December 15, 2017

Luke Timothy Johnson: Premises of a “Bodily” Theology

Study of Christ for the Last Supper, da Vinci

Theology Week
Part 2: Premises of a “Bodily” Theology

Previous posts:
Part 1: Some problems with “theology” itself

• • •

Today I will simply reproduce an excerpt from Luke Timothy Johnson’s new book, The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art, in order that we might see his premises and discuss them. This is from the Introduction.

Two simple convictions animate this exercise in theology. The first is that the human body is the preeminent arena for God’s revelation in the world, the medium through which God’s Holy Spirit is most clearly expressed. God’s self-disclosure in the world is thus continuous and constant. The second conviction is that the task of theology is the discernment of God’s self-disclosure in the world through the medium of the body. Therefore, theology is necessarily an inductive art rather than a deductive science.

An even simpler premise underlies these convictions: authentic faith is more than a matter of right belief; it is the response of human beings in trust and obedience to the one whom Scripture designates as the Living God, in contrast to the dead idols that are constructed by humans as projections of their own desires. The Living God of whom Scripture speaks both creates the world at every moment and challenges the ways in which human freedom tends toward the distortion of creation — and indeed of the Creator. Among the idols that authentic faith must resist are the idols of human thought concerning God. Living faith remains aware that the most subtle and sophisticated of all idolatries might actually be the one constructed by theologians who claim to know and understand God.

…In this essay I seek to enliven theological language by challenging the sufficiency of abstract propositions for the discernment of God’s work in the world. I do this by using language as a means of observing and thinking about the human experience of God or — perhaps better — of observing and thinking about human bodily experience as the self-disclosure of God’s Spirit in creation. This may seem a slight shift, but it is actually fundamental. I hold that theology seeks to articulate and praise the presence and power of God in the world, and that this power and presence is an ever-emergent reality. In this search for God’s self-disclosure, language takes its proper place as a participant in revelation rather than as the adequate expression of revelation. Actual human experience in the body — inasmuch as we can apprehend it — is taken to be the essential arena of a never-ceasing process of divine revelation.

By shifting theology’s attention to living bodies rather than the ancient texts, I mean to show no disrespect to Scripture or the creeds. Instead, Scripture is restored to its original and proper role of articulating the experience of God in the lives of humans. Its time-conditioned but truthful expression of that experience remains of the greatest importance for the present-day theological task of discerning God’s power and presence in the world. I will try to show that, from the beginning, Scripture functioned as a participation in the process of revelation. It was never intended to be the sole or exclusive repository of truth about the living God. To make such a claim for Scripture — not to mention for interpretations of Scripture — would be to displace the living God with language, and that is idolatrous.

Comments

  1. Eckhart Trolle says:

    commented deleted by moderator

  2. –> “It (Scripture) was never intended to be the sole or exclusive repository of truth about the living God. To make such a claim for Scripture — not to mention for interpretations of Scripture — would be to displace the living God with language, and that is idolatrous.”

    I like what he’s getting at, but I think he goes a little too far calling this idolatrous. Flawed, maybe, as no language can properly or adequately portray the living God, but idolatrous? That’s a stretch, at least for me.

    • If idolatry is connected with the failure to love God with all our heart, mind and soul by failing to love our neighbors as ourselves, as I’ve come to believe, then I think Johnson is exactly right. I find it exciting that Johnson is articulating something I’ve been discovering: God reveals himself to us through our neighbors, friends and enemies alike, and any practice that leads us away from our neighbor, any belief that leads us to inhumanity in the name of other values or fidelity to the divine, functions theologically as an idol. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are bound up together in our orientation toward our neighbor, because that’s where God reveals himself, and has taken up residence.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        As you know I very much dislike the term “idolatry”, as it always needs to be awkwardly [re]defined – as is again witnessed here; in the modern context this term has no meaning at all and should be abandoned completely.

        On the other hand I heartily agree with everything you say starting at ” I find it exciting that Johnson is articulating something….” That very nicely sums up my thoughts.

