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The Bible and Knowledge 1 (RJS)

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In a post a couple of weeks ago (here) we opened a discussion on Kent Sparks’ thought-provoking, and somewhat controversial book God’s Word in Human Words (GWHW). Over the next several posts we will delve into this book more deeply.

In the first chapter Sparks lays some groundwork on epistemology and hermeneutics before digging into biblical criticism and effective and ineffective responses to the challenges of biblical scholarship in the rest of the book.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. It seeks to answer questions about how we know what we know.

Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. Traditionally it referred to the interpretation of texts, including the interpretation of biblical texts.  Modern hermeneutics concerns interpretation in general – from sights and sounds to thoughts and experiences. How do humans communicate and interpret communication.

Consideration of epistemology and hermeneutics leads to three conclusions: (p. 54-55)

1. We have finite capacities and there is nothing inherently wrong about the limited perceptual horizon that God has granted to human beings. We will never have certain knowledge.

2. All individuals interpret Scripture according to methods practiced by their interpretive communities and in accord with their general cultural outlook.

3. The human authors of scripture are subject to the same limitations as everyone else, including the human audience. God in scripture uses adequate means and adequate texts to convey his message to adequate readers capable of adequate wisdom.

This leads to the question I would like to consider today.

How much of our view of scripture – our interpretation of scripture – is determined by our cultural context – and how much of our view of scripture is inherent to the viability, the truth content, of the Christian faith?

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Sparks considers epistemology and interpretation as they relate to scripture and the church in three general historical contexts, the premodern, modern, and postmodern eras.  It would take a dissertation or ten to work out all the details here – and Sparks provides but a broad brush outline – a general sketch of the highlights. Today we will look at the first two – the premodern and modern trajectory leading to the current situation. In the next installment we will look at the postmodern context.

The Premodern Period extended from the early church to the Renaissance in the 14th century. In this period the authority of the church was generally accepted on matters of faith. Scripture was important – but ultimate authority rested with the church.

Even when their minds suggested alternatives to tradition, premodern scholars tended to follow the church’s judgment because they were profoundly aware of the great gulf that separated divine knowledge from human knowledge. … So premodern scholars were theoretically and theologically committed to humility in matters of interpretation and human knowledge. In general they thought it better to trust the judgments of tradition more than the impulses of their private individual judgments. Whether they always lived out this humility in another matter, but they were certainly aware of the limitations of human knowledge. (p. 27)

The interpretation of scripture in this period highlighted both literal and figurative meanings in scripture.  In fact allegory and typology were key aspects of the content of the text. Because God authored the text both the literal and the figurative meanings were intentional and authoritative within the text.

The Modern Period beginning in the Renaissance and continuing through to the present is characterized by the a full-blown suspicion of tradition. The Reformation rejected the authority of the church as the ultimate repository of God’s truth – and found this authority, repository of truth, instead within scripture.

Reformation theology was critical of many things, even recognizing and struggling with the textual problems in Scripture. But in the end it did not doubt the authority and correctness of Scripture, nor did it doubt our human ability to understand Scripture with God’s help. (p. 31)

But the modern search for knowledge was not limited to religion – it was and is a character of the age. Modern search for certain knowledge – and the conviction that careful and deliberate search for truth could and would yield such knowledge supported scientific investigation – with great success; but the same search for truth in the realm of history led to increasing doubt of religious faith. Sparks notes:

In the English-speaking world, this Enlightenment-era tendency is no better illustrated than by the influential Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). Carlyle believed that there were in fact two basic genres of writing, “Reality” (meaning history) and “Fiction.” … indeed Carlyle went so far as saying that fiction “partakes of the nature of lying.” This Enlightenment tendency toward historicism tended to undermine biblical authority, since scholars of that era increasingly believed that the biblical narratives, or parts of them, were more fictional than historical. (p. 34)

The search for truth in the realm of science and in the realm of textual criticism and Ancient Near East Studies relegates, or appears to relegate portions of the Biblical text to the realm of fiction – equated with “lying.

The battle between traditional Christian faith and rational enlightenment thinking was intense and gave rise to many of the conflicts we see and suffer from today. The fundamentals and fundamentalism arose from this context. Likewise the conflict over science and faith, evolution, creation, and intelligent design are intimately tied with the push for rational proof and the insistence that fact = truth; myth or story = fiction.

As I see it (I don’t know what Sparks would say here):

The struggle over Genesis is driven by an insistence that story and myth = fiction = “lying” and God does not lie.  But Genesis did not arise from the modern – or even a premodern – context. Rather it is pre-premodern and imposing a modern expectation on the authors and editors of the text is a fundamental error. Truth need not be related as historical fact.

