Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 14 - Lindsey Trozzo

Lindsey Trozzo

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (14): Lindsey Trozzo

by Peter Enns
August 8, 2014

Today’s “aha” moment is by Lindsey M. Trozzo (BA, Biola University, Biblical and Theological Studies; MA, Talbot School of Theology, NT). Trozzo is ABD in her PhD work at Baylor University, where she is writing her dissertation is on ethics in John’s Gospel and utilizing Rhetorical Criticism to uncover John’s non-propositional ethic. Trozzo is also working at Texas Christian University as the Research Assistant to the Bradford Chair (David Moessner), where, along with researching and teaching, she is coordinater the Second Century Seminar and manages subscriptions to Novum Testamentum Supplement Series (Brill).


I often think that students take the view that one of my jobs as a professor is to reassure
them that the Bible does not say anything that they do not already think, and to show how
when it says something outrageous it does not mean it.

~ John Goldingay

This was certainly my mindset when I began my biblical education. “I’m not sure,” was a phrase I avoided like the plague. For as long as I can remember, I have been driven to say, “I know. Now let me show you why.”

At home, at school, and at church, I worked as hard as I could so that I would be able to raise my hand with the right answer. “I’m not sure” was a bad place.

This inclination toward certainty extended into my academic life: K-12 Christian school, B.A. in Biblical Studies from an Evangelical university, M.A. in NT from an Evangelical seminary, PhD program in Biblical Studies (in progress). I met success in academic life.

And for a good while, my accumulation of answers was quite empowering.

At first (as the joke goes) seminary “taught me just enough to make me dangerous”— meaning, my seminary-trained and self-inflated ego could out-argue others on a given Bible topic. This wasn’t only a fault of my particular educational system. Broadened scholarly horizons, on their own, would simply fuel me with different data to make different arguments – but for the same problematic purpose.

As a professor of mine has joked, “You can make the data say anything you want – if you’re smart enough.” So my “aha moments” aren’t necessarily about escapingconservative dogmatism.

They are about escaping dogmatism on all sides.

I would say I am experiencing an “aha evolution,” one still in progress, where I’m learning to identify my tendency to look to the Bible to affirm things I think I already know (rather than looking to the Bible to learn something new).

This evolution is about learning to live somewhere in the middle, about becoming more comfortable saying, “I’m not sure.”

The most significant moments in this evolution have not come from my own close readings of Scripture, nor from grating tensions encountered in a conservative classroom or church setting, nor from a moving and persuasive article or essay.

Certainly scholarly arguments have transformed my views about very important issues. Certainly my own close readings of the text have led me to concede that the “biblical stance” on any given topic is not as straightforward as I would like to admit. Yet still, I attribute my personal evolution to something much simpler:

I started listening to people who were different than I was.

In many ways, I am grateful for the conservative context in which I grew up. I was well-loved, and my own conservative community was of the gracious variety. But one detriment of growing up in a close-knit Evangelical faith community (at least in my experience) is that everyone agrees on everything – or at least on the important things.

Dissenting voices are treated with a special brand of caution. Even in the most gracious communities, those dissenting voices are certainly not given the same space as the voices of insiders. For me, this dynamic continued into my academic context as well, since I chose to attend a university and a seminary that resembled the conservative setting of my upbringing.

Though such an approach was never directly prescribed, reading in such a community fueled my tendency to treat the Bible as a means to affirm my stalwart doctrinal positions. Reading in such a community strengthened my sense that “I’m not sure” was a bad place.

It’s not for me to say whether other members of this reading community had the same motivations – perhaps some were actively trying to disengage their presuppositions and see whether some long-held beliefs might be challenged by the voice of the text. But that was not my approach at the time.

Slowly I began to feel a growing chasm between my close-knit Evangelical scholarly community and the diverse community with whom I lived everyday life. I began to see how the positions I had become so equipped to defend simply did not line up with the common human decency I saw expressed by those whom I would have called ill-informed, untrained, or even heretical.

Good people with amazingly powerful common sense had me wondering, “What if we are wrong? What if I am wrong?” It was this, the laying aside of “I know” and the taking up of “I’m not sure,” that invited the conversations that would shape a new perspective for me.