        “””any belief that leads us to inhumanity in the name of other values or fidelity to the divine, functions theologically as an idol.””” I would replace “an idol” in this statement with “a cancer”. 🙂

        “”” Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are bound up together in our orientation toward our neighbor, because that’s where God reveals himself, and has taken up residence.”””

        + 1, heartily.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As you know I very much dislike the term “idolatry”, as it always needs to be awkwardly [re]defined – as is again witnessed here; in the modern context this term has no meaning at all and should be abandoned completely.

          i.e. Just like “Fornication”, the word “Idolatry” is now exclusive to Christianese and Theologyspeak.

      • –> “If idolatry is connected with the failure to love God with all our heart, mind and soul by failing to love our neighbors as ourselves, as I’ve come to believe…”

        I assume, though, that part of the reason you’ve come to believe this is because it’s stated in Scripture. My pushback for the term “idolatrous” is that I think it goes too far, causing one to maybe throw the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe when Scripture is used as the “sole source” of God’s revelation, yes…then it becomes idolatrous. But to me, at least as how I’m reading it being presented, I’d call Scripture more “flawed” than idolatrous, which means a person needs to supplement or complement the Bible with other ways of finding God.

      • Robert,

        Yes.

        Dana

    • I think “idolatry” is overused.

      But then again, Paul identified covetousness with idolatry, so maybe there’s a long history of identifying it with our inner dispositions.

    • If idolatry just means “worshiping something other than God, as if it is God,” then I think the term applies here. If we forget that God is unknowable and infinite and believe that the theological model of God that we have constructed in our heads *is* God, how is that any different than building a statue with our hands and worshiping it as if it is God? If any god built with human hands is an idol, why would the same not be true of a god constructed by a human mind?

      • My objection to the term is not so much that it doesn’t apply. I think you’ve stated it well.

        I just don’t think it communicates very well to people today. I haven’t come up with a better alternative yet, though.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I just don’t think it communicates very well to people today.

          +1

          It is a term that will cause you to lose most if not all of the non-Christians, and a lot of the Christians, in a room.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            i.e. It’s now found ONLY in Christianese.

          • Luke Timothy Johnson does not speak Christianese. His scholarly use of language to communicate the nature of faith in the modern world is about as far away from Christianese as you can get, and I can guarantee that Johnson did not learn his use of the word “idolatry” in any way from Fundegelicalism. So you’re wrong, the word is not ONLY found in Christianese.

      • –> “If we…believe that the theological model of God that we have constructed in our heads *is* God, how is that any different than building a statue with our hands and worshiping it as if it is God?”

        The theological model of God that I have in my head is my view of who God is, so I’d like to think I’m worshipping God as He’s revealed himself to me and not some idol. It’s my bowing down to the theological models OTHER MINDS have created that is in danger of turning into idolatry.

        Again, I think that a lot of what we’re talking about here shows how any human concept of God will be flawed – including Scripture – but I’m extremely hesitant to call it idolatrous.

    • The thought is there – as the term “preeminent” does not strike me as language that would acknowledge a partner. From the other comments it does not appear the question of Scripture’s role is addressed at least in the beginning chapters.

  3. –> “Living faith remains aware that the most subtle and sophisticated of all idolatries might actually be the one constructed by theologians who claim to know and understand God.”

    I do like that!

  4. “All said and done, my friends, it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by ‘religion’ ever vanishes from the earth. It can still send us the truly delicious sins. The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”

    – Screwtape Proposes a Toast

  5. I find what Johnson is saying here extremely exciting. Human beings, human bodies, and by extensions the body of the created world, is the locus of God’s presence among us, and continuing revelation to us. When we honor human beings, when we see the image of God in them and seek to honor that image, we are practicing “true” religion; when we turn away from our neighbor, when we diminish or mistreat them by abuse or negligence, we are practice “false”, idolatrous, religion, and however much we invoke scripture (or tradition, I might add) for justification makes no difference.

  6. “By shifting theology’s attention to living bodies rather than the ancient texts, I mean to show no disrespect to Scripture or the creeds. Instead, Scripture is restored to its original and proper role of articulating the experience of God in the lives of humans. Its time-conditioned but truthful expression of that experience remains of the greatest importance for the present-day theological task of discerning God’s power and presence in the world. I will try to show that, from the beginning, Scripture functioned as a participation in the process of revelation. It was never intended to be the sole or exclusive repository of truth about the living God.”

    Clearly he is against Scripture alone, but is he against prima-Scriptural too? Is he taking the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and reversing its order?

  7. Clay Crouch says:

    It will be interesting to follow what I assume will be strident pushback from evangelical theologians.

    • I think that will depend on where he places Scripture. If he is holding to a high authority of Scripture, and looking at bodily experiences with that in mind, then many (such as the Wesleyan tradition) will not necessarily have a problem with that (depending on his view of tradition, such as the creeds).
      However, if he places Scripture alongside of (equal to) bodily experience, then there will be pushback.

      • I think there will be push back. Although Johnson holds to what he considers the central affirmations of Christian faith, I think he supports appropriating those affirmations in highly imaginative ways. After all, he says outright that God reveals himself preeminently in human bodies, not scripture; this implies that scripture is a mode of that revelation, and that, however congruent it may be with that revelation, it is secondary to it, flows from it, and does not replace it. Look at that first sentence in the quoted extract; that says a lot, and has radical implications.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          “After all, he says outright that God reveals himself preeminently in human bodies, not scripture…”

          Considering the Incarnation, I don’t think his premise is shocking, but rather quite orthodox. Perhaps his implications and applications will prove otherwise?

          • Clay,

            a big problem in contemporary USAmerican Christian thought is that hardly anyone considers the Incarnation and its implications, other than as the means by which the divine being may be made able to be sacrificed.

            You’re right about the orthodoxy of his premise – and what if it not only calls to mind the Incarnation as already known, but declares the necessity of it as flying in the face of “everyone knows that can’t be possible” – which has been a major problem for thinking people both ancient and modern…

            Dana

          • To be totally honest, I’ve gotten away from concern about whether God-talk is orthodox or not. I do, however, think that many of those who call themselves “orthodox” would be shocked by the idea that “God’s self-disclosure in the world” through the medium of the body (to me it seems apparent that Johnson is not just speaking about Jesus’ human body) is “constant and continuous”, since they associate revelation with the human life of Jesus understood as a discrete event that can and must be distinguished from all other human lives. I think Johnson is including far, far more as revelation and divine self-disclosure than most of the “orthodox” would agree to.

    • Clay, I think mostly from those of the Calvinist/Reformed camp.

      After years of personal study I have slowly been coming to the belief that much of today’s theologizing comes from strictly Western modes of thinking, not from trying to discern how ancient eastern Mediterranean peoples thought and reasoned.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Just from reading the second chapter, which the publisher has graciously made available, it is hard to discern the intent of the writer concerning Scripture. He seems to take issue with St. John Paul II on some matter of Biblical interpretation, but without seeing how the great-souled Pope handled the Scriptures in question, it’s hard to see what his objection is.

      For a scholar who appears to be tilting at abstractions, his language is pretty abstract. Much more so than the language of Scripture.

      I’ll have to read the whole book. I wonder if Johnson is aware of Charles Williams’ essay The Index Of The Body,/a>, and is willing to pursue that metaphysic, or whether the rest of the book is going to descend into the bitter racial and sexual politics of our mournful times, where differences between bodies have become like barbed wire in a Verdun salient

      • In the intro, he says the first few chapters are more theoretical. We’ll see where he goes from there.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          Looking at his Table of Contents, it looks good. The Passionate Body, of course, especially piques my curiosity. I wish Johnson had included a couple of other chapters; The Body Under Siege and The Body Discarded.

          • I think Johnson will disappoint you. He (a Roman Catholic who left the a Benedictine monastic vocation and got married) is in favor of women’s ordination, and is soft on same-sex marriage. In many ways, he’s a progressive, like me.

