October 17, 2017

iMonk Classic: A Conversation in God’s Kitchen (1)

Medieval_baker

Note from CM: Over these next two weeks, we will be focusing on the Bible, what it is, its nature and purpose. We begin today with part one of Michael Spencer’s most comprehensive overview of Scripture: A Conversation in God’s Kitchen. This is a long essay, so I am breaking it up into portions that I hope will prove more manageable for discussion.

If you would like to do some reading to go along with these posts, here are book suggestions. We will be reviewing Enns’s book during this series. We have reviewed or commented on some of the others here on IM. Click on the links to see those posts.

• • •

Baker 2bread iconFirst, What is the Bible?

When I was a senior in high school, I made it into an Advanced English Class taught by Mrs. Vista Morris. Mrs. Morris taught us to research, to write and to speak. Oddly, we never left her room, because all of our research and work was done in a little room adjacent to her classroom, full of several sets of books called “The Great Books of the Western World.” Britannica publishes this set, and I own the books today.

At the time, I had no idea who these 73 authors were or why they were significant. I recognized a few names- Shakespeare, Aristotle- but most were alien to me. They were, of course, what Harold Bloom calls, “The Western Canon” of intellectual life. These Great Books- which by the way included the Bible- were a “Scripture” of sorts for a true Western education.

There were three books in the set that were different. Two were monstrous index volumes, where the Great books were broken up into explorations of over a hundred topics vital to the Western intellectual tradition. These books allowed you to delve into the Great Books by themes, and to hear what all the authors had to say on God, government, angels, war or close to a hundred other topics. I treasure these two volumes today, and count minor water damage done to one of them while caring for a plant to be among the great criminal acts ever committed.

The other volume was the slim first volume in the set, a collection of short essays on the purpose and use of the Great Books. It was called “The Great Conversation.” The authors suggested we approach these books not as a single narrative, or as an education by installment, but as a great, roaring, unruly conversation across the ages. Greek dramatists debating with English scientists. Russian novelists sparring with German psychologists. Gibbon debating Homer. Augustine versus Tolstoy. It was a conversation that never occurred, but was allowed to occur by bringing all these writings together, and then studying them to hear what each writer had to say.

This idea, of a great conversation taking place over time and culture, and then selected and presented for my benefit, has become my dominant idea of what is the Bible. It has proven increasingly helpful in a number of ways. The great conversation model has allowed me to jettison any defense of the Bible as single book whose human origins and methodologies present significant difficulties that must be explained. For instance, I view the Bible as a selection of purely human literary creations. I may lay aside my faith, as many critics do, and study the Biblical material purely in their historical and cultural settings. This eliminates the need to force the Bible to be divine in origin, and gives me the freedom to hear each Biblical writer saying what he/she had to say in the way he/she chose to say it.

Or I may read the Bible with my eyes, mind and heart alive to the faith that is at the center of the Biblical conversation. The humanity of the conversation is not an obstacle, but an invitation to understand the Bible even as we understand ourselves and our histories, experiences and cultures.

The rich diversity of the Bible is frequently lost in our fear that seeing a book as exactly what it appears to be will ruin the inspiration and divine authority of the book. Is God so small that the humanity of a text matters to His use of it? Further, the particular “voice” or style the text uses to talk about God may come to us in ways that are strange and uncomfortable to modern ideas of reality and truth. But if we are listening to a conversation and not predetermining what it must be, these factors are almost meaningless.

smoo6b bakerIn the Great Books, the conversation took place in those common categories that were universal, even if greek dramatists and nineteenth century historians actually looked at the world in very different ways. The Great Conversation method says that the editor hears this conversation in his selection of the texts, and the reader experiences it for himself as he reads and listens.

Genesis isn’t twentieth century science. Leviticus is primitive, brutal and middle eastern. The Old Testament histories are not scholarly documentaries, but religious and tribal understandings of God and events. Proverbs comes from a mongrel wisdom tradition throughout the middle east. Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and not much else. The prophets spoke to their own times, and not to our own. The scholars who help me understand these books as they are, are not enemies of truth, but friends. Call it criticism, paint it as hostile, but I want to know what the texts in front of me are saying!

The Old Testament and New Testament Canon are the selection of those parts of our spiritual literary heritage that make up the Great Conversation about the Judeo-Christian God. The Bible itself is a human book, created and complied by human choices. There may be other writings that contribute to the conversation, but those who know and experience the God of Jesus Christ hear the conversation most plainly in these writings. Canon is that human choice of what to listen to. Inspiration- the next section- is the validation and expounding of that choice.