Reading and discussing the Bible within a diverse community (and mostly listening), I gradually learned a more generous approach to the Bible, to others, and to myself. A few members of this diverse community stand out (though there are many others):

  • My profoundly “liberal” freshman roommate who lived a Gospel that extended unquestioning love to those our community excluded and judged most.
  • My upstanding, inspiring, charitable twin brother whose fearless vulnerability and courageous pursuit of accepting himself and others as the image of God challenged my own deep-rooted prejudice.
  • My unique and freethinking husband whose unconditional love for me and openness to every person I’ve seen him encounter stood in stark contrast to my own principled self-importance and need to be right.

Listening to these voices resulted in new questions and led me to more flexible answers than I had previously been able to see in the text.

Becoming an observer of my tradition and myself, I began to realize the inconsistency of interpretation among many Christian communities who adopted a stricter hermeneutic on some issues and a more flexible hermeneutic on others.

Mostly, this community helped me to acknowledge where I was making the text say more than it was really saying, where I was forcing the text to take a stronger position than it really took, where I was overlooking complications and complexities in the biblical witness.

Scholarship has since affirmed that "evolution" that was birthed in experience and community. I was pleased to find that these more flexible ways of reading has long-held a place in the wider world of biblical scholarship—beginning with premodern communal interpretation, continuing with the rise of liberal theologians, and extending into the academy today.

I am happy that our postmodern context allows similar “concessions” for those of us who read the Bible from a theological standpoint. For me, self-reflective and self-aware reading is only possible when I ground myself in a diverse community.

We still all read from a subjective standpoint, and this is something I’m not sure we can escape. But by reading in community, deliberation can free us from dogmatism. I hope that I will continue to listen to my friends who will help me to read reflectively and engage deliberatively, to err on the side of love, and to readily admit “I’m not sure.”

Some resources on reading in community (thanks to my own community for these):

Hermeneutics: An Introduction, Anthony C. Thistelton

Reading In Communion, Stephen E. Fowl

Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom: Scripture and Theology, eds. David F. Ford and Graham Stanton

The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning, eds. David F. Ford and C. C. Pecknold

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 13 - Carlos Bovell

Carlos Bovell

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (13): Carlos Bovell

by Peter Enns
August 4, 2014

Today’s “aha” moment is brought to you by Carlos Bovell, a frequent contributor to this blog (for his last post go here and work backwards). Bovell is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (2007), By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (2009), an edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (2011), and Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (2012).


I can very definitely remember that “aha” feeling in my spiritual journey. But truth be told, I doubt it was really just a moment, or if it was, it had to be a moment that was years in the making.

Before attending Westminster Theological Seminary I audited courses in Old Testament studies at Philadelphia College of Bible (later Philadelphia Biblical University, and now Cairn University). I eventually graduated with a math degree at The College of New Jersey, but I had had a life-changing religious experience before enrolling here, which is what prompted my sitting in on courses at PCB. I enrolled as an M.Div. student at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. It was as a result of studying at PCB and Liberty that I had learned a really valuable lesson.

(Side note: My spiritual counselors at both PCB and Liberty insisted "I disregard my religious experience—even though it changed my life—because God doesn’t do those kinds of things anymore. He rather makes provision for us through holy scripture.")

While at PCB my OT professor, Brian Toews, was teaching us about the “canonical approach” to scripture of late Yale professor Brevard Childs. To help us understand how it would look when done by evangelicals, my professor had us work through numerous readings by John Sailhamer–a well known inerrantist OT scholar who had taught briefly at PCB but moved on to Western Seminary by the time I took classes there.

A quote from Sailhamer’s Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach illustrated for me just how much preliminary work a student of the Bible is actually doing, philosophically, before thinking about how and whether the Bible is inerrant:

Thus the world that one stands before as a reader is never more than a representation
of the “real world.” In the case of the Bible, the text is a true representation and an
accurate representation. However, no matter how true or how accurate the text is, the
accuracy of the Scriptures should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the text is,
in fact, a representation of those actual events.