          • Robert – Johnson sounds more and more appealing to me…

          • numo,

            I read Johnson’s book The Real Jesus many years ago; I had come under the influence of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan specifically, and I needed an antidote to the theologically flat and lifeless influence it was having over me. The Real Jesus was that antidote. Johnson repudiated the idea that it’s possible to get behind the Jesus of faith to the “real” Jesus of history, which was the Jesus Seminar’s project, by criticizing, not the tools of critical scholarship, but the deficient concept of history that makes us look to the origins of religious movements and other social phenomenon for their “truth”. Johnson claims that the truth of religions is not something that can be found by efforts to get at what objectively happened at a narrow moment of origin, since religions are living phenomenon. I can’t do his argument justice, so I won’t try; suffice it to say that Johnson contends that the “real” Jesus is not someone constrained or defined by first century history. Really, do read the book; it’s as insightful as it is brief.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            That’s how he got famous–as a conservative reaction to the Jesus Seminar. The same people read him as N.T. Wright.

          • Meister Eckhart,

            If you’d ever read him, you would know that Johnson’s work can’t be subsumed under the category “conservative reaction.” His concept of history, which is central to his work, is objectionable to progressives and conservatives alike.

          • Btw, I’ve skimmed a couple of Wright’s books, but never “read” him; otoh, I revisit The Real Jesus frequently. Not everything or everyone fits inside your neat little generalizations, though you think they do.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            @Robert F

            If I can read Laurence Tribe, John S Spong, and 90% of the blogs at Patheos, I can handle Johnson.

            I can assure you my opinions are not a result of a lack of exposure to contrary beliefs. 🙂

          • You can read John Shelby Spong? God bless you! He was my bishop for the better part of a decade, but I could never manage to get through even one of his mind-numbingly dull books.

          • Robert – i like some of Crossan’s work, though his writing style is on the dry side. While i don’t agree with many of his premises, i like some aspects of his research and approach to history. (Part of my academic background is in history, so have to say that there are some good things about his methodology.) The problem, of course, is that facts are not only thin on the ground, but not all thwt germane to belief, as you’ve said.

            Not an N.T. Wright fan, really, but Johnson sounds like my cuppa, in his overall approach as both you and CM have summarized it. I hope his books are easier reading than, say, Spong’s. ; )

          • Oh, I found Crossan very compelling, and, unlike you, I thought he was a fine writer, with a subtle and dry sense of humor. My problem with his methodology is that his Jesus is too much a creature of anthropological and sociological categories, rarely venturing outside of types to be an actual individual human person. When Crossan in effect says that, “Since Jesus belonged to this class of people in this place during this period of time, he must have thought this way and acted in that way and had these expectations”, he is basing his conclusions on broad generalizations regarding a period in time of which we actually have quite limited knowledge, and great uncertainty. But even if we had more precise and confident knowledge of this era, the conclusions would still be unwarranted, because they disallow uniqueness in a completely unwarranted way.

            Spong thinks of himself as one of the radical leaders of a New Reformation, and he expects to be remembered as such by future generations; he also thinks of himself as a scholar: he’s wrong on both counts.

          • Robert – I am less concerned with how Crossan tries to understand Jesus, and more with his socio-cultural history of the period. That’s what he is fairly good at, I think, though honestly, I haven’t read a lot of him.

            Spong and some of his predecessors certainly have caused a stir in TEC and the American media, just not the kind they expected or wanted.

          • Note: though I do agree with you on Crossan’s broad generalizations, but I’m not that concerned with that aspect of things. (I’m sure he’d find that annoying, but there you go…)

            Off-topic a bit: one of my fave art historians is an English Marxist named T.J. Clark. I am *not* a Marxist, but he’s less interested in that than he is in giving a look behind the curtain on Manet and the Impressionists – their subjects, their culture, etc. And he has a truly fine eye for art – and writes well, which is a rarity in the academic world. His book The Painting of Modern Life is superb.

  8. Burro [Mule] says:

    Ah, Wordsworth.

    Thus was man
    Ennobled outwardly before my sight,
    And thus my heart was early introduced
    To an unconscious love and reverence
    Of human nature; hence the human form
    To me became an index of delight,
    Of grace and honour, power and worthiness.
    Meanwhile this creature–spiritual almost
    As those of books, but more exalted far
    ;
    Far more of an imaginative form
    Than the gay Corin of the groves, who lives
    For his own fancies, or to dance by the hour,
    In coronal, with Phyllis in the midst–
    Was, for the purposes of kind, a man
    With the most common; husband, father; learned,
    Could teach, admonish; suffered with the rest
    From vice and folly, wretchedness and fear;

    • Why does this response remind me of cut ‘n paste Bible quotes?