The conversational model allows for a number of helpful ways of approaching scripture. For instance, it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn’t say only one voice can be heard as right. Leviticus has something important to say that Psalms may not say. This approach sees the development of understanding as a natural part of the conversation, and isn’t disturbed when a subject appears to evolve and change over time. This model allows some parts of the conversation to be wrong, so that others can be right, and the Bible isn’t diminished as a result.

Most importantly, this model says the Bible presents a conversation that continues until God himself speaks a final Word. In other words, I do not expect this conversation to go on endlessly. It has a point. A conclusion. And in that belief, the great Biblical conversation differs from the Great Books conversation. There is not an endless spiral of philosophical and experiential speculation. There is, as Hebrews 1 says, a final Word: Jesus.

Hebrews 1:1-3 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . .

Comments

  1. The very best teaching about reading the Bible I received came to me from a friend and seminarian, who is now an Archbishop….(so yes, this comes from a Roman Catholic, for anyone who doesn’t know me…)

    He pointed out to us that the bible, as a whole, is a collection of different writings by different authors with varying intents, and in that way can be compared to a large city newspaper. An alien trying to read the paper who did not know the difference between the news, opinion, humor & satire, the personal ads, the comic pages, the “for sale” pages, the sports results, and “Dear Abby” would be totally and completely confused by all of the contradictions and styles.

    This is really what this post is about, so is just another way of seeing the complexity and beauty of the bible….simply using another analogy for something that cannot totally be explained.

  2. The word of God. A final word: Jesus. The Christian view does not confine the life of Christ to the life of Jesus, but regards it as continued in the Christian society. The full range of the Spirit could not be shown in the circumstances and the years of the earthly life of Jesus. To me it seems that things move toward the summing up of all things in Christ.

  3. The Word of God.

    The final authority in all matters of faith and life.

    NOT the ONLY authority…but the final authority.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Word of God” as in IMonk’s image of the continuing conversation over the ages or “Word of God” as in a Koran dictated word-for-word by God to be recited like a Taliban or ISIL Mullah?

      All too often, “Sola Scriptura” has become “Ees Party Line (Quote! Quote! Quote! Quote! Quote!)”

      • Word of God as in “all Scripture is breathed out by God” and “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” There are different theories of inspiration — the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how inspiration occurs, only that it does. Mechanical theories such as dictation don’t fit the facts about Scripture. Inspiration had to have been more organic — God using the full gifts, personality and experience of the human authors while at the same time ensuring that every word was exactly what he (God) wanted.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Problem is, “Verbal Plenary Inspiration(TM)” — direct word-for-word dictation, like occult Automatic Writing in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe — has been preached as the ONLY form of Inerrant Inspiration. Again, Fundagelical Party Line.

        • “The finite contains the infinite.”

          I like what Luther said;

          “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ. Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!” (LW 35:396)

          • That quote triggers me a bit. Voices in my head read it as “ALL BOOKS”, since all means all, right? And not just books that are in the bible or could be added to canon.

            I have a hard time with anyone who would say to throw a book out, any book, just because it “doesn’t preach Christ”, therefore it’s worthless. It’s not worthless, not in the least. That thinking is madness and I’ve been exposed to enough of it. It’s how arrogant believers can proudly state they read no book but the Bible and fiction is for fools.

          • He’s talking about apostolic scripture.

            If a Dr. Suess book preached Christ for sinners, then that book would be apostolic and containing the Word of God.

          • It might not be Holy Scripture (a Dr. Seuss book)…but as far as it proclaimed Christ, it would be the Word of God.

          • Well, Steve, Luther is talking about apostolic Scripture minus the Apocrypha and ideally the book of James.

          • And Revelation if he could get away with it.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            Pfft. I’ll take James over Revelation any day. But of course, Luther was right, because we know the Apostles taught errors (e.g. Peter’s separation from gentiles), and disagreed on stuff. And of course, some of Paul’s letters are lost, which is probably a good thing.

  4. The great conversation. I think I found this morning’s poem. We’ll see. I believe I’ve been involved in one my whole life. It is here expanded upon and narrowed depending on the way we look at it and need it to be. How gracious. Expansion being point of view of the poetic and rewriting of the love expressed over and over. How many wonderful testimonies we have through all of time so far.

  5. petrushka1611 says:

    “Canon is that human choice of what to listen to. Inspiration- the next section- is the validation and expounding of that choice.”

    Reading this fairly cursorily while waiting for rehearsal to start…inspiration comes after the selection of the canon? I’m assuming he doesn’t mean initial inspiration, but that’s how this reads at the moment.

    Either way, I’d love to hear this expounded upon.

    • When he says “the next section” he is talking about the sections of this essay, not the order of how we got the Bible.

      • petrushka1611 says:

        Whaddya know? That makes a lot more sense!

        Maybe I shouldn’t read articles on a tiny phone while surrounded by a hundred middle-schoolers.