Now I should make clear that “what the Bible represents it always represents accurately” was not something I had any interest in criticizing at the time. I had wholeheartedly believed that. It was just that there was something about the way Sailhamer mentioned it here that seemed forced, contrived. What is he so worried about here?

Then, after spending a semester studying at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, I read a book by Liberty faculty that talked about the nature of Christian scholarship. The book was a compilation of essays and bore the title, Opening the American Mind: The Integration of Biblical Truth in the Curriculum of the University.

Each chapter gives an overview of a specific university discipline and was written by a professor who was active in that specific field so that the mathematics chapter was written by a mathematics professor, the economics chapter by an economics professor, the arts chapter by a music professor, and the biblical studies chapter by . . . a philosophy professor!

What’s wrong with this picture? Why is it that for every other field a practitioner of that field can explain how it relates to faith, but when it comes to biblical studies, a philosopher (none other than Norman Geisler) has to be called in to tell students in biblical studies what biblical studies must ultimately look like?

Both the Sailhamer assignments and the Liberty book got me thinking more intently about evangelical spirituality—particularly how it is shaped by evangelical philosophy—and cumulatively contributed to an “aha” moment for me: evangelicals, at least some, use philosophy to shield them from the “threats” of biblical studies.

Why the need to emphasize what inerrancy “requires” from biblical studies—ahead of time—before actually doing any biblical studies? I found this to be a very troubling question. Why are inerrantists going to settle matters for students before they gained some familiarity with the discipline of biblical studies?

It seems that the reason is to protect students from drawing “dangerous” conclusions. Even Sailhamer, a biblical scholar, felt the need to put on his philosopher’s hat while he did his biblical studies.

This raised a larger question for me: Where does biblical studies begin and inerrantist philosophy end? Is inerrantist philosophy driving the evangelical engine?

As much as I did not want to, I had to answer this question with a “yes.” An inerrantist historical Jesus scholar, for example, is not able to say that the early church put words into Jesus’ mouth in various portions of the Gospels, or that a number of events recounted in the Gospels never really took place, being made up by a later generation of well-meaning disciples. Evangelical philosophy will already have decided these matters ahead of time. Thus evangelical, historical Jesus scholarship would have no choice but go through the motions of “discovering” that the Gospels are actually “true.” And this pattern carries over to other aspects of biblical studies.

I sensed a clear and widespread pattern among evangelical writers:

The Liberty book I read thought that it would be best for an inerrantist philosopher to explain to students what biblical studies is and what it cannot find.

Sailhamer wanted students and others reading him to know upfront that their researches in biblical studies would never come into conflict with inerrantist philosophy.

What I came to understand is that when inerrantist, philosophical pre-commitments of this kind are at work, the kind of scholarship needed to be done most by evangelicals would never get done from inside of evangelicalism.

Index to Series -

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 12 - Megan DeFranza

Megan DeFranza

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (12): Megan DeFranza

by Peter Enns
August 1, 2014

Today’s “aha” moment is by Megan K. DeFranza (PhD, Marquette University, MA Theology and MA Biblical Languages, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). She is an author, educator, and facilitator of difficult conversations around sexuality and gender in the church. DeFranza has taught Theology, Church History, and The Great Conversation at Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Seminary as an adjunct professor and visiting instructor. She is the author of the forthcoming Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, Eerdmans, 2015) and has also contributed chapters to Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis, “Recovering the Spirit of Pentecost: Canon and Catholicity in Postcolonial Perspective” (co-authored with John Franke, IVP, 2014) and “Virtuous Eunuchs: Troubling Conservative and Queer Readings of Intersex and the Bible” in Intersex, Theology, and the Bible: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text, and Society (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, forthcoming). She lives with her husband Andrew and two daughters in Beverly, MA and blogs at Scholastica’s Seedlings.


The Gifts of an Imperfect (but Wholly Adequate) Bible

When some of my girlfriends hit college, they couldn’t wait to head down to the sand volleyball court and scope out potential dates. Honestly, I was more excited to start Greek. I never considered myself a nerd, just an earnest Midwestern 19-year-old who loved Jesus and wanted to do whatever ministry was allowed for girls like me.