      Seriousoy, we can all use search engines to find passages like this one, as well as your Whitman excerpt from yesterday. I would rather hear you (and others) state things in your own words. It might seem less “profound,” but it would be vastly more appropriate for blog comments than poetry drive-bys.

      Sorry if that sounds harsh; i don’t see the difference between this and lengthy chunks of text taken from Bible Gateway.

      • I see his comments differently, NUMO:
        after Mule’s keeping us ‘abreast’ of critical equations yesterday, I celebrate our resident talking burro as among the more creative commenters

        Ears long-ing for joy
        Mule with unbridled grace brays
        Magic has occurred

        • Christiane – glad you enjoy his comments. Mule and Imhave had our differences in the past, but I would have bern better off leaving it all there, I’m thinking.

          • NUMO, we all see things differently (from different places) here at Imonk . . . and we share what we see . . . and that’s ‘okay’ . . . this is a part of the great charm of the place . . . you fit right in, you bet

          • Christaine – indeed we all do see things differently. Thanks for your kind words about fitting in, and I agree about the diversity her being one of the great attractions of the site. : )

          • sorry for the typo in your name!

  9. David Cornwell says:

    Luke Timothy Johnson’s writings as a whole cover a wide swath of theology. I consider him easily within the stream of broad definition orthodoxy. For instance he has written a wonderful defense of creedal Christianity in “The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters.” in which he discusses the importance of the Nicene Creed line by line.

    For those who are tempted to drift out to sea in a hunt for the “historical Jesus” of the Jesus Seminar, he has written “The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.”

    In the future I would like to read “Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church,” of which part of the description reads as follows:

    “Luke Timothy Johnson begins his study of the practical issue of how decisions are made in the church by admitting to a bias: that there ought to be a connection between what the church claims to be, and how it does things. Because the church claims to be a community of faith, it does not reach decisions simply on the basis of good management policy, or the analysis of market trends, or efficiency, or even ideological consistency, but in response to God’s activity in the world that presses upon us and urges us to decision.”

    • That closing quote (description of the “Scripture & Discernment”) is nice!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > in response to God’s activity in the world that presses upon us and urges us to decision

      Interesting. How does a community come to a consensus of what God’s activity in their particular corner of world is? I have witnessed such discussions become fiercely divisive. How does a a community come to that consensus in a way that is not, ultimately, “good management policy”?

      Aside: I’ve seen nothing generate more horrible decisions that a quest for “ideological consistency”. A pox on that meme!

      > Because the church claims to be a community of faith

      In part I think everyone seems to be struggling with what a “community of faith” is.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I think that this involves far more than “ideological consistency.” For one thing it isn’t a fast and easy process. I’d like to spend time giving a more complete answer to your reply, but not sure I can do it today.

        This is one of the reasons I’m interested in reading his book. This process has been/is being discussed by some other individuals also, and I’d like to see where they are in agreement or disagreement. And it is probably off the subject for this post anyway.

        However an example of a church that has uses a process such as this one is Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. It involves discussion, prayer, listening, discernment, and the Holy Spirit. And sometimes some shouting at each other.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          >I’d like to spend time giving a more complete answer to your reply

          Understood, but someday when you get time I am very interested in answers to this question.

          > Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana

          I have heard of them. Someday maybe I’ll get to visit there.

          > And sometimes some shouting at each other.

          Which is OK; disagreement can be fierce… so long as it comes around to a form of agreement.

        • Here’s a method that has worked for centuries:

          >Have an agreed upon time for discussion, advocacy, horsetrading and yelling
          >Secure agreement by all that all will abide by the outcome
          >Set number of votes necessary for approval of issue
          >Agree on the language to be voted on
          >Have a set time for private prayer and quiet review
          > Group prays a prayer of guidance written years ago to avoid manipulated praying
          > Lock yourselves in a room. No talking anymore. Pray.
          > Vote by secret ballot. Count them.
          > Announce total to group. Keep voting until agreed upon total is reached
          > Shred ballots
          > Pray
          > Embrace one another and go forth

  10. The concepts of inductive and deductive thinking were first presented to me 55 years ago in Philosophy 101. The distinction between the two is clearer to me now than it was then, but I’m still working on it. Johnson speaks of an inductive “art” and a deductive “science”, which is the opposite of how I understand thinking works. I don’t know if he understands these terms differently than most or if we are dealing with semantics here. In that he uses the word “inductive” in the title of his book, I’m hoping that he gives clear definitions to these terms as he uses them. If he takes the approach of “everyone knows what those words mean, they don’t need definition”, I may opt out of the class.

    It seems to me that Evangelical popular theology in particular takes a conscious “inductive” approach. You open up your Strong’s and you list all the instances in the Bible of the word “grace”. This is the scientific way to study the Bible, and Strong’s is a nineteenth century science reference tool, still useful, tho better tools are available. Once you have all the data, you look for the best pattern, which should be obvious and the same for everyone. That’s deduction, and that’s where the inductive method of Bible study falls short. Everyone doesn’t see the same. That’s why deduction should be an art, not a science as Johnson presents it in his introduction. I’m open to further clarification.

    • You open up your Strong’s and you list all the instances in the Bible of the word “grace”. This is the scientific way to study the Bible, and Strong’s is a nineteenth century science reference tool, still useful, tho better tools are available.

      Never thought of this as such a 19th century/scientific way to study the bible, but it makes sense in that context, even though it’s obviously flawed based on some assumptions about the text.

      And it’s a hard way of thinking to break out of, since it seems both easy and “studious” so you get that dopamine shot. I remember hearing one church leader tell people to do word studies so that you can “own” the word, as a word of knowledge from God. Seemed stupid then, but I know I did the non-spiritual version whenever I set up bible studies for people.

      • off topic: you ever notice how “agape” is only ever mentioned when talking about eros/porn? wonder why that is.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          You don’t read much modern Orthodox theology.

          The Greeks are absolutely ga-ga about the word. They are much more likely to talk about Divine eros than they are about agape.

          I doubt if some of the more exotic uses of the term by the Greeks would find favor here, but it is their word, after all.

        • Hmm…I’ve NEVER heard “agape” associated with eros/porn.

          • Oh I’ve only ever heard it mentioned in that context. It’s how you *should* interact and treat the opposite sex, and exclusively the opposite sex. Cuz don’t you go sinning.

            I’ve never heard it used in another context with “the other”, whether the poor or the politically incorrect or a different race or whatever.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            I have never heard “agape” in the context of eros/p0rn either…. mostly I have heard it spoken of as a kind of nice lovely pablum.

            But StuartB has a point with “””I’ve never heard it used in another context with “the other”, whether the poor or the politically incorrect or a different race or whatever.””” – I have also never heard it used that way.

            Although in defense of ministers once a sermon takes an i-am-defining-a-word bent I seriously zone out… so it is possible i missed a usage.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Try spelling it as “gape” and you’ll find some.

            There was an amusing incident where the Agape (two syllable) fetish convention happened to be in the same hotel as the Agape (three syllables) Fellowship.

    • The difference between inductive and deductive reasoning is this:

      • Deductive reasoning is where the conclusion must be true if the premises are true and the structure of the argument is good (or, technically, valid)

      • Inductive reasoning is where your conclusion is probably true if your premises are true and your argument is good (valid).

      In other words, with a valid deductive argument, the conclusion cannot be false. On the other hand, the premises of a valid inductive argument provide good but not conclusive reasons for the acceptance of its conclusion. An inductive argument is always a probability argument; it presents what is probably true, not certainly true.

      Generally, deductive arguments follow a mathematical model, while inductive arguments follow a scientific model. That is, almost all scientific claims are inductive in nature, and thus, probabilistic in nature (though often not presented or thought of in that way).

