (like I) seem to see experience of God as BOTH mediated by scripture AND as unmediated with the latter [e.g., Scripture,] as primary in terms of knowing God’s character as good.

When I got saved I was not converted to the Bible; I was converted to the God of Jesus Christ. THEN I found more about God through the Bible and believed in it BECAUSE it told me about the God of Jesus Christ I encountered in conversion and in my pesonal relationship with him. My experience of God is both unmediated and mediated and the two are inseparable. But when I open the Bible to read and study it I NEVER do so as a tabula rasa–prepared to believe whatever it might say EVEN IF it says (in some passage I had henceforth never noticed) that God is a monster who might hate me and want the worst for me or who loves his own glory more than he loves me (and all of us). If I am tempted to believe that, I go to God and rediscover him in unmediated experience of him through Jesus Christ or at least remember those times when my heart was strangely warmed and I KNEW without any ability to doubt that God loves me and wants the best for me and does not hate me or love his glory at the expense of my (or anyone else’s) well being in its most profound sense (wholeness).

This is my perspective on experiencing God. People experienced God before there was a Bible and have experiences of God apart from the Bible. But the Bible fills experience of God with cognitive content. But it cannot contradict the God I know as good through my unmediated experience of Jesus Christ because the only reason I believe the Bible is because it is GOD’s WORD. In and through it I hear my Master’s voice in a unique way–as communicating himself to me in a cognitive way, filling my unmediated experience of God with information. But that information cannot contradict the very pre-cognitive experience of God as unqualifiedly good that I had in my conversion and have in my post-conversion relationship with Jesus Christ.

Luther’s “tower experience” is what I’m talking about. And that’s what led him to [one time] doubt the spiritual value of the Epistle of James and the Revelation of John. Later, unfortunately, in his dispute with die Schwarmer, Luther backed away from this epistemology. But I think some conservative evangelicals forget or conveniently ignore the fact that Luther always held to the Bible’s authority as rooted in the Holy Spirit and not in some self-authenticating quality. His sola scriptura was not bibliolatry or even close to it. He was just afraid of certain fanatics who wanted to abandon scripture.

It seems to me that this is a fundamental watershed between evangelicals. Those of us in the Pietist tradition claim unmediated experience of God that authenticates scripture to us but makes it impossible to see scripture as proving that God is evil or the author of sin and evil or loves his own glory more than he loves people created in his own image and likeness. Those evangelicals in the Protestant scholastic tradition at least claim to experience God only through scripture and at least say they would believe the Bible even if it said God is a monster, the author of sin and evil, who loves his own glory to the extent that it causes him to hate some of the creatures created in his own image and likeness.

No amount of arguing or crying “exegesis!” is going to solve this blik dilemma - this continental divide among evangelicals. To be perfectly blunt, I shudder when I encounter people who seem to me to be worshiping scripture to that extent–that there is no unmediated experience of God outside of scripture. I shake my head and wonder about their spirituality even as I continue to embrace them as fellow evangelicals (even if they reject me as one to them).

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Martin Luther's Tower Experience

by Dr. Richard P. Bucher
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

In the minds of many, the Reformation began not when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door, but when he rediscovered and believed the Biblical Gospel.

This discovery is often called Luther's "Tower Experience," because in one of his "table talks" he mentions that he was studying Romans 1:17 in the heated room (his study) of the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg when the light broke upon him. (The Black Cloister was the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits, and later, when all the monks had voluntarily left, it was Luther's home).

Luther makes it clear in several places that this, not the Theses, was the pivotal event of his life. The most important of these appears in his Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther's Latin Writings of 1545. Several other mentions of the event are recorded from his "Table Talks," one from 1532 (LW 54:193-194), one from 1538 (LW 54:308-309), and one from 1542-43 (LW 54:442-443).

When we examine the above mentioned texts, and especially the 1545 Preface, the following observations beg to be made.

(1) Luther's conversion and breakthrough involved the correct understanding of God's righteousness. The phrase "[in the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed" (Romans 1:17) had become the focal point of his struggle with God. Luther had long struggled to blamelessly keep God's Law in order to become righteous. He knew that this is what God demanded of him and all people. Time and again he failed to keep God's Law and achieve the righteousness that God demanded.

Luther's struggle with God came to a head as he was wrestling with this Romans 1:17. He tells us that he was extremely zealous to understand Romans but that this phrase about God's righteousness stood in the way. This phrase, which to us is so clearly good news, was for Luther bad news.

Why? Because the phrase "the righteousness of God" like most Biblical terms (e.g., grace, faith, justification, etc.) had been reinterpreted by scholastic theologians of the high and late Middle Ages 1100-1500 A.D. (esp. Gabriel Biel, Duns Scotus, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinus) to support a theology of Law and works. For centuries the Church had taught that the righteousness of God was God's active, personal righteousness or justice by which he punishes the unrighteous sinner.

This, Luther informs us, is what he had learned. Therefore whenever he came across the phrase "the righteousness of God" in Scripture, it terrified him ("struck my conscience like lightning," "was like a thunderbolt in my heart") because he knew that he was an unrighteous sinner who fell far short of God's righteous (perfect) demands.

Even worse, Rom. 1:17, filled Luther with anger and hatred toward God. "I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners." Is it not enough, Luther tells us he murmured, that God crushes us miserable sinners with His law, that He has to threaten us with punishment through the Gospel, too?

After meditating day and night, finally the breakthrough came when Luther gave heed to the words at the end of 1:17, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Then he realized that the verse was not talking about the active righteousness that God demands, but the passive righteousness that He freely gives to those who believe the Gospel. The sinner is justified (declared righteous) by God through faith in the work and death of Jesus, not by our work or keeping of the Law. Put another way, the sinner is justified by receiving (faith) rather than achieving (works). Later Luther would say that we are saved by the alien righteousness of Christ, not by a righteousness of our own doing.

(2) The tower experience, according to Luther was a conversion experience. When he had discovered that God gives His righteousness as a gift in Christ, he felt that he "was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise." Now his conscience was at rest, now he was certain of his salvation. Before there had been only unrest and uncertainty.

How did Luther now feel about the word "righteousness of God"? "I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word `righteousness of God.' Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise." Thus fortified and converted by the Gospel, Luther was now a ready instrument to be used by God for reformation!

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