I had been the president of FCA in high school and a counselor at Christian summer camp for several years. I even took a year off between high school and college to work at a missionary school in the Marshall Islands.

In all these years I had worked that inductive Bible study method to the hilt and I wanted more. I wanted to know what God’s Word really said. I wanted answers. I wanted clarity. I wanted to really know what the Bible said, so I could believe it, because that would settle it.

Or so I had hoped.

To be honest, studying Greek did answer some questions. I could more accurately say that some verses did not support certain interpretations… but then, I learned that the Greek in this passage or that passage could be interpreted in one or two other ways… meanings I had never considered when I was working with the English.

As the old joke goes,

“The Bible loses something in the original.”

I learned that when Jesus taught us to pray: “Give us today our daily bread” that “daily bread” could mean bread for “today” but it could also, maybe even more probably, mean the “bread for that day” or the “bread for tomorrow.” Jesus might very well have been speaking of a future feast, the kingdom banquet.

The Lord’s Prayer was not just about praying for my needs today but directing me with almost every phrase toward to the future of God’s reign already breaking into the present.

Greek led to theology. I was hooked.

Reading Greek made me feel like I was getting closer to Jesus. There are some Bibles that put the words of Jesus in red so you can focus on the “most important” words—when the Word spoke words. But in college I felt like I was getting even closer: the real words behind the red translation.

I studied those words of Jesus and as I did, I discovered that these words didn’t always match up with each other. Matthew’s record didn’t follow the exact working as Mark, Mark didn’t always match up with Luke, and John… Well, I soon learned that John had very different priorities.

First, I was told not to worry; that Jesus probably preached the same sermon at different times and in different places (cf. Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6, 12-14). Few of us say it exactly the same every time—even when we preach from notes. Still, in other places, the details just didn’t match up.

It didn’t seem plausible that two Centurions from Capernaum asked Jesus to heal their slaves and made a point about Jesus’ authority by indicating that he need not set foot under the roof to perform the miracle. In Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 they speak the same words but in Matthew he comes in person while in Luke a messenger is sent instead.

The main point did not seem to be at issue but the details… Well, let’s just say they didn’t match up as perfectly as I had expected.

Add to this the growing scholarly consensus that Jesus’ primary ministry was not in Greek. This shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, he confessed that his mission was to preach to the “lost sheep of Israel,” to the Jews not the Gentiles (Mt. 15:24). Jews and Gentiles spoke Greek when in the marketplace but when among their own they probably spoke their own language—Aramaic.

We can hear Jesus speaking his first language at some of his most intimate moments. In the Garden, he prays “Abba” (Mk. 14:36). From the cross, he cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (Mt. 27:46), not in the Hebrew original of Psalm 22 but in Aramaic… a translation.

So much for getting back to the original words of Jesus! These seemed more distant to me than ever.

Evangelicals put a lot of stock in the original languages so you may understand my disappointment. I went on to study not only Greek but also Hebrew and eventually even a little Aramaic.

What I now find ironic is that God does not seem to share this evangelical obsession for a perfect record in the original.

If God were concerned that we have Jesus’ words exactly as they were preached, we would probably have them in Aramaic and each Gospel account would match up every time. But this is not what we have.

We have translations.

We have testimonies.

We have humans passing on the words as they remembered them, the action as they saw it, and as they made sense of it years later.

And while all of this may trouble those of us those of us raised with evangelical expectations about Scripture, especially the central importance of the grammatical-historical method; apparently, God feels quite differently about the whole thing.

God is perfect, but God’s word has not come to us in a form some of us would consider perfect. It comes powerfully. It comes profoundly. It comes purposefully, but it does not come wrapped in scientifically proven perfection.

At first, I found this troubling, but as a recovering perfectionist myself (thanks, Brené Brown) I am slowing coming to see this as grace.

It is easy for me to fear that my lack of perfection hinders the power of the Word. But when I remember that God’s word does not go forth and return void, no matter how feeble the articulation, I start to see glimmers of hope. I have started to thank God for the gift of an imperfect Bible because it gives me hope that the same God who inspired the earthy disciples of old can also breathe through me… and you.