      A common mistake is the belief that in deductive we go from the general to the particular, while a valid inductive argument moves from the particular to the general.

      I’m not sure what the OP meant by a “inductive art” as opposed to a “deductive science”. If he meant that exegesis involves a certain amount of subjectivity, ambiguity, probability, and openness to new information, and that one grows better at exegesis by age, maturity and spiritual depth, then I would certainly agree with him.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Daniel, however there are other ways of saying what the inductive method is. They are as follows:

        The inductive method starts with many observations of nature, with the goal of finding a few, powerful statements about how nature works (laws and theories). In the deductive method, logic is the authority. If a statement follows logically from the axioms of the system, it must be true. In inductive reasoning, we begin with specific observations and measures, begin to detect patterns and regularities, formulate some tentative hypotheses that we can explore, and finally end up developing some general conclusions or theories.

        Said slightly differently is this:

        Inductive approach starts with the observations and theories are formulated towards the end of the research and as a result of observations (Goddard and Melville, 2004). Inductive research “involves the search for pattern from observation and the development of explanations – theories – for those patterns through series of hypotheses” (Bernard, 2011, p.7). In other words, no theories would apply in inductive studies at the beginning of the research and the researcher is free in terms of altering the direction for the study after the research process had commenced.

        I think this is where the word “art” comes in. Looking at scripture from this basis is more artful than scientific. In my mind inductive must always start from observations, not preferred conclusions.

        He says,
        “Scripture is restored to its original and proper role of articulating the experience of God in the lives of humans. Its time-conditioned but truthful expression of that experience remains of the greatest importance for the present-day theological task of discerning God’s power and presence in the world.”

        Thus meanings and interpretations may shift according to the contextual information of the era or age we find ourselves in. Thus it will be more “artful” in its conclusions.

        (Aside: none of this probably makes sense the way I’m attempting to say it.)

        • Daniel Jepsen says:

          Hi David

          I think Goddard and Melville are mistaken. They are trained in math and computer science, not logic.

          Since I teach logic as part of my philosophy class, I happen to have three logic texts on my bookshelf at the moment. These are:

          Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric (Howard Kahane)

          A Concise Introduction to Logic (Patrick Hurley)

          Attacking Faulty Reasoning (T. Howard Damer)

          All three agree that the only real difference between induction and deduction is the one I sketched out above: that in deductive arguments the conclusion follows with certainty, while in inductive arguments the conclusion follows with various degrees of probability. All three cite examples of inductive arguments that flow from general to specific and other that flow from specific to general, as well as deductive arguments that also move from general to specific and from specific to general.

          I’m not trying to be pedantic; I just see this confusion about induction being very widespread, including the idea of “inductive bible studies”.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Thanks Daniel for your reply.

            I’m sure you are correct. I haven’t been trained in logic and apparently many of those who use what they think is the inductive method are not. So, then, a very common usage of the term is a faulty one. And this faulty one is quite prevalent in different settings.

            Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, a researcher and professor emerita at Albert Einstein College of Medicine says: “In inductive inference, we go from the specific to the general. We make many observations, discern a pattern, make a generalization, and infer an explanation or a theory,”

            One web site giving definitions is the “Research Methods Knowledge Base.” It defines inductive as:
            “Inductive reasoning works … moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories.”

            So, should they rename the method they are using to something different?

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            I affirm that consequent!

          • Daniel Jepsen says:

            David, yes, I wish they would come up with a different name for this. I’m not smart enough to suggest one.

            Again, I apologize for being pedantic. The only reason I care is that understanding which arguments are inductive and which are deductive lets you know how much an argument actually proves. A very good inductive argument is still probabilistic. It could still be wrong. And we need to realize that for the sake of intellectual humility. It also has huge consequences in the area of faith.

            That’s why I think the distinction is so crucial to the post:if we realize that our interpretations are based on induction, it gives us less certitude, but more intellectual humility and charity.

          • Daniel, I wish I could take your class, or better yet, have you tutor me in logic. Without logic, philosophy collapses into nonsense. I wish I had a much better command of the subject.

