According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Do We Have an Open Bible or a Closed Bible? Or, What Makes an Open Bible Closed?

 
I recently wrote a post that detailed the differences between reading the Bible as a Scriptural Bible as versus an Academic Bible. For myself, I believe the Bible may be read broadly in both ways, and with an equal balance lest it become distorted by dogma on the one hand, or skepticism on the other. But when taking the Genesis account of creation and asking whether it is historical or figurative immediately can divide Christians between a literalistic reading of Genesis or a non-literal reading of the story of creation. And to further presage my case, I would call into question Paul's definitive understanding of the Genesis story by flatly stating that he could not know the answer, nor indeed was it necessary that he knew the answer. To tell Paul that mankind evolved would have made no sense to him in his ancient view of cosmogony filled with mythic import. For so it was, holding serpents that reasoned with man; god-like humans who could speak to the God of the Universe; who lived in undisturbed Paradise that bore a special fruit to give one life and another death; who nakedly walked-about in innocence with one anther without a care in the world or a fight between them; who daily communed within the pleasant, sheltering spaces of an environ that held neither harm nor ill to them such as sickness or death. No. Paul simply understood God to have created man and went on from there. Even so, an evolutionary view of man's creation can also see God as man's Creator. And though both viewpoints differ by the process (an ancient v. a modern cosmogony; a process of an immediate v. a mediated generation of creation) the outcome is much the same. And yet, it may not be as simple as all that because these very different approaches to the these questions affects how we read the Bible and understand God. Hence we have a secondary problem...
 
And that problem is determinative to how we read the Bible through the lenses of our belief systems (in several previous articles of late I've described these as our epistemologies). To read the Bible literally is to never question its texts nor to use any outside academic disciplines to be placed "over" the text of Scripture. However, a non-literal view will fully utilized any-and-all resources as necessary to determining the meaning of the Biblical text. As example, the applicable usage of the evolutionary theory coupled with a historical/critical method that would compare creation stories between ancient near eastern countries (from the same time period and place) would be considered just and proper. As such, and from what we know of history, Paul could not know anything about evolution because he was removed from the event (as common sense would tell us) and probably had an imperfect academic understanding of the similar ancient creation accounts that had existed at one time between very old cultures.Why? Because the Jewish text was written 600 years earlier from his century, and because the other similar creation accounts from Sumeria and Akkadia were much, much older even still (2500 years and more). And no, I don't believe that God told him, nor that it was necessary for Paul to know this information, based upon the message he wished to communicate. Namely, that Jesus is Lord and Savior. God simply used his ancient world-and-life view (or epistemic paradigms) and spoke to him of Jesus' comparative worth-and-meaning versus his interpretive knowledge of Jewish literature at the time (which now compounds our historic contextual studies four-fold! Requiring knowledge of ancient cultures - both Paul's and earlier; knowledge of Jewish beliefs as they transformed from Moses' Day to the Jesus'; Paul's biographical makeup himself; and of creation stories themselves; plus innumerable other details!)
 
The Scriptural Bible approach (also known as Sola Scriptura) would ignore all scientific and archaeologic criteria and tell us that what the text says is what it says (whatever that may be according to whoever is speaking at the time and according to the epistemology that they wish to vouchsafe). Whereas the Academic Bible approach would say that such a declarative raison de force reinforces a much larger religious view that is less naively dogmatic. While also saying that this same non-transparent epistemology creates in itself an unnecessarily restrictive (and protective) position not allowing additional tools and resources to be brought to bear on the historic understanding of the biblical text and culture of the ancient world at that time.
 
Another problem is how God spoke to Paul. That is, how Paul received God's revelation. At base here is whether God spoke to Paul as an automaton-like transcribing machine. Or if He spoke to Paul through all of Paul's primitive knowledge of the world, his character and personality traits, his temperament, life-based experiences, and so on. Of course the answer is yes to the second proposal and no to the first. Which is a relief because it then leaves a lot of room for the multi-dimensional uses of the human symbolic language consequently providing Scripture with its relevancy of communication to us today (I think of this as the mystery of language - that is, its currency and relevancy). If the human language were simply a machine language or even a reductionistic mathematical expression of formulaic syllogisms than it would have very little value for us today. In fact, I think we could rightly argue that by its very exactness of statement we would find the Bible immediately conflicted and obtuse (as machine type languages become requiring upgrades to the relevant environment around itself because it cannot transition on its own). But as expressed inside of human language instead of machine language interpretive relevancy and vogue lives and breathes and remains open to us today. As example, its stories (or narratives) in-and-of themselves would defeat any of our efforts to systematized the Bible into a complete collection of systematic statements or doctrines. It can't be done. And when it has been done creates too many fractured interpretations of God and the world.
 
And yet another problem is that the academic approach helps to take away the magic-like qualities attributed to the Bible which causes us to think of it as a mysterious answer book. And placing us in jeopardy of worshipping the Bible rather than the God-behind-the-Bible (what we call bibliolatry). And by adding magic-like doctrines of inerrancy to the Bible (where the Bible is meant to have no errors and is unbowed before man's more finite comprehensions) we remove it once again from the realms of external resources like science or ancient literary studies or even the study of the human language called philology. And when all is said-and-done we've created an iron-clad dogmatic system of belief that cannot interpret the Bible in any other way than through its own use of a strict literalism (dogmatic systems like Evangelicalism are an example of this). Completing the circle, modern day science and academic disciplines are no longer allowed to as outside resources helpful to understanding the Bible because they do not have the "deified" status of the Bible and thus cannot critique its sacred pages. This final qualifier makes the circle complete, as we say.

However, it has been the argument here at Relevancy22, that biblical/historical/scientific criticism must be used in understanding the Bible. If not, we can no longer hear God's living Word having created a closed Bible that speaks back to us of our own systems and beliefs, rather than of God's faithful and everlasting voice. An open Bible says that one must use both approaches - the Scriptural Bible AND the Academic Bible approach - in order to properly hear and understand God's Word. Even more so, we have an open Bible that is not closed off in its communication to us. That is not speaking back to us our own dogmas and religious beliefs. As a broadly Scriptural Bible I understand it as God's Word(s) to me (one which requires the reader to identify his epistemic sense of interpretation; thus requiring self-doubt and honesty). And as an Academic Bible I understand that it retains mysteries lost through the years from its originating authorship that cannot be understood except through the use of external academic tools provided for the task. That my own naive or simplistic interpretation of biblical texts couched within my own epistemic framework may not be enough to fully disclose its truths. By doing all this and more, dogmatic religious beliefs are kept at bay and the Bible remains living and relevant for us today.
 
R.E. Slater
November 16, 2012 
 
 

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