God’s word is perfect. It is exactly what we need. It is truth and hope and life and revelation. But it is not delivered in a perfect package. We are still unlocking mysteries, correcting misunderstandings, and unearthing new evidence. God is not done speaking. This, too, is grace.

Thanks be to the Living, Speaking God!

(For a more thorough and academic treatment of some of the themes here, see DeFranza’s recent chapter in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations, “Recovering the Spirit of Pentecost: Canon and Catholicity in Postcolonial Perspective,” co-authored with John Franke, IVP, 2014.)

Index to Series -

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 11 - Chris Tilling

Chris Tilling

“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (10): Chris Tilling

by Peter Enns
July 18, 2014

The 10th installment of our “aha” moments series is by Chris Tilling, Lecturer in New Testament at St Mellitus College and Visiting Lecturer at King’s College London. He is the author of Paul’s Divine Christology, co-author of How God Became Jesus, and editor of the recently published Beyond Old and New Perpectives on Paul. He appeared in the documentary, From the Dust: Framing the Debate and blogs at Chrisendom (which, I need to warn you, is a bizarre experience–I dare you). He is married to Anja who, everyone agrees, is stupidly out of his league. His hopes to vicariously live all of his unfulfilled dreams through his new son, Karl Lucas Benjamin, who is already being marked out as the first ever multiple Major winning PGA Golf Professional and World Champion Chess Grandmaster.

[PE: And just for fun, see how many British spellings you can find.]


I’ve really enjoyed the posts in this series, thanks to all contributors. I cannot expect to match their eloquence, especially as I write these words while on paternity leave. So expect some drowsy, below the belt, out-of-order British sarcastic humour below!

I’m kidding, of course. Having just had our first, I’m totally in love with our new son and I’ve never smiled so much. Right now I think everybody is wonderful.

Even my old pastor who declared all car CD players are “of Satan” because it stopped his flock listening to his sermon tapes when driving! He was a lovely man, don’t get me wrong, and he always meant well, but he also instructed me not to go to University to study theology but rather get a job in McDonald’s “to keep me humble.”

He was worried, of course, that I would lose my faith (yes, I went anyway and didn’tlose my faith). So, yes, I’ve come from a theologically conservative background: Ken Ham this, dinosaurs-lived-with-humans-as-seen-in-Job, that [kind of conservative background].

Sometimes I miss those days. Everything was straightforward. And most foundational of all: the Bible was the inerrant Word of God! The logic employed in defence of this dogma was obviously circular, but it was supposedly “God-ordained”, so who could object?!

(A) The Bible claims to be the perfect word of God.
(B) The Bible is true.
(C) Therefore, the Bible is the perfect word of God.

Try backing out of that beauty! Parsed more formally, this would tend to run as follows:

(A) The Bible is God inspired.
(B) God cannot lie (according to the Bible).
(C) Therefore, the Bible is true in all that it affirms
(whether those affirmations be about history, science or whatever).

Slightly more sinister, however, was the way fear attached to this circular reasoning. Anybody who disagreed with this was simply deceived (probably by Beelzebub). Best to stay behind a safe wall of Christian academics more intelligent and learned than I. Let them deal with the difficult questions about two creation accounts, Gospel contradictions, the archaeopteryx, Adam’s missing bellybutton etc.

Even at University, because of that fear, I didn’t make the most of my studies. Rather than downing Barth, Sanders, etc., I stuck to my safe and sure Ken Hams, Benny Hinns, Reinhard Bonnkes, and Josh McDowells. Only on slightly more intellectually venturous days would I read real scholarship, and then only someone considered “safe” such as Don Carson.

But during my studies, I had one key “aha” moment that began to chink away at my unhelpful armour.

I read John Goldingay’s excellent book, Models for Scripture, in which he argued that the circular logic noted above is simply not biblical! The Bible itself undermines it because God seemed happy to allow discrepancies to remain in the Bible (all of which were easy to look up and read without the need to accept the claims of “liberal biblical scholarship”).

Instead, he argued, an inductive approach, one which refused the deductively logical wringer of inerrancy, allowed the Bible itself to shape our doctrine of Scripture. I could thus read and love the Bible for what it is, not what it isn’t (i.e., inerrant in every detail Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy-style).