          • Daniel Jepsen says:

            Robert, you are very kind. But you are a very logical and clear thinker. I’m not sure I would have much to teach you besides some terminology. Most people over-estimate their own logical ability; you do not.

      • Daniel, I appreciate you taking the time to give the current technical answer to my question. I’m sure the difference in your mind is black and white, in mine they are different shades of gray with no distinctive line separating them. What you call “certainly true” I would call either logically true within a specific context or else highly probable. I’m not saying you are wrong, just recognizing that you are operating within a certain context, that of formal academic philosophy, which I do not operate within and do not want to. As to what context Johnson is operating in, I don’t know, and that is why I am calling for definitions and explanations from him, and uncertain I will get them. The only certainly true statement I recognize is that God IS, and I can’t prove that, nor do I believe you or anyone else could. The rest is story.

        David Cornwell explains the difference between induction and deduction the way I understand it, tho my understanding is not complete and solid. I think this is the way most people understand it who have thought much about it. It is a useful understanding that corresponds to the experience of how many people generally think. I think of it as the weather programs that collect a huge amount of data and then make a forecast, Induction and deduction. In reality a meteorologist runs a number of different programs which give varying forecasts from the same set of data, and the meteorologist makes an educated guess using his “art” and experience. I also think of Sherlock Holmes with his huge inductive database of previous study, adding to it what he sees thru his magnifying glass at the scene of the crime, and deducing the solution. Sherlock was as certain of his deductions as you are. Elementary, Dr. Jepsen. You might dare to question Mr. Holmes as to the certainty of his conclusions but I’ll just watch.

        Again, I don’t dispute your technical definitions, just don’t think they apply here or are very useful in real life, tho I’m waiting to hear from Dr. Johnson. I do think that theology has been co-opted by philosophy along the way, but not so much the kind you teach. It does get muddy.

  11. Just from the quote given in the OP, I think Johnson makes a great case for a sacramental view of life. I’m not talking about the definition of “an outward and visible sign of an inward work of grace” – because I don’t view “grace” as something somehow fabricated by God. I think the Eastern Christian understanding of grace as the actual acting of God the Holy Spirit within a person makes much more sense. With this understanding, there is room for, and even necessity of, the body in an encounter with God – and it is the complete person, inclusive of body, that participates in the life of God within a sacramental view. Not talking just about “the seven sacraments” but rather the many moments of that very participation, the most sublime of which is the Eucharist. But all of that participation is mediated to us through our bodies in contact with and taking in the physicalities of bread, water, wine, oil, incense, etc.

    Existence is not a two-storey proposition.

    Dana

  12. Numo, I understand that you have encountered a lot of undesirable people operating in the name of Jesus, as has Stuart, as has Robert. This should not surprise any of you. These people exist, this is life on Planet Earth, Jesus called them wolves. Whether they are operating with evil intent or out of ignorance and ego satisfaction is mostly irrelevant. It’s how the world works. You have been given the Holy Spirit of God which can be used for spiritual discernment along with much else to your benefit. You are not at the mercy of these people unless you fail to use that discernment and rely on knee jerk reactionary responses to anything that in any way resembles your unfortunate experiences.

    That just throws the baby out with the bath water. Discernment is intended to distinguish between baby and bathwater. In these extreme negative reactions you are not harming these people who have harmed you, you are harming yourself. You are giving your power over to these people and making them stronger while you make yourself weaker. This is not an intelligent thing to do, and you along with Stuart and Robert are all people well above average in intelligence.

    Stuart talks about triggers, and that is a good description for the process. It happens on the level of the ego, not the level of the spirit. As long as you fail to use discernment, you are at the mercy of those triggers. The Spirit of Jesus, the Mind of Christ, sets us free from those past enthrallments if we cooperate with the process. I’m not saying this is easy, but it is what we are intended to do here on earth in this lifetime. The Truth indeed sets us free, but this Truth is not a mental construct or a philosophical or theological system, and it usually doesn’t happen all at once. It’s the Power of God at work and it is stronger than any chains that may have been attached to your soul by past experience when you didn’t know any better. Bit by bit or all at once, as long as you have breath, be blessed, be free, be made whole and well in the Love of Jesus.