Testing Scripture 1 (RJS)

Scripture plays a foundational role in the Christian faith on both an individual level and a corporate level. In fact, the centrality of scripture to the Christian faith is hard to argue. It is the self-revelation of God, so Christians believe. Without the Old Testament we would know little or nothing of God’s relationship to or interaction with the world, from the calling of Abraham and Israel to the significance of the Davidic kingdom or  the exile. Without the New Testament we would know next to nothing about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the turning point in the work of God in creation.

The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne opens his short book  Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible with a reflection on the importance of scripture.

Scripture has been very important to me in my Christian life. For more than sixty years I have read the Bible every day, and when in middle life I was ordained as an Anglican priest, I undertook the welcome duty of saying the Daily Office. Every year this takes me through the whole of the New Testament and a good deal of the Old Testament.

… there is great spiritual truth and beauty to be found in Scripture. Anyone who has listened to a performance of Handel’s Messiah, where the text is drawn wholly from the Bible, will have caught a glimpse of the majestic power and hopeful promise that are to be found in the pages of scripture. (p. ix-x)

The nature of the bible raises major questions for many today, however. Many doubt that the bible can be read both critically and religiously. Either the critical reading must undermine the religious experience or the religious reading must ignore the critical analysis. Dr. Polkinghorne disagrees – it is possible, he asserts, to read the bible as a believer, in an intellectually rigorous way.

How can the modern educated person read the bible as a Holy Book?

Outside of the church many look at the problems involved in interpretation and dismiss scripture as nothing more than a collection of ancient myths and fables and common sense wisdom. A book of historical and cultural importance, but of no greater significance.

Even those who grow up in the church struggle at times. The Bible is a complex and multifaceted book. It is not possible to read the Bible from a position of simple faith, as though it speaks without interpretation. There is no such thing as uninterpreted scripture. The simple act of translation – across language, culture, and years – is an act of interpretation. Much that is written in the Bible seems strange, out of place, or just plain incredible to modern western reader.

Dr. Polkinghorne has written this small book Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible to explain his approach to scripture. An approach that combines both his training as a scientist and his faith as a Christian.

When I became a middle-aged student at a theological college, the lectures I enjoyed most were those concerned with biblical studies. I had a long career as a theoretical physicist, and the instinct of a scientist in approaching any new field of inquiry is to ask first what are the basic phenomena that will motivate and control the search for a truthful understanding of what is going on. In considering questions of Christian belief, the Bible gives us accounts of the history of Israel, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the first thoughts and experiences of his earliest followers. These are the foundational phenomena of the Christian tradition. (p. xi)

In this book Dr. Polkinghorne sets out to assess the claims and forms of scripture with the same intellectual rigor he brought to the study of particle physics. Yet the book is not a detailed academic monograph. Rather it is a short book written for the average believer or inquiring seeker who finds himself or herself wondering how scripture can be taken seriously in the twenty-first century. The principle purpose of the book is “to help the contemporary reader to engage in a serious and intellectually responsible encounter with the Bible.” Rigorous literalism has no place in his approach – yet faith, devout, orthodox Christian faith is central to Dr. Polkinghorne’s life and to his reading of scripture.

In the future posts in this series we will look at a number of the examples Dr. Polkinghorne has chosen to illustrate his approach to scripture. These examples range from Creation and Fall to Cross and Resurrection, with Israel’s Bible and the Pauline Writings thrown in for good measure. For today however, I would like to end with a question.

Is it right to test and explore scripture?

Should we bring the same intellectual rigor to the study of scripture that we bring to other academic endeavors?

Why or why not?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • Paul W

    “Should we bring the same intellectual rigor to the study of scripture that we bring to other academic endeavors?”

    Who is the “we” suppose to be.

    Clearly there are all sorts of schools, biblical/theological/religious studies, peer reviewed publications, and guilds that would qualify as academic. I wouldn’t imagine that there would be any significant opposition to such things outside of the most fringe of people.

    On the other hand, do I feel an obligation to have specialized language skills, training in historiography, familiarity with ANE culture etc.? Absolutely not.

  • Chris Criminger

    If the question is should intellect and faith go together, this may seem like a no brainer (forgive the pun). But there seems to be an underlying assumption by many that bringing intellectual vigor to the study of Scripture means scientific exegesis and science controlling one’s hermenneutics. The dirty little secret among Evangelicals today that seems rarely talked about is does scripture interpret science or does science interpret scripture?

    I remember some time ago when Os Guiness said we have moved today from sola scriptura to sola cultura. It seems to this observer that somethng similar has happened with science being the real souce of authority today and not scripture.

  • Susan N.

    “Is it right to test and explore scripture?” <– Well, based on scripture itself, we read that God's Word is testing us (Heb. 4:12,13). How exactly does that process occur, if we are not participating actively with God, and interacting with His Word? Does God just happen *to* us, or is it a dynamic reaction that occurs between us and Him?

    I think if one would object to testing and exploring scripture, a fear of God in the sense that His Word is synonymous with His being, His authority, and to question and test God is a big no-no for some.

    Paul W (#1) has made a valid point. Not all of us have the time or inclination to achieve a PhD in theology, or science; that is to say, we focus on a given occupation and that tends to be our "specialty." I agree that it is impractical to think that each of us can possess *all* knowledge with a high level of expertise.

    I recall a discussion to a recent post, in which a commenter asked how to discern whom to trust for credible information? We do have to seek out information from those who are experts in a given field. Then, we have to decide if they have a bias or agenda that slants their "evidence." The point is, we need to be seeking and gathering information, learning, and thinking critically, all the time. Sound bites on the 24-hr. news cycle, or even a 30-min. sermon, won't give us the deep learning that the average person needs to gain understanding and make well-informed decisions about faith and the world in which we live. In an academic or professional setting, comparing and citing multiple (credible) sources is the rule. I think that's a good rule for learning and discerning theology, too.

    In terms of theology, one thing I would say is that I have noticed some Christians who either dismiss the Bible as mostly mythical stories of ANE culture which has no relevance on our world today, or those who are so afraid and confused by certain parts of the Bible that they avoid reading and studying it altogether. For me, what has helped to go beyond simplistic, literal interpretation (or just throwing my hands up in despair of ever understanding it) is to read and become more literate in a general sense. To learn more about the history and culture of Bible times, as well as Church history. Reading widely greatly enhances the benefit I have gotten from the Bible as a literary (not necessarily literal in every sense) masterpiece. Just keep swimming :-) Fear not… Practice patience and humility… Ask questions. Live and learn!

  • http://www.internetmonk.com Chaplain mike

    ” The dirty little secret among Evangelicals today that seems rarely talked about is does scripture interpret science or does science interpret scripture?”

    Chris, you set forth an unfortunate and misleading dichotomy, far too generalized and polemically stated to be of any practical use. In fact, we do both all the time. People like you and me come to Scripture with all kinds of scientific assumptions already in place. We know the earth revolves around the sun not vice versa as many passages in Scripture affirm. We know the stars don’t hang in the skies or that the earth is set on foundations, and we read such biblical “truths” in the light of the science we’ve learned. On the other hand we believe the eyewitness testimony of those who said Jesus rose from the dead– a fact no scientific approach could or would ever affirm. Let’s talk reasonably about this. The kind of statements you make about “Who is our real authority?” hijack what could be a meaningful discussion and turn it into an argument that bears little relation to the actual situation.

  • Amos Paul

    I must echo the fact that I firmly believe that ‘we’ have long been bringing academic rigor to the Scriptures… it may not be readily apparently in popular church culture, but it’s there.

    Personally, I’ve begun to be convicted that the faithful in general should actually be much more careful in approaching Scripture, though. And by that I mean that we shouldn’t throw everyone out into the prophets and histories and the torah and *whatever* without a lifeline expecting them to see it as holy. Scripture is only holy in that it may help point us towards God–but without a good perspective we may very well use it to point ourselves away from God.

    And I don’t mean it to sound like we cna’t all read the the whole Bible. Just that churches should encourage personal reading *beginning* with the Gospels and other key areas–and only then proceeding to other areas with educated ‘primers’ available to the faithful with different tips and context with which they might approach those “multi-faceted texts”.

    Susan,

    The Bible is not God’s Word. That’s Jesus Christ.

  • RJS

    Amos,

    I agree with the point that Jesus is the Word of God – John 1 puts this on the table, and this is where we should start.

    However, you also have to admit, I think, that most of the Christian church, and especially the evangelical church, views the Bible as the inspired Word of God. This shapes the whole discussion of scripture.

  • Norman

    RJS if I may; using a phrase like “orthodox Christian faith is central” turns my “beware antenna’s on”. “Orthodox” is frequently a misnomer in the purest sense of the word as it’s cited in religious circles. IMO we should move away from using “orthodox” descriptively and simply define more precisely what we mean. In the NT you would find “orthodox” Jewish Christians and “orthodox” Gentile Christians and Paul could move seamlessly between both groups even though the Jerusalem Jewish Christians by and large didn’t trust him. (Acts 21:20-22) These two groups seemed to have evolved into the Eastern Church and the Western church and there is still tension between ideas about the canonicity of the bible and whether the NT was written in eastern Aramaic or western Greek originally. It seems “orthodox” is often used to exclude or narrow the field in general terms which frequently becomes divisive in the long run and basically becomes a “catch phrase” with indefinite intentions.

    If we are going to be even handed (from a scientific approach) in our methodology toward scripture then it seems we need to scrupulously examine what all groups have determined instead of blindly accepting just the western mindset on what comprises scripture. I doubt that the Western church was any more infallible in discerning the canon than the Eastern Church. So if we really want to be good students we need to study the earliest church first and determine why the differences occurred over the ages.

    Also it might be kept in mind that Paul and the NT writers including Christ often interpreted the OT scriptures from a typological fulfillment viewpoint instead of a literal fulfillment point of view. When Ezekiel says that the Land and the City are going to be repopulated with one river flowing through bringing life to the Jew and the Gentile it’s not about a physical land fulfillment but the spiritual land, city of the New Jerusalem and Kingdom. This issue of physical or typological alone has very likely caused more misunderstanding about scripture than anything else combined.

    Science in due course has little to do with interpreting scripture but the scientific methodology provides a rigorous approach that can help keep one clear minded in examining biblical studies.

  • Susan N.

    Amos Paul (#5) – “The Bible is not God’s Word. That’s Jesus Christ.”

    So, where or from whom did you learn of Jesus Christ?

    Reading your entire comment causes me to be reminded of that part of Church history when only the priests and the elite had access to the language of holy scripture. I take it you are not a fan of the Protestant Reformation?

    As much as your words seem directly intended to insult and offend me personally, I would agree that churches could begin to teach a deeper understanding of theology, including but not limited to the Bible. But, what might happen if more people really began to learn and understand what the apostles and teachers currently know? I get the feeling that you count yourself in the aforementioned category, judging by the authoritative, corrective tone of your comment. I don’t find myself drawn to your brand of teaching or authority, to be honest.

  • RJS

    Norman,

    I disagree on the use of orthodox as a valuable descriptor. I think it is very useful. It isn’t intended to limit, but to expand as large as possible while remaining consistently Christian.

    We can discuss what is included in the term “orthodox”; I take the Apostle’s Creed or the early creedal like statements in the epistles and the writings of the early church Fathers (Tertullian’s for example) to be the plumb line for “orthodox”.

  • Amos Paul

    RJS,

    I 100% agree that much of the church does… and this is, specifically, a major breaking point between Christian academia and popular church culture. But I guess that’s where many of the criticims we discussed along the lines of the ‘Bible Made Impossible’ threads come in.

    ‘The Bible literally = God’s Word’ vs ‘the scriptures as God-breathed tools of primary importance in doctrine and teaching’ is an incredibly important distinction that must be made before any serious attempt can be had at approaching the Bible faithfully and intellectually.

    The questions I like to ask Christians are–upon what is your faith founded? Is it founded upon an objectively real God and Savior–or a book? Do you believe in God expressly because you believe in the Bible or do you ‘believe’ in the Bible (whatever that means) expressly because you believe in God? Which is context for which?

  • AHH

    Do you really want to say in the first sentence:
    It is the self-revelation of God?
    Maybe I’m overly sensitive to fundamentalist bibliolatry (which I know you don’t hold to), but I’d rather say something like:
    It is a self-revelation of God, second in importance only to God’s ultimate self-revelation, Jesus Christ, to whom it bears witness.

    I think discussion of “testing” Scripture should first sort out the bigger question of the purpose of Scripture. Is it an end in itself, or is it a means (a vital means) for getting to the end which is Jesus. [I think that's some of what Amos in #5 was getting at.]

    If we treat it as the revelation, then any testing seems blasphemous. But if Jesus (instead of the Bible) is the central revelation, Scripture can be tested in a sense, in dialog with the other ways God can reveal truth to us, including science and reason.

  • Amos Paul

    Susan,

    The only portion of my comment that was aimed at you was the final sentence. I can’t really be any more roundabout in saying it. If you hold Scripture up as primarily important, Scripture itself attests that the Logos and Word of God is Christ Himself whom we approach directly–not a book (or a collection of books).

    The Scriptures *as well as* the cloud of witnesses (church) *as well as* inherent human rationality crafted by God *as well as* God’s presence directly imprinted upon Creation all breathe definition, witness, and context in pointing out who Christ is. For example, it was only by the Holy Spirit (tangible presence of God) at work within the cloud of witnesses via human rationality that the church even assembled the Scriptures canonically. Though the church is, to this day, still in disagreement concerning what all ‘counts’ as Scripture.

  • RJS

    Chris (#2) and Mike (#4),

    I agree with Mike that this is a false dichotomy that often serves to hijack the discussion. From my point of view science doesn’t interpret scripture – rather science is a context that lends depth to our interpretation of scripture and our understanding of God.

    When we learn that God did not provide special scientific knowledge to those with whom he interacted – but instead accommodated himself to the people this tells us something about the nature of God and the nature of his interaction with his people. Accommodation is not a new idea – rather it is an idea almost as old as the Church itself.

  • Norman

    RJS,

    Like I stated; “orthodox” raises my “beware antenna’s”, especially from a methodological approach to understanding and applying scripture. It’s simply a loaded term which probably wouldn’t be encouraged in a strict scientific methodology.

    So I respectfully disagree on this point of discernment, especially since I believe our foundation is not found in creeds or the early church fathers but instead goes back to the interpretation of scriptures by those called through the Holy Spirit; namely Christ and the Apostles.

    Orthodoxy lies in the eyes of the beholder and so I stand by my observations at this time.

  • RJS

    AHH (#11)

    Certainly the phrase could be unpacked better. I do think that scripture is God’s self-revelation – but not in the manner of “bibliolatry” or in the way that is conveyed by many (perhaps most) statements of inerrancy. It is a preserved revelation of his interaction with his people through his people. This could be unpacked a bit more as well of course.

  • Pat Pope

    I absolutely believe it’s right to test and explore scripture. One of my favorite passages is when Jesus asks the expert in the law what the law says and then asks him, “How do you read it?” Jesus is asking the man, how he interprets the law. So, it appears to me that even Jesus acknowledges that the scripture can be interpreted and then goes on to explain HOW it should be interpreted as it related to defining one’s neighbor. But far too often, Christians read at face value and go no further.

    I have a friend who posts scripture on Facebook, which is admirable, but some of her commentary on the verse seems to reveal that she is not reading in context. Sometimes I don’t think people realize what they’re missing by not doing so. Their understanding and application of scripture can be so much richer when read in context and explored. However, the Church I think has made us lazy and seems to encourage the easy reading of scripture.

  • RJS

    Norman,

    Of course orthodoxy goes back to Christ and the apostles. But the kinds of statements I referred to also go back to the apostles, especially the creedal like formulas in the letters of Paul and the opening of John.

    Those who disagree with the term “orthodox” generally want to deny the divinity of Christ – and this is unorthodox. I make no apologies for that label at all. You may not be making that connection – but it is a trend I have seen in the comments of others.

