Sunday, July 13, 2008

The vexed question of Scripture

This one doesn't seem to go away and I seem to be regularly outlining my view on the authoroity, value, inerrancy etc. of scripture.

There had been a bit of an exchange between Erika and Wayne, with Neil making additional comments on one of my previous posts "Sunday Sermon". See below. It moved to Wayne's site. A couple of days ago I posted this comment there Here:

"Believe and be baptised." Not "Believe and accept every semicolon of scripture." Where does Jesus say that what you believe about scripture is detrminative of salvation?

He doesn't. There may be all sorts of Old and New Testament references to the value and use of scripture, but they are not related to salvation. These are the extra burdens we oppress each other with in good Pharisaic style.

Wayne replied: I don’t think it’s Pharisaic at all to ask, “What is it you believe?”

We have to believe Jesus is the Christ set forth as atonement for our sins once and for all (1 Cor 15:3, 2 Cor 5:15, Rom 5:8, Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10).

If we don’t believe that as literal language then we don’t believe in the right Jesus. If we don’t believe in the right Jesus we do not have biblical salvation. So it is very important to believe correctly when it comes to this basic doctrine if we are to be called Christian.

Nothing Pharisaic at all about that…….in fact, I would call that Christianity 101

Chris Kratzer commented: Doctrine is a biblical word for "teachings." Didache-GRK

The correct teachings about God and the things of God come from God (not man) through God's revelation in scripture.

John 7:16
Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.

Having the correct doctrine is essential for knowing God and having salvation. You can't have sound doctrine without belief that the Scriptures are God-authored, are perfect in truth, and define us and God instead of us defining them.

1 Timothy 4:16
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Notice the admonition is to agree with revealed doctrine, not to make the scriptures agreeable.

2 John 1:9
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

So to answer your question, "Where does it say that what you believe about scripture is determinative of salvation?" the above scriptures speak to this issue.

My response to Wayne was: It isn't Pharisaic to ask at all. Don't get me wrong on that. It is Pharisaic, though, to say "I believe such and such and if you don't, then you are either a second class Christian or no Christian at all."

Of course there are areas where there is a red line. One's belief about scripture is not one of those.

I don't accept that all scripture is the same genre of writing. I don't view the Gospels has having the same aim and function, for instance, as The Psalms although their common denominator is their witness to God.

The more I study (that is both academically as well as spiritually) the more I become aware of the different genres of writing: history (not all of which, confusingly, is historical), myth, poetry, law, wisdom, prophecy, Biography and so on. They all have a role and a context which needs to be understood and I would say that makes the writings interdependent.

That is why I can read the Gospels and assent to their witness to Christ. It is also why I read the Psalms and recognise that they could not all have been written by David (which is a secondary point to what they teach me about God and therefore of little spiritual significance but much academic significance); it is why I read Daniel and see allegory and not history; it is why I read Genesis and see myth not science.

In every case I need to read and understand and seek God's guidance as to the function of that genre and what it reveals to me about God. I don't read Esther as having the same authority as St. Paul, for instance, or Hosea as revealing to me the same depths of understanding as John's Gospel.

Scripture is complex in its diversity, for all its wonders. Inspired - certainly. Inerrant - well, I would say not, of the same spiritual value - not at all, (which is not at all to argue no spiritual value). Jonah, for instance: a wonderful story of God's saving power and mercy on the people of Ninevah and a wonderful story of God's calling of Jonah and his patience with Jonah. Historically accurate? I would say not. Allegorical? I would say so. Of equal value with Mark's Gospel? Absolutely not.

Now I don't expect you to share my understanding of the nature of scripture. But I would ask you to see where I am coming from and at least understand what has led me to this point.

For you to expect me or anyone else to share your view of the nature of scripture is equally unrealistic.

What we must avoid, at all costs, to keep real and open dialogue going and good relationships, is to stop oppressing each other with our certainties. Your certainties aren't mine and mine aren't yours. While we each hold them dear, we will not actually know until the day of judgement.

Wayne, you and I seem to manage to do that.

Chris: And the doctrine of Christ on scripture would be. "Assent to every semi colon or die" then would it?

Whose semi-colon. Brian's or mine?

God's or yours? (Please don't tell me they are the same because that would be to say - and here we go again: "I am right and you are wrong").

Just occasionally in these exchanges, my faith in the humility of my fellow Christians - note: no speechmarks - would be greatly enhanced by someone saying; "Actually I'd never considered that view before. I'd like to explore that with you."

Too threatening. Let just use the Bible to tell them they're wrong.

Proof texting does not help. We can all do that. I choose not to because it doesn't help, it convinces no one and, while it may make me feel good about how well I know my Bible and my ability to trot out an appropriate verse or two for every occasion, It doesn't prove either that I have anything more than a superficial knowledge and understanding of scripture or that scripture is saying what I think it says.

Chris came back: Thanks for your reply, I totally understand your views and would absolutely agree with you when exploring the "non-essentials" of the Christian faith.

If you have ever read my blog, I detest when people, for example, Calvinist try to claim perfect understanding of scriptures that God clearly never makes perfectly clear.