  6. Really thoughtful post, thanks. The “conversation” viewpoint is really interesting to me. I can see how it can be threatening – how can a conversation be authoritative after all? How can it give us all of the right facts and propositions? But to me, it seems like a better approach to what scripture actually is than a biblicist handbook approach. Still, it has its own set of challenges.

    Looking forward to the conversation on Enns new book. A lot to talk about there.

    • One of the most helpful parts of Enns’s book is when he suggests we approach Scripture like the Jewish people did – – not to form dogmatic doctrines but to see the writings as given so that we might have ongoing discussions and debates about their meaning so as to gain wisdom. I think it will be a key concept in the days to come here.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        CM, didn’t you say once the Age of Reason and Industrial Revolution caused a major change in how we view the Bible? How it turned from a Continuing Conversation and the Old Old Stories into a Spiritual Engineering Manual of FACT FACT FACT?

        • That’s a pretty good theory I think. I didn’t invent it, but I can’t recall the source at this moment. I think here I brought it up in a discussion of dispensation and the Scofield Bible.

          • Just reading the words “dispensation” and “Scofield Bible” sends shivers down my spine. They represent (emotionally) so much bad in my life now and in the past.

            This essay is one of the reasons I initially got hooked on IM and I was just thinking about it the other day. Thanks for the refresher.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Let me guess, Matt —
            Gospel According to Hal Lindsay and Christians for Nuclear War?

            Because “dispensation” and “Scofield Bible” somehow became THE Bible for Fundagelicals. Despite Scofileld apparently being a pretty shady character himself.

  7. One of my all time favorite iMonk posts. I’ve sent it to several people to explain how I read the Bible now.

  8. a great, roaring, unruly conversation across the ages.

    …has become my dominant idea of what the Bible is

    Great. But why stop there? Can’t this “unruly conversation” be expanded to include other voices, such as science and philosophy? Or even scripture, tradition, reason, and experience? Would all voices in that conversation be equal? Should they?

    But if we are listening to a conversation and not predetermining what it must be, these factors are almost meaningless.

    Exactly. Which is why I object so strongly to reductionist positivism, which comes to the Bible with scientific conclusions already drawing a box around what the text can or can not say. Why not just let the text speak for itself, and then find a way to reconcile the two? I don’t think it is ever helpful for one voice of the conversation to dictate what and how the other can speak.

    Call it criticism, paint is as hostile, but I want to know what the texts in front of me are saying!

    Excellent! However, bear in mind that a ton of the historical context of prophetic literature is already contained within the canon. Too often some of the more critical approaches seek to overturn the conventional understanding by recovering some lost historical trivia, without which the text apparently was cryptic the whole time. And too often this appears to be driven by an agenda. I’m open to deeper scholarship, but color me cautious to jump on board with the overturning of tradition.

    Job argues with Proverbs

    I’m not saying it doesn’t, but I’m not sure exactly which references are being referred to. But on a topic like the appearance of evil, seemingly contrasting viewpoints in scripture are, I believe, one of the excellent ways it gives us to get a handle on the topic without delineating a simplistic solution to complex problems.

    a conversation that continues until God himself speaks a final Word.

    Accidents and substance, right there! The WORD is the underlying reality, source, and ultimate destiny of the cosmos. Good stuff!

    • Excellent Miguel! Yes, why not scripture speak for itself! EVERYONE has an agenda. From the guys who pick up your trash to the kings and princes who give forth their wonderous biblical edics from their lofty theological castles, everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a new book out. Everyone has got the REAL revelation. Everyone has a life changing seminar. “My prayer cloths were dipped in the river Jordan!”. oh,dear. What’s a poor Christian like me to think, or believe

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        The problem with the phrase “Let Scripture speak for itself” is that it often is an excuse for us to pretend that the Bible is a single document, and was written last year to an American audience. Scripture, however, was never intended to be a convenient, user-friendly document and yet, somehow, we’ve brought this consumerist mindset to the Bible that wants to dispense with the hard work and assume that the Bible has neither subtext nor context to its meaning.

        We’ve got to get smarter than that. Understanding the Bible is a lot of hard work, especially if we’re expecting to see God’s Word revealed through it.

        • Yes, I know this. The Bible is 66 books, not one. I’ve been a student of it for 32 years. My comments were not meant too be frivolous or simple

        • Oh, Marcus. That is just so, so true. Mis-understanding the Bible is so much easier, and the path more oft traveled. Tradition goes a long way to help with this, I find the more tradition is downplayed, the more divergent the interpretations begin to sound.

    • “Exactly. Which is why I object so strongly to reductionist positivism, which comes to the Bible with scientific conclusions already drawing a box around what the text can or can not say. Why not just let the text speak for itself, and then find a way to reconcile the two? I don’t think it is ever helpful for one voice of the conversation to dictate what and how the other can speak.”

      Hmmm. I don’t want to reignite the whole science conversation from last week, but I think your overall methodology on that topic may be rooted in a misperception of the conversation, which you just summed up in this statement.

      What you are calling “reductionist positivism” is a trope in young earth creationist polemic. It is a mirror image of the YEC view, a position that asserts either *one* source (science) or *one* source (scripture) can ultimately have authority. The Bible is authoritative, and science, done correctly, will confirm what it says. If your science contradicts scripture, you’ve goofed, the conclusions must be false. Try again. YEC takes the same assumptions and categories and projects them onto its opponents – who, were are told, cannot permit the Bible to have any meaning or who assert a total dominance of empiricism over other forms of knowing. Supposedly, to reject YEC means to accept the converse of its argument: to hold that any textual meaning that contradicts or goes beyond science is suspect, or definitely false.

      The problem is, this view isn’t really operative “out in the field.” Virtually everyone outside the YEC camp agrees with this part of your statement: “Why not just let the text speak for itself…?”

      Those who have no vested interest in reconciling science and scripture are perfectly happy to let the two speak in different voices, and even to disagree sharply. They may be attracted to religious or philosophical content in the Bible, but may reject elements of the text that don’t cohere with what they see more recent learning telling them. They may even shrug off Scripture as so much ancient near eastern nonsense. However, nobody is really interested in making the Bible into a puppet for the scientist. It has another voice, and they’ll like it or despise it for what they think that voice is. Even a young new atheist firebrand testing her new wings and her flying spaghetti monster jokes will only say some version of this: You go pray, and stay out of my way, while I go build a bridge that doesn’t fall down. They don’t want control of your Bible or its meanings. They are annoyed that YEC seems to want control of their science textbooks.

      Those who are interested in reconciling scripture and science will happily accept your full statement: “Why not just let the text speak for itself, and then find a way to reconcile the two?” They usually say something like: science and scripture speak in different voices, but they can or should be harmonized. It is assumed that the voices are independent but not necessarily inimical, and even complementary. But tension – or at least different interests or perspectives – are allowed. How one proceeds to interpret and reconcile scripture and science may be a topic of lively discussion, but it is usually assumed that there is one epistemological framework that underlies how we understand data from texts or from, say, field biology (even if the data is very different, and understood with different methods), and that the world and the texts within that world offer up data that we will try to understand and reconcile.

      In other words, most everyone outside the YEC camp already agrees with your most basic assumptions, but is interpreting the implications of the two voices, and the contents of the two voices, differently from one another.

      I’ve been puzzling over how (from my POV) your comments come close to tackling the main issues head on, but then seem to miss them by just a few inches. I wonder if the root problem is that you’ve dropped the YEC framework, but not the way they frame the scripture-science conversation. I don’t want to wade too far out to sea here, but I think that the anxieties and categories embedded in their approach may be railroading you as you try to articulate a different position from theirs.

      • Danielle, I know you’re a historian. I have a question: is the discipline of history a science in the same way that physics or astronomy are? Is sociology or anthropology, or even psychology, a science in the same way as microbiology?

        My own answer to both of the above questions would be “No.” Though they employ certain methods of science, the knowledge that history, sociology and anthropology give us is far less certain, and far more susceptible being distorted by the subjectivity of those who conduct them, than the hard sciences. There are just too many variables that cannot be controlled, because these disciplines cannot be conducted in the same kind of lab setting that the hard sciences routinely employ in theirs.

        This uncertainty of findings is even greater in the various fields of Biblical studies, with all its categories and sub-categories of closely defined and distinguished specialties. Biblical studies is quite far away from being anything like a hard science. The room here for subjective distortion is enormous.

        Yet, the traditional meanings of Biblical texts have been most undermined by the uncertain findings of Biblical studies, with much assistance from the disciplines of history, sociology, psychology and anthropology. The hard physical sciences really have not done anywhere near the damage in undermining traditional understandings of the Bible as these other disciplines.

        The question is: is this warranted? Do these disciplines really deserve the level of trust that educated people invest in them to analyze and critique and accurately study the Bible (or Christianity, or religion)? Or do they make claim to a level of understanding and knowledge which they really do not possess?

        Do they?

        • “I have a question: is the discipline of history a science in the same way that physics or astronomy are? Is sociology or anthropology, or even psychology, a science in the same way as microbiology?”

          Short answer: No. The hard sciences differ from the social science, which differ again from the humanities.

          I think you are asking a question about “certainty,” but perhaps the better question is: what are these fields trying to find out, and with what methods? Each discipline has tools for generating different kinds of knowledge and works with different kinds of evidence. Usually that turns out to be the more useful question.

          ““There are just too many variables that cannot be controlled, because these disciplines cannot be conducted in the same kind of lab setting that the hard sciences routinely employ in theirs.”

          Yes, I think most of us are most comfortable saying that the sciences generate more firmer or more certain knowledge, by which I think we mean more consensus, because the data is drawn from observations that one can make again and again, and that is often testable, and that gives us demonstrable results in the real world, when applied. This does not make science absolutely certain, as though the best scientists have arrived at a final destination. Everyone hopes that there’s going to be another Really Great Idea. The Great Ideas build on each other, even as they revise each other and place existing evidence in a whole new context.

          History and the “soft” sciences are less “certain.” My two cents (other people have their own two cents) about history: There are some suppositions that seem reasonably safe. If I think an event happened on April 12, 1870, and I can find enough documentary evidence it did, then I can feel justified in saying it happened. But history is also highly interpretive. What topic I chose to write about, what evidence I select, and how I read that evidence, and most of all *whose story I didn’t tell* are all subjective. History relies on evidence, but it is story-telling based on evidence: and we tell stories, and forget stories, in the present, to remember and interpret the past, and to create meaning for ourselves. We live inside the narratives other people wove, and that we are reweaving. History is a contemporary act, and it cannot be separated from the storyteller and the storyteller’s audience. This is what makes it “uncertain” or contextual in its “knowing.” It is also why it matters. Maybe a good way to put it would be: I’m trying to know and remember people and events that came earlier, to connect to them, and get meaning from them; but it is “me” who is doing the connecting, not a generic Person with an Objective viewpoint.

          Positivism used to be a thing in history. It is mostly gone. The idea, then, was that if you put enough data in a big pile you could use it to build an objective viewpoint. Somewhere, someone still thinks this. I don’t.

          “This uncertainty of findings is even greater in the various fields of Biblical studies, with all its categories and sub-categories of closely defined and distinguished specialties. Biblical studies is quite far away from being anything like a hard science. The room here for subjective distortion is enormous.”

          Yes. I might drop the word “distortion,” for something less loaded. But yes.

        • “The question is: is this warranted? Do these disciplines really deserve the level of trust that educated people invest in them to analyze and critique and accurately study the Bible (or Christianity, or religion)? Or do they make claim to a level of understanding and knowledge which they really do not possess?”

          They don’t deserve “trust,” and they are not “certain.” They are useful. Modern scholarship has the benefit, and limitations, of certain kinds of evidence. It has some useful interpretive tools. The field has some smart people who know how to use those tools well.

          The current methods and questions being asked allow modern scholars to ask some questions very well, questions that maybe we’re not on the table before, because the methods and concerns were different. The current methods may be just as bad, or writers disinterested, in asking other questions.

          Anyone studying the ancient world is up against a paucity of evidence (compared to the modern era) and all the usual problems of interpreting evidence. The importance of the questions NT studies raises probably increases the dedication of people to the work, and also their level of bias, by some degrees.

          So, yes, *interest* is warranted. Modern scholars have a contribution to make. However, they are conversational partners, just as thinkers 300 years ago or 1500 years ago can be a conversational partners. You can “trust” them to be good at things they have been trained to do, and to care about what they are doing. But each of them, like everyone else, is a creature in time and place, interpreting things. Unless I missed the secret ceremony, getting my Ph.D. did not supply me with any special powers. I did have my heart set of self-levitating, so this is really too bad. I know how to do original research, and I understand my field, kind of, and I once wore a cool hat. But that’s it.

          I know just enough about NT studies to know it’s an absolute maze. I am not trained in it. I think its difficult territory to navigate if you get sucked into reading it, particularly if you care about the conclusions and you don’t have 6 lifetimes to spend trying to get your bearings. My suggestion is to cop out and find recommendations from some poor person who has been made to take exams in it. I know such a person, if there’s something specific you are stuck on.

          • Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reply(ies). As usual, much to think about.

            I’m aware that a couple of the words I used are “loaded,” as you said; that reflects two things: 1) my perhaps unwarranted suspicion of human nature, and 2) the limitations of my vocabulary.

          • Your suspicions are warranted. The only reason not to use the language is that it presupposes that the use of, say, historical-critical method must be destructive. Not everyone has to use it that way.

            One thing I should have mentioned is that the impression is sometimes created that a method has to be an end-in-itself. Or that the overall thrust of all modern scholarship is toward skepticism. But there are ample examples of thoughtful people who use a tool as just that–a tool–and put it to the service of a robust theology. For an example of someone we can’t charge with being liberal, Pope Benedict has a trilogy on the the life of Christ where he sets out to make use of historical-critical scholarship, and calls its use necessary, without ceding any of his own quest for an intimate connection to Christ. There’s a forward to the first volume (maybe it is also in the other volumes) that lays out his own understanding.

            The modern academy has a strong bias toward splitting and splicing. Who said one can’t sew?

          • “I’m aware that a couple of the words I used are “loaded,” as you said; that reflects two things: 1) my perhaps unwarranted suspicion of human nature, and 2) the limitations of my vocabulary.”

            It just occurred to me that maybe I came across as criticizing your word choice. The only thing I meant to say that I don’t think you should feel beholden to anyone, as though scholars or methods deserve trust or must be allowed to strip away meanings. If they get bossy, I think you have a perfect right to be bossy back. I meant that to be empowering, not to steal away your words.

            BTW, I’m terribly verbose, and sometimes I’m not clear because of it. I pretty much just wrote off the top of my head. So my apologies for the length and any muddle.

          • Danielle, I did not take your comment as criticism of my word choice. I thought you were very clear and cogent and careful in what you had to say, as usual. Your comments are always perceptive, intelligent and worth reading and rereading.

      • Miguel, I forgot to add that I’m just trying to read between the lines of your ad hoc comments. Where I’m wrong, feel free to blow me off.

      • Danielle, I think you are having a hard time distinguishing YEC that insists that all true science supports the Bible, and “appearance of age”, which allows for physical phenomenon to appear illusory at times. But you are right, “reductionist positivism” and YEC (the first kind) are mirror images of each other. Most Young Earth Creationists, however, ARE dogmatically committed to evidence, they are just convinced that it does not point to an old earth. I tuned that out long ago.

        They don’t want control of your Bible or its meanings. They are annoyed that YEC seems to want control of their science textbooks.

        Exactly. But with the “appearance of age” approach to a young earth, we are free to let science be science and do what it does, to the best of its ability, for the good of us all, minus the restrictions it would apply to our metaphysical ideas.

        How one proceeds to interpret and reconcile scripture and science may be a topic of lively discussion

        …that is still active on that last post. 😛

        most everyone outside the YEC camp already agrees with your most basic assumptions

        You would think, yet I continue to get strong pushback against the idea that some scientific truths could be superseded by higher truths. It’s really not that difficult of a concept, but it is anathema to the pervasive existentialism of our narcissistic culture.

        I wonder if the root problem is that you’ve dropped the YEC framework, but not the way they frame the scripture-science conversation.

        Nope. I’m in an entirely different hermeneutical ball park. They insist on a flat, literal understanding of all of scripture. I say Law and Gospel is the key to rightly understanding the message of Scripture, apart from which it remains a sealed book. This only brings me to a young earth because of some the atonement teaching on Adam and the fall in the New Testament, and I readily concede that I could be misunderstanding something there.

        • “I think you are having a hard time distinguishing YEC that insists that all true science supports the Bible, and “appearance of age”, which allows for physical phenomenon to appear illusory at times.”

          I get the distinction. What I am trying to figure out is why you think you need the argument that “physical phenomenon … appear illusory.” Yes, that is logically quite possible. But you are going through some complicated footwork to sustain that point, and maintaining it puts you on some epistemological territory you might not want to be stuck in later. Anything could be illusory, and we would not know it. So if we are going to go there, its not clear where to stop saying it. (I know where you stop saying it, but under pressure I think you can be made to cede the point.)

          “You would think, yet I continue to get strong pushback against the idea that some scientific truths could be superseded by higher truths.”

          Again, this is an argument you can make, but I don’t think its an argument you need. I also think you might not like all the implications. The appeal to you is that it allows you to hold science and core doctrinal ideas simultaneously, with no expectation they can threaten each other. However, what you actually do in that argument is gather up your favorite scriptural texts and the core doctrines you take from them, all of which you arrived at by thinking about evidence that exists in the normal universe, making them into presuppositions, and removing them from scrutiny or threat. This argument will work only when someone else accepts that your presuppositions are self-evident, or at least more certain than the scientific evidence is. Or, if they are willing to follow you by existential leap. In other words, it’s an argument for insiders. Insofar as it’s an argument for insiders, you remove yourself from the main debate, and an insider who goes off to college and plays around with the foundational ideas somewhat, may well come off your hook.

          If you conclude, you don’t want to make these particular arguments, I think you may have a way out by framing the debate differently. You’re missing what I mean here (probably because I’m explaining it badly)…

          “Nope. I’m in an entirely different hermeneutical ball park.”

          I agree that you are in a different hermeneutical ball park, but I think you may be there because you perceive the alternative viewpoint as “reductionist positivism,” applied to the Bible. However, it’s not. I think you may be reading the alternative viewpoints as advocating this, and shying away from them on that basis, when they aren’t in fact demanding reductionism.

          • “I agree that you are in a different hermeneutical ball park, but I think you may be there because you perceive the alternative viewpoint as “reductionist positivism,” applied to the Bible. However, it’s not. I think you may be reading the alternative viewpoints as advocating this, and shying away from them on that basis, when they aren’t in fact demanding reductionism.”

            That was less than clear. What I mean is: You are clearly taking up a different hermeneutic from YEC. However, I think you might be taking up your current method because you perceive the alternative methods of holding science and scripture as two sources of valid information to be reductionistic. That’s a charge I’m used to YEC opponents making, so I’m wondering if you still hold a certain picture of who the opponent is in your head, and arguing against him, that is a bit off, and if that image is constraining your argument.

          • But you are going through some complicated footwork to sustain that point

            No, it’s actually quite simple. Either supernatural phenomena can intervene in the natural world and do things unexplainable to science, or Jesus could not have risen from the dead. Christian orthodoxy requires the empirical to check its authority.

            Anything could be illusory. Darned right. I believe that. I also believe we should treat everything as if it were not, apart from good reason. Any epistemology that presumes to give you so much absolute, unquestionable certainty on anything is hopelessly simplistic and narrow. “Seeing is believing” is not something that will get you very far: We all believe in things we cannot see and see things we cannot believe.

            This argument will work only when someone else accepts that your presuppositions are self-evident, or at least more certain than the scientific evidence is

            Yes. I do not use this argument with unbelievers, ever. It is for in-house debate. For unbelievers, I go for historical evidence of the resurrection, not to prove that it conclusively happened, but to lead them to the point where a leap of faith actually happens: The resurrection is the best explanation for the historical evidence we have, even if it is a scientific impossibility.

            when they aren’t in fact demanding reductionism.

            They most certainly are. Either the omnipotent creator has the prerogative to supersede what we perceive as the natural order, or he does not. You can’t have it both ways. One allows for miracles of all kinds, the other allows for none.

            you perceive the alternative methods of holding science and scripture as two sources of valid information to be reductionistic.

            There are all sorts of ways of doing this, many of them are potentially valid. Using science to overturn scripture, I believe, is not, even if it can inform our interpretation.

            However, what you actually do in that argument is gather up your favorite scriptural texts and the core doctrines you take from them, all of which you arrived at by thinking about evidence that exists in the normal universe, making them into presuppositions, and removing them from scrutiny or threat

            Yes. However, my process of arriving at these conclusions does not necessarily invalidate them. If we can accept that Truth (reality) is both objective and a living Person (the Logos), then how he choses to impart the knowledge of Himself is at least a bit arbitrary and negotiable.

            To some extent I am some sort of a presupositionalist, but so are you. Science is a highly presuppositional discipline, and these days it seems the least willing to question them. Everybody has presuppositions. The real question is, to what do you give the authority to challenge them? What I see is so many clinging to the objective reality of empirical phenomena so tightly because they feel like any slight deviation thereof leaves reality hopelessly cryptic and evasive. I simply do not think reality is that simple, and neither do the greatest philosophical minds of human history.

          • Anything could be illusory, and we would not know it. So if we are going to go there, its not clear where to stop saying it.

            Right. That doesn’t mean you can’t make compelling arguments for or against individual cases. In what universe is reality so “clear” to everyone? Human rationality is fallen and broken, and hopelessly intertwined with desire. We like to flatter ourselves with how clear our insight is, but we are still in Plato’s cave, living in the flatland of a higher consciousness, and stuck in finite dimensions, despite the enlightenment presumption that we have liberated ourselves from these now that we are no longer under the political control of religion. I am a firm believer that the human mind is weak and limited, so while I use mine on a regular basis, I don’t put a ton of stock in its infallibility. This is not a hopelessly complex epistemological pretzel: it takes only a modicum of existential data to conclude that the one thing we cannot trust is ourselves.

    • ” Too often some of the more critical approaches seek to overturn the conventional understanding by recovering some lost historical trivia, without which the text apparently was cryptic the whole time.”

      And not infrequently these critical approaches insist that we cannot understand the original meaning of the text without employing the historical trivia, despite the fact that there is often a paucity of evidence that our forbears possessed this bit of trivia themselves. I think that contemporary scholars know far less with certainty about the social reality of ancient cultures than they would have us believe. After all, they get paid well, though often in very competitive and narrowly defined academic specialties, for “knowing” things that even their closest colleagues don’t.

  9. “The rich diversity of the Bible is frequently lost in our fear that seeing a book as exactly what it appears to be will ruin the inspiration and divine authority of the book.”

    Boy howdy. The Book becomes Everything, because that’s all there is. And because of that, all the problems we have are based in hermeneutics.

    One of the things I found in my experience as an Orthodox Christian is that the bible is very important… and 1) not every verse or passage or book “weighs” the same – some are more important than others; 2) everything is interpreted through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ and who Jesus is; 3) The Nicene Creed is the expression of “the non-negotiables” – everything else can be discussed, and disagreement on the non-negotiables is NOT automatically heresy or heterodoxy.

    The Greek Fathers dealt with the text as it is – they did not try to do away with it. They also believed there was more to the meaning of it than the bare words on the page. The consensus of that meaning was not dictated from a Magisterium, but came together over time with input from every stratum of the Church; there were plenty of learned lay people, including non-ordained monks, whose teachings and writings contributed much. I can’t find evidence of any time in the history of the Eastern Church where people were discouraged from reading scripture; if you could read and could get your hands on even part of the bible, that was seen as a good thing. If you were a regular attender at Liturgy and the services, you would hear not only scripture, but also the consensus of interpretation, over and over. The theology of EO is expressed in its worship; there was no other written “systematic theology.”

    I find the typology – not “allegory,” which is a different thing and often misapplied when people talk about how the Fathers interpreted – fascinating and so enriching to what understanding I have about God and his purposes. EO Liturgy and services are shot through with scripture – we hear lots of it, and especially from the Psalms – and often what is quoted and where it is placed in the service, and the links between those quotes and what is commemorated in the Liturgy and services, all fall together to lift the whole to at once a more organic and more spacious place. The whole “room for discussion” thing and the experience of bible interpretation in the Liturgy and Vigils, rather than being argued forever in book upon book (and blog post upon blog post) has been a huge place of rest and healing for me.

    Dana

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

      EO Liturgy and services are shot through with scripture – we hear lots of it, and especially from the Psalms – and often what is quoted and where it is placed in the service, and the links between those quotes and what is commemorated in the Liturgy and services, all fall together to lift the whole to at once a more organic and more spacious place.

      Father Stephen Freeman says it takes a year to proclaim the Gospel properly.

      • Mule, it took Jesus five seconds to proclaim the good news, tho it took him three and a half years to explain it.

        • Even if one boils Jesus’ announcement (evvangelion) down to “Repent and believe in me, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” in English, because of the distance in time and language and culture between the 1st century and now, that announcement cannot possibly be meaningfully explained in 5 seconds. Jesus’ hearers “got it” right away – though they did not know how exactly it was to come to pass. We need something like a long college lecture-length of time to deal with just that 1 sentence.

          There is *a lot* of scripture that is not at all clear, especially 2000 years and at least 3 cultures removed from when it was spoken/written. I saw this quite plainly even as a Protestant.

          The question, “What is ‘the gospel’?” was what fired up my journey more than a decade ago.

          Dana

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

      One thing the better sort of Evangelical has over we Cathodox is an easy familiarity with the contents of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. I have met pious Orthodox who can quote from the Psalter with facility, and their familiarity with the Festal Readings for the great feasts gives them an overall basic familiarity of Scripture, but for weaving themes from Joel, Amos, and the books of the Kings into their everyday speech and writing, no one can touch an old-school Evangelical.

      Even GB Shaw’s Scriptural allusions are terra incognita for the majority of us in these passionate days.

  10. I tend to believe that inspiration was involved in the formation of the canon, especially with the New Testament.

  11. When I first began teaching an adult Sunday school class (years ago!), the first books I taught were 1 and 2 Timothy. When I got to 2 Timothy 4:2, “preach the word,” I thought, “There it is! I will always teach out of the Bible!”

    Only recently have I begun to realize…the word (aka Bible) wasn’t even around then, that perhaps it’s alluding to the Word (aka Jesus). After all, the Word (Jesus) existed long before the word (aka Bible, OT and NT). This shift in thinking certainly started when I began reading Internet Monk on a daily basis and agreeing with Michael Spencer’s focus on Jesus-shaped spirituality. So the call isn’t to necessarily preach the word (the Bible), but preach Jesus.

    So we are to be shaped by the Word (Jesus), like the Word (Jesus), of which the Bible HELPS by reflecting Jesus. We are to worship the Word (Jesus) and not the word (the Bible).

    Also, our church had a men’s retreat this weekend in which several folks shared their testimonies. After one of the testimonies, one that almost “preached the Word aka Jesus”, I thought, “You know, in a way our testimonies are like an addendum to the Bible. They are faith stories similar to those recorded in the Bible. They are part of God’s history with His people, they reflect His grace and mercy and love.”

    • (Not to mention, when Paul wrote those words to Timothy the Bible as we know it didn’t even exist, so he must’ve meant something else!)