  • Amos Paul

    RJS,

    If I might add, I like to use the term Christian historical orthodoxy (lowercase O!)–as in a general pipeline of ‘right belief’ we can see exemplified in certain places such as in the creeds.

  • Susan N.

    Amos (#12) – To me, your argument seems very circular and based on semantics. You seem to have presumed from my earlier comment that I worship the Bible in place of Jesus Christ. I think you are incorrect in that assumption; but perhaps I am not aware of my own true thoughts and motives…

    In my original comment, I was actually making a case for holding the Bible and other teaching (through books, experts in a given field — theology or science) in a healthy balance. In other words, not looking solely to the Bible as the only source of knowledge about God and the world. I mentioned that Church history and its various evolving traditions tell us a lot about our religion and theology. I have the impression that you are snapping to a judgment about me, and not a positive one, and maybe I’m misunderstanding the tone of your words, but at first glance, it offends me.

    RJS – I don’t know that I can say that the Bible is *not* the inspired Word of God. What I can say is that IF “inerrant” means we take every word literally, or even believe unquestioningly what our immediate “authorities” tell us is the true interpretation of scripture, or, that the Bible is the ONLY source that we need for understanding God and the world, then I do not agree with the term “inerrant” in this sense. I am not ready to throw the Bible out as only for use and distribution by the anointed few, or to say that it is not sacred in the sense that God is able to speak to us through this “word” in written form. I’m willing to be ridiculed for saying that, and even willing to risk being wrong – publicly. I’m still listening, but don’t suffer fools gladly (or quietly) – I’m sorry for this interruption of the flow!

  • http://profanefaith.com profanefaith

    For me any conversation about the Bible needs to take place in terms of the Bible itself, meaning you can not take a book that spoke to science incidentally thousands of years ago as claiming for itself to be a scientific text book. In a similar vein, not all science or scientists make overarching claims. There’s an excellent white paper from Tim Keller on this at BioLogos (http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf). Where we run into conflict is when people making overarching scientific claims for the Bible clash with those making overarching scientific claims for science.

    All that to say, I think our faith is faulty if we ignore facts that science has proved. We can test the Bible with these facts. But it doesn’t follow for me that we need to set to reconciling overarching theoretical claims of science.

  • Mike H

    As someone trained in the legal field, I find myself in tension between trusting scripture and allowing it to speak into my life against parsing the text down to its basest parts. Both approaches are helpful in revealing Truth from scripture, and I would say that both are required to reveal the Truth in scripture. We always “read ourselves” into the text when we crack open the Book.

    Ultimately, it’s plain ignorance to state that scripture is “the word of God” without considering the origin of the text. God spoke into the lives of his people who recorded those statements through the lens of their own culture. As we parse scripture, then, extracting Truth from a compilation of writing styles and eras of history, we pull those statements into our own existence now. Simply stating “inerrant word of God,” though a helpful reminder of the foundation of the church, says very little in how we are to apply scripture to our lives.

    I for one don’t really understand the issue with the faith v. science dichotomy. As has been mentioned, it’s a false dichotomy.

  • JohnM

    Amos Paul – Christians know what we do about revelation in the person of Jesus Christ because because of the testimony recorded in scripture. Susan N, #8 has a point. We believe the testimony of scripture because of the witness of the Holy Spirit. The rational arguments and the historical tradition of The Church may reinforce my faith and deepen my understanding, but like most Christians I believed before I was anywhere near understanding these things.

  • Amos Paul

    Susan,

    My comments were not directed at you other than my claim that the Bible is not God’s Word. As I expressed to RJS, I believe this to be an incredibly important distinction when *faithfully* approaching the Bible in intellectually rigorous ways.

    If the Bible is God’s Word–then it proceeds directly from the essence of Him and is part and parcel of the God whom we worship. I thoroughly deny this. While there *may be* some recorded prophecy in the Bible–EVEN THAT is expressed via the context and perspective of limited individuals AND the limitations of the written word.