Worst, with some Calvinists there is a vibe that if you don't subscribe to their system of theology, you don't understand God's grace and you desire to minimize God's sovereignty. I can't tell you how much that elitism drives me up the wall. If you think you get the short end of the stick with guys like Brian etc., just go on some Reformed blogs and tee it up.

That said, I believe, by my understanding of scriptures as exampled in part by the scriptures I referenced earlier, that there are some "essentials" to faith in Christ and in the Bible that are not up for debate or creative interpretation.

Such as the doctrine of Christ: Jesus was the son of God, God's one and only provision for our sin, fully human and fully divine, He took God's punishment (wrath upon our sin) for us and died in our place through His shed blood on the cross. He rose to life three days later, ascended into heaven so that we might live and be restored unto Him. This salvation is an undeserved free gift from God received through repenting of our sins (genuine sorrow for and turning away from) and putting our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation.

This truth did not come from man, it is revealed to us in scripture. If one does not hold to this teaching, than one does not have God.

It is a very slippery slope to assert interpretational license over scripture and begin placing logic, reasoning, and personal experience as the guide rails for understanding. Once you begin down that path, than nothing is absolute other than a person's opinion. People have used every kind of exegetical excuse to further what are really their own opinions ever since the written Word.

It's amazing how the same person who doesn't want any absolutes, absolutely wants their own opinion, and not just that, wants it to have more weight and validity than God's counsel.

In a culture that says, "I have a right to my opinion so buzz off" I believe God's word requires us to humble ourselves and our opinions and yield to the counsel of God revealed in His word. Which, more so than not, is pretty straight forward, understandable, and clear.

Just some thoughts.

Which I actually thought was quite encouraging. Then today Mimi points us to Tobias's blog Here where he has posted:

Scripture is the inspired Word of God, but it is always written in a human tongue. People do not speak God’s language, or have God’s knowledge, so God, when speaking to people through inspiration, must employ the human language of the culture and time of the one inspired, in order to impart any knowledge at all. God always “talks down” to us, and our finite human capacity always limits how well we understand the infinite God, and express that understanding. One cannot put the ocean in a bottle; and new wineskins must be used for new wine. As Jesus himself would later say, “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12-13)

The inspired recipients of God’s word in Genesis believed the sky to consist of a dome, in which the sun, moon, and stars were set, and which had windows to admit the rain stored in the pool of waters above. God, of course, knew that this was not true, literally or in any other sense, but the minds of those God inspired could have no place to hold such concepts as gravity and freely floating planets, stars and moons — or that the earth was not stationary at the center of a revolving universe. They had the evidence of their senses to the contrary, and would not, as Jesus would later say, have been able to “bear” the truth. So God communicated to them in a language that did not seem outrageous to them, that met their expectations, and explained and ratified what they perceived. The primary truth God intended to convey, after all, was not a literal account of the composition of the cosmos, but the theological principle that God is the creator of all that is.

In the same way, the accounts in Genesis 2 through 4 do not present a literal history of the first human beings, but a theologically relevant account, God’s word designed to explain truths to people in keeping with what they perceived, within their time and place — to address the really big questions to which the account provides the answers: primarily, why is it that people do wrong things; why do they die; why do they marry; and why should a perfectly natural thing like childbirth be so painful.

Tobias Haller BSG

Now this pretty well sums it up for me. Then along came Bishop Gene:

"Did God stop revealing God's self with the closing of the canon of scripture at the end of the first century, or has God continued to be self-revelatory through history, and right into the present?

My conservative brothers and sisters seem to argue that God revealed everything to us in scripture. Ever since, it has simply been our difficult but straightforward task to conform ourselves to God's will revealed there and to repent when we are unable or unwilling to do so.

For me, there is something static and lifeless in such a view of God. Could it be that even the Bible is too small a box in which to enclose God?

In my life, God seems infinitely more engaged with humankind than that, desiring a relationship with each one of us, continually attempting to lead us closer and closer to God's will."
(See previous post)

(Now Bishop Gene, remember, isn't allowed to be right what with him not being a Christian because he is gay and therefore not having the Holy Spirit to inspire him at all. No, he is merely a "Christian".)

I have commented a number of times that there are no references in the creeds to scriptural inerrancy and that the list of proof texts others offer us to assert their perception of the literal and inerrant nature of scripture are essentially self-authorising. I am being invited to accept that the Bible is literal and inerrant because these proof texts, I am told, say it is. That is a bit of a circular argument isn't it? And it seems to accept no alternative perspective. "Look it can't be wrong because it says it can't be wrong. Do you see? So to disagree means that you have got it wrong."



Anyway, I have solved the problem. As I told Wayne I have concluded that scripture is, indeed, inerrant.

Only it means what I think it means.

After all, that argument seems to have worked for others, so It can work for me too.

Problem solved.

Now, overwhelmed with the authority and power to oppress others in the name of God and tell them how wrong they are and that they are going to Hell unless they see things my way, I shall go and have a cold shower. I like the feeling too, too much!