But it was not until I decided to begin postgraduate work that things really started to shift for me. In the process I realised that I was beginning to join the “safe wall,” those Evangelical scholars who knew the answers to the tough questions. And slowly but surely, and to my great consternation, I realised that the “safe wall” of believing scholarship was not at all what I had expected.

One particular “aha” moment came when listening to a Walter Brueggemann lecture on “The character of God in the OT.”

Brueggemann pointed out that the Bible could say some astonishingly strange things about God, for example:

  • the contrast between what Deuteronomy 23:1-3 and Isaiah 56:3-5 have to say about who God says can be admitted to the assembly,
  • Jeremiah 20:7 and God “overpowering” Jeremiah,
  • 1 Kings 22:20-22, where God’s actions seem devious,
  • Exod 4:24, where God “tried” to kill Moses.

Rather than whipping out an “answer” to these issues, he just let them sit there, undecorated and without cosmetics.

Boy did that guy screw with my head! But as a result, no longer could I accept a clear, unambiguous line between “what the Bible says” and “what we must all believe” (these issues, I later learnt, were elaborated under the heading “Israel’s Counter Testimony” in his Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy).

Thankfully, I remembered Goldingay’s arguments, and this begun a complete reconstruction of my views, something facilitated by great distance from my earlier conservative Christian roots, as I was now surrounded by amazing Christian theologians at Tübingen University.

There it started to become clear that a biblical grasp of the Bible demanded that tensions and, yes, contradictions, factual and, yes, theological problems in Scripture needed to be taken seriously.

Confronted, not dodged, embraced as God-ordained, not “explained away” by some doubtful apologetic manoeuvre that would only convince the desperate.

Otherwise I would indeed not hold a biblical view of scripture.

In a nutshell, I began to see that to speak of the inspiration of this text means to take seriously the phenomenon of that text!

Of course, this realisation was accompanied by further scrutiny of the dodgy “original autographs” get out clause, and other such matters relating to “church tradition” and the like, but the real “aha” moment was realising that inerrancy (at least understood in Chicago Statement terms) did not take the Bible itself seriously enough. Ta dah! I was liberated from the vicious theological circle!

My unleashed theological appetite paved the way for constructive “aha” moments, too.

I came to understand that Paul, in the Corinthian correspondence, engaged with so-called “knowledgeable” Christians. They knew correct theological propositions (e.g., “there is no God but one”), but they were deploying them in ways that damaged others. Paul responded by explaining that they did not “have the necessary knowledge” (1 Cor 8:2), which involved “loving God and being known by him” (8:3).

This Pauline relational form of knowing helped me to grasp a truly high view of scripture without thinking it all hinged on whether or not the bunnies historically hoped two-by-two into the ark (or was in in sevens? … Genesis 7:2-3).

Instead, corresponding with this relational motif, if I regularly read the Bible with the delighted expectation that God would speak to me, if I lovingly memorised parts and meditated on passages, turning each word slowly over in my mind, that was a high view of scripture, and one which didn’t need to dodge real questions.

In reading Barth, I also came to see that the Bible is the Word of God in so far as it points us to The Word of God, Jesus Christ. So appreciating Scripture as Scripture, was theologically relocated from arcane modes of isolated propositional communication (often understood in post-enlightenment categories) into the context of God’s gracious movement to us in Christ (a Trinitarian category).

And reading it as inspired meant trust not in the often extremely weak arguments of creationists, pop-apologetics, etc., but instead in terms of trust in the kindness of the self-revealing Trinitarian God.

Ultimately, I rejected the circular logic of Chicago-style inerrancy for missiological, biblical, critical-historical, and theological reasons.

Now I’m trying to live out a high view of Scripture, one which is faithful to the tradition, the phenomenon of scripture itself, and can even revel in questions and thrive in engaging problems without fear.

I do not, of course, claim to have it all figured out – loose ends, puzzlement, doubt-filled and existentially troubling questions are sometimes a dominant part of biblical spirituality, as we see in the Psalms – yet my “aha” moments have breathed fresh and wonderful life into my reading of scripture.

Index to Series -

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change