    Indeed, conversely, Jesus Christ is said to be Lord of all Creation and synonymous with the ‘Word’ of God. Christ is a dynamic figure that *really is* God. We only look at Scripture to see Him (Jesus says it testifies of Him). It’s a means–and a means that *must* be used well within the context of God Himself.

    For example, when Jesus corrected the sadduccees (in Mark 12) who were known for studiously studying the Scripture, He said:

    “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?”

    I take this, at least in part, to mean that knowing the power of God was crucial to ‘know’ the Scriptures. Though they used and quoted the Scriptures, their perspective was wrong and, therefore, did not see the truth of God they attested to. They did not approach Scripture well.

    This is not to detract of the primacy of Scripture. The very church tradition that we *have* Scripture is intended to make it primarily important when defining doctrine and so forth. But it is not God Himself. It is not God’s word. It is not *inherently* some mystical vehicle of divine power. It is a tool to use. A hammer may be for building but I cannot go around cutting up my wood with it.

  • AHH

    RJS @15,
    It was the exclusive-sounding word “the” in your phrase that raised an alarm for me. If you’d said “a” self-revelation instead (leaving room for other self-revelation, most nobably Jesus), I would have been fine with it.

  • Norman

    RJS,

    Just to set the record straight I have no affiliation with anyone who “want to deny the divinity of Christ”!

    However there are way too many creeds that are considered “orthodox” that are problematic, thus the concern with trying to label them as determinate’s of “orthodoxy”. What we may currently think is orthodox may not have been the early church view in some areas. We need to be careful and have a Berean attitude, testing everything to see if these things are true from the ancient perspective, which is very difficult for us moderns at times.

  • RJS

    Norman,

    I didn’t think that was behind your comments … but it is very hard to know where people are coming from in comments on a blog.

    I agree that most “creeds” go too far, and I don’t think any should be taken without discussion.

  • Rick

    I think we can approach in a scholarly manner, although we can struggle with meditating on Scripture v. analyzing it. (for example: considering “Eat This Book” while reading “Dogmatics”). Finding a balance is sometimes difficult.

    I also think a distinction should be made between critical and skeptical approaches.

    In regards to God’s “word”, I think most use that in the sense of a primary method of communication God inspired and continues to use (Holy Spirit). They don’t mean it is “God”, but do value it because He has inspired it and wants us to use it.

    Finally,”orthodoxy” is a wonderful thing, but I understand that some approach it skeptically. David Opderbeck did a post recently regarding his revised view of how to approach orthodoxy and the creeds:

    http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog/?p=2329&cpage=1

  • RJS

    Nice post by David, thanks for the link.

  • Susan N.

    profanefaith (#20), Mike H (#21), and Rick (#27) – these contributions to the discussion better articulate where I am coming from. I’m grateful for your comments.

    Amos Paul (#23) – I am sorry, but you still seem to be talking in circles, as far as I am hearing and understanding you. I’m sure it is a defect on my part, this failure to understand and agree with you.

    You said, “If the Bible is God’s Word–then it proceeds directly from the essence of Him and is part and parcel of the God whom we worship.”

    I am a wordy person :-) Is that the essence and extent of who I am, all that I have said or written? My words are only a way that I attempt to communicate with others what I think and feel and believe. Sometimes I fail to communicate perfectly; sometimes others fail to receive accurately what I have said. Does that speak to the essence of who I am, in my core being? Certainly, as far as the words and meanings of the Bible are concerned, understanding necessarily involves the Holy Spirit, and Church doctrine and teaching.

    Do I think the Bible is a one-stop source for all areas of living (i.e., science)? No.

    You also said, It [the Bible] is not *inherently* some mystical vehicle of divine power. It is a tool to use. Yes, and based on your previous comment (to RJS), you feel that common laypeople should not be encouraged to explore the Bible without careful dissemination and instruction from the anointed authorities. Presumably, it is a tool for their use, and if not a “mystical vehicle of divine power” provided for their use, then they have been gifted with a mystical, divine power to understand, interpret, and teach others on the Bible’s true meaning. Quite frankly, your comments send up warning flags for me. If I had continued as you suggest, I would still be stuck in a fundamentalist faith. I’m very skeptical of such exhortations. I’ll be thinking for myself, albeit prayerfully, from now on, thank you very much.