The emotional structure of the discussion of Intelligent Design is driven by the desire to prove (in a rational modern sense) that God exists.

Our culture – at least among the educated elite – is imbued with rational ontological naturalism. It is in the air we breathe and diffuses into the soul.  This environment makes it difficult to take the faith seriously. After all, how can we know that there is a reality beyond the material world we see before us – isn’t ontological naturalism the obvious rational choice?

This leads us (in a round about way) back to the questions posed above.

How much of our view of scripture – our interpretation of
scripture – is determined by our cultural context – and how much of our
view of scripture is inherent to the viability, the truth content, of
the Christian faith?

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



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Bill H

posted May 5, 2009 at 8:39 am


Excellent question to ponder. On one hand there can be no question that our view of Scripture must be read through a cultural lens. As well the question does not necessarily establish endpoints on a continuum ? cultural interpretation versus truth content. We cannot comprehend Scripture ? or anything else for that matter ? apart from our language which is determined by, and which likewise determines our culture. The twin dominant metaphors for 21st Century western cultures have been economics and individual rights ? and in fact those two overlap significantly. Hence, how we live is understood through those non-Scriptural lens Do unto others unless it takes too much out of my pocket, or abortion is wrong but I won?t impose my views on another (don?t want to step on someone else?s rights), etc. While never becoming the sweeping shift in understanding marriage, the idea of the covenant marriage is a great example of how we read Scripture through a cultural lens. Scot, your work in Blue Parakeet and Cavanaugh?s Being Consumed offer insights on using an alternative lens.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 5, 2009 at 8:41 am


RJS,
Something comes to mind when I read this nice summary of what I think is one of the most challenging books about the doctrine of Scripture I have seen — that by Kent Sparks.
What comes to mind for me is boundaries of knowledge. I believe much of the university education today is boundaried knowledge — and what counts is only what can be claimed within the boundaries of the discipline. Thus, Biblical studies have become “historical knowledge,” and that means the only legitimate claims are those that can be proven by historical methods. There goes even the possibility of miracle etc. The boundaries determine what can be claimed as knowledge. Anything outside those boundaries is hocus-pocus.
Science does the same thing: what counts as knowledge is boundaried by empirical data. There goes any possibility of creation. But, materiality is not eternal and therefore the empirical data themselves, unless I’m mistaken, evince something beyond materiality — if materiality is not eternal, then materiality suggests that something outside our materiality is behind our materiality.
But this is beyond the boundaries.
If I’m right on either, then modernity’s way of boundarying knowledge is re-shaping what we can claim as knowledge.



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Your Name

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:35 am


Where is the Holy Spirit who breaks through the limitations in what you say here?



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Travis Greene

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:36 am


“How much of our view of scripture – our interpretation of scripture – is determined by our cultural context – and how much of our view of scripture is inherent to the viability, the truth content, of the Christian faith?”
I like to think of it this way. If someone were to hand me a Russian translation of the Bible, it would have no meaning for me. If someone handed me a Spanish translation, it would be a bit more accessible due to my rusty high-school level Spanish, but still largely unintelligible. Only with an English translation can I begin to understand, due to my fluency in English that I learned from my parents and broader culture.
In all of those cases, the text has meaning. Just because I can’t read Russian doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t saying anything in Russian. But I do not have the key to unlock it without my own understanding of language, and I cannot learn that language and unlock the meaning without learning it from my culture.
And on top of that cultural understanding of how language works, my culture has certain expectations of what Scripture should look like and sound like and behave. So did the medieval period when monks were reading the Bible in Latin, and so did the original audiences who read (or more likely, heard) Scripture in Hebrew or Greek.
So culture and viewpoint matter, a lot. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t really saying anything and all is imposed on the text from without. That would be an extreme kind of postmodernism that I’m not sure anyone actually believes. More preferable, to me, is a kind of reader response theory, where the text brings something to the table, and so do I, with my own assumptions and understandings of language and experiences, and in the experience of reading the text and I together create meaning. Kind of an “it takes two to tango” theory of reading.
Now that sounds scary, I know. But if we expand who is doing the reading of Scripture from “just me in my quiet time” to “all of us together in community, and also in conversation with readers throughout church history (tradition) and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (we fervently pray)”, I think we’re really getting somewhere. Is there a danger of getting it wrong? Of course. But a large, mutually-correcting community of love is a safer place to explore the Bible than a solitary reader alone, with only his or her own biases and assumptions as a guide.