    Furthermore, I don’t see how your suggestion of more tightly controlling the knowledge flow helps us in the way forward to embrace both theology and science?

  • Amos Paul

    Susan,

    The fundamentalists are the ones arguing that anybody and everybody should just ‘open their Bibles’ get the ‘plain reading’ theology straight from it/God.

    Conversely, as I’ve stated, people need to be more intellectually careful when approaching Scripture. There is, in fact, personal discipleship to be gained just from spending time with God and Scripture. However, I can’t tell you how many Christians I’ve known get all up in arms about reading their one year bibles only to walk away from it confused and dis-illusioned about the Christian faith because of the inherent complexities in dealing with and understanding much of Scripture. Especially when the threat of critical literary studies constantly challenges the historocity of this or that ‘plain reading’ they believe be directly from God. Yet the very notion of these ‘naked’ plain readings denies tradition, reason, and experience as relevant to the exploration and understanding of God. The very notion of plain reading denies all other avenues by which one might actually realize the guidance of the Holy Spirit in reading Scripture.

    Isaiah wasn’t written for Christian discipleship (though it could be used for it). Leviticus wasn’t written to read for small group (though I suppose it *could* be done…). Even the epistles weren’t written to be approached un-critically. Peter himself wrote that Paul’s letters were difficult to work through.

    “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet 3:16)

    Churches should be encouraging careful, intellectually honest scriptural discipleship by equipping their congregations with good, solid theological and critical framework to approach it with. Even if it’s good for people to read the Torah for themselves, it’s foolhardy to suppose that your average American can or should do it without proper education. The Jews have Hebrew School for that, what’re we doing to equip people’s minds in reading Scripture?

    Scripture is not God Himself. It is not literally God’s Word or words (that’s the claim the Quran makes). Scripture is expressed in many different ways in many different languages and via the perspectives of ever so many different human individuals and cultures whose presentation is much narrower than the scope of THE WORD of God. It is only useful insofar as it helps us know and grow in Christ who is that Word. That is it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Susan N. – I think you would agree with Amos in the end if you two could agree on language. I think the difference is simply a difference in perspective, and I come down more similar to Amos Paul.

    If I were to take a stab at it, it seems that you each see danger in scripture being interpreted incorrectly, but your greater evil is in it being used by the powerful while Amos greater evil is in it being used by the ignorant.

    But I could be wrong…

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …oh, I forgot my punchline. I feel many of the powerful in evangelicalism are also ignorant, that’s why I take both sides.

  • Rick

    Amos Paul #30-

    I think a post by Trevin Wax sums up what many here are saying, that being how we see Scripture as God’s “word” (communication to us):

    “Bible study alone is not what transforms your life. Jesus transforms your life. Of course, He does this through His written Word to us. So we must affirm that life change doesn’t happen apart from God’s Word. But the reason God’s Word changes our life is not because of our personal study but because in the Scriptures we are introduced to Jesus, the Author. That’s why every page ought to be written in red, as every section is breathed out by our King and points us to Him.”

  • Susan N.

    Amos (#30) said – “The fundamentalists are the ones arguing that anybody and everybody should just ‘open their Bibles’ get the ‘plain reading’ theology straight from it/God.”

    In reality, this may be what fundamentalists say… But, another aspect of fundamentalist religion is, “Follow the leader/teacher, and don’t question the fundamentals (which really are not fundamentals to faith in Christ).

    I don’t know the “essence” of Amos Paul. But your words however well-meaning and intellectually/rationally-based, struck me as abrasive. Your words strike me as being very impatient with those who are not on your level.

    So, if I’m following you correctly, the “ignorant and unstable” should not attempt to read and understand all but a small portion of the Bible (the gospels) on their own; what we read and don’t understand could be dangerous to us and others. At what point are we deemed competent to read and study the Bible on our own? Or is it just that we are not to speak publicly of the things we read, in case we’re in error?

    DRT (#31) – “it seems that you each see danger in scripture being interpreted incorrectly, but your greater evil is in it being used by the powerful while Amos greater evil is in it being used by the ignorant.”

    You crack me up! Holy smoke!! I needed to laugh about now, so thanks for that interjection.

    Rick (#33) – transformation, not just information. Right.

    The Bible is a dangerous book, in that the Story it tells can have a profound effect on the reader. Let it be so!

    Scientific knowledge, too, can be misunderstood and misused. I appreciated that in Francis Collins’ book ‘The Language of God’, he briefly addressed the subject of “ethics.”

    It seems that there is an equal risk in theology and science of arrogance or ignorance. We all have to keep plodding onward, learning and growing (hopefully), with patience and humility. Most of the bitter standoff is probably attributable to our mutual failure to communicate (in words and other actions) what we really mean. Maybe, too, we (within the church and in and among the larger society) truly want different things, and that leads to a power struggle. I wonder what Jesus would do?! I mean that mostly tongue-in-cheek, but, really, ???

  • Amos Paul

    DRT,

    You probably nailed our difference. Though, beyond the categories of Scriptural mis-usage in leadership–my most regular worry is your rubber-hits-the road Christian.

    We hear all these preachers screaming that all people need to do is ‘pick up the book’. Yet for every Christian I know who’s grown in Christ by simply reading their Bibles, I know two more driven away from Christ and/or the church out of frustration, confusion, and mis-usage of Scripture.

    Rick,

    Your quote is fair (Christ-centered), but I’d probably still worry, firstly, about the implication that we simply know Jesus through Scripture. Even if Scripture helps us see Christ, don’t the Earth and the Heavens speak His name? And, secondly, I’d again worry about the ‘plain reading’ pedestal. You know, oh, here’s a passage glorifying in the murder of children. Jesus? Yeah, I wouldn’t agree with that. But why? It’s not an immediately plain reading of the passage.

  • Rick

    Amos Paul #35:

    Even though it should be Christ-centered, you are right about misinterpreting passages based on that. Tim Keller points out that Christ, or a foreshadowing of Him, is not found in every passage. However, the He can be seen in how He relates to the overall story that develops. I think this actually causes people to not have a “plain reading” problem as it is found in Scripture as a “rule” or “majic” book. People would be more apt to ask questions and seek deeper answers with a Christ-centered hermeneutic.

    In regards to Scripture helping reveal Christ, we need to keep in mind that it is the primary method (apart from the Incarnation itself) God uses (by the power of the Holy Spirit) to reveal him.

    As one person commented on another post earlier this week:
    “We must remember that Scripture was inspired by the Spirit, the writers carried along by that Spirit, so we’re not limiting our spirituality by shoving it through that Scripture grid.”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Well, tonight is a test of scripture. Off to bury the second of my son’s friends that put a bullet in his head. This kid was well known for always smiling too. God help us all.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#37) – definitely a test of faith. Hard. God help us all is right. ~Peace~

  • Val

    So sorry DRT (#37).

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi Mike, RJS, and all,
    I find it interesting that people see the problem of scripture interpreting science but not science interpreting scripture. And I am well aware that my statement was an extreme statement which was to make a point that nobody wants to deal with. Science rules in today’s world! Whether it rules over what we believe IS scripture (put in one form of textual criticism or the other) or our hermeneutics that intepret scripture (this only makes sense from a modern scientific understanding), science rules period. The elephant is standing in the room but nobody wants to talk about it OR admit it (so be it).

    At the end of the day, people can give all the lip service they want to the authority of scripture and what it means to be a Bible-believing follower of Jesus today, but Jesus earliest followers would look at us as strange and alien than just people today viewing the Bible as strange and alien (it cuts both ways).

    For people trying to work out how science and theology goes together, kudos for you. I am merely suggesting that beneath all the talk, what really guides and rules our lives is some kind or form of scientific understanding of Scrpture.

    It seems like much of scripture has been taken captive or held hostage by science from my perspective. Or if people like the old proverbial saying, of the tail wagging the dog, it seems like science is wagging scripture more often than not while others protesteth too much!


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