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Your Name

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:50 am


I mean, we are locked up, we can’t know truth because our minds were broken with the fall. We come to the dead end. But that’s where the holy spirit comes in and can bring us to know truth.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:53 am


#4
“But a large, mutually-correcting community of love is a safer place to explore the Bible than a solitary reader alone, with only his or her own biases and assumptions as a guide.”
My sentiments as well.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:15 am


Scot,
You’ve nailed one my biggest concerns with boundaries of knowledge. At on level, with the explosion of information in recent generations, many of us must specialize and focus. But where does the reintegration take place?
I’m reading Taleb’s “The Black Swan.” He rights in a footnote that, “Our intuitions are made for an environment with simpler causes and effects and slowly moving information.” (xxii) The challenge as I see it is becoming less about access to knowledge and more about how to integrate it. Thus, Oprah or Rush emerge as ones who sift the data. They weave a narrative that brings coherence and reinforces the personal narratives of others.
Taleb also points out that a great many experts, “… do not know more about their subject than the general population, but they are much better at narrating …” (xx) If pre-modern culture had traditional authority, and modern culture had the “rational expert” as the authority, then I suspect that narrator (the oracle, the sage) is becoming the new authority.



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Travis Greene

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:39 am


Micahel @ 7, “If pre-modern culture had traditional authority, and modern culture had the “rational expert” as the authority, then I suspect that narrator (the oracle, the sage) is becoming the new authority.”
Very interesting. So how do we become better storytellers, and tell better stories than those around us?



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RJS

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:41 am


Your Name (#3 and #5),
The Holy Spirit is key and I think that we need to rest in the power of the Spirit. Looking for ultimate authoritative truth in either church or scripture devalues the need for the Spirit. We were not given scripture or church to keep us in right relationship with God – we were given the Spirit and the power of the Spirit.



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Randy

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:15 am


Regarding Scot McKnight, Your Name # 3, and RJS #9.
I enjoy this level of conversation on hermeneutics and epistemology. But I thank RJS for responding regarding the Holy Spirit, which is entirely absent from the initial post. The work of scholars like James K. A. Smith and other pentecostals are showing us the importance of including consideration of the Spirit in even these kinds of discussions.
Regarding Scot’s concern about boundaries of knowledge and where they may be re-integrated, I suggest a book of essays by Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God. Two paricularly good essays regard what a college constructed around Wendell Berry’s thought would look like — and what kind of church it would need; and an essay on stone-masonry as an example of a learned discipline that entails muscle and other knowledges than those of the head. Cal De Witt also wrote an interesting article in the ASA Perspectives about secularization as the division of knowledge rather than the exclusion of religion — it resembles Marsdens Soul of the University in some respects but goes far beyond it in others.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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dopderbeck

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:35 am


Great post!
I think the introductory section on epistemology is one of the strongest parts of Kent’s book. No doubt intellectual historians can quibble with such a broad brush, but his sketch of the question of “authority” — or as some epistemologists phrase it, “warrant” — for belief seems correct to me.
BUT: this statement is troubling to me, and I think goes to the heart of the debate: “The human authors of scripture are subject to the same limitations as everyone else, including the human audience.”
Where does that leave the fact that all scripture is theopneustos (2 Tim. 3:16)? Let’s not get sidetracked by all the exegetical debate about exactly what “scripture” 2 Tim. 3:16 refers to. The over-arching point here, and elsewhere in scripture, and in the Tradition, is that the scripture is uniquely “inspired” by God.
Now, we can have an interesting and probably impossible to resolve conversation on what it means for scripture to be theopneustos / “inspired” by God. But it seems to me we ought to agree that in some way the human authors (and perhaps editors / redactors) of scripture were in a different epistemic position than an author of an “ordinary” text; or, at the very least, that scripture serves a function as Divine communication, whether the original authors / editors / redactors understood that or not, that is not served in the same way by any ordinary text.
I wonder if a problem in this whole debate is that the different sides are stuck in an either / or paradigm: either we must start with a presupposition that scripture is inspired and seek to fit the phenomena of scripture into what we understand that to mean, or we must start with the phenomena of scripture and use that information to define what we mean when we say scripture is “inspired.” It seems to me that Pete Enns’ recent exchange with Bruce Waltke follows this pattern (see: http://peterennsonline.com/2009/04/27/bruce-waltke-and-peter-enns-on-inspiration-and-incarnation/)
What if, instead, we thought of the presupposition that scripture is theopneustos, and the observations we are able to make concerning the phenomena of scripture, as elements of a feedback loop, rather than opposite ends of a spectrum?
Because we are followers of Jesus we are committed to being people of the text adopted by the community of Jesus followers as “inspired” scripture. Because we believe God is not a deceiver we are committed to using the minds God gave us to investigate the scripture God actually gave us, rather positing and idealized scripture that we might think He should have given us. Yet because we believe this scripture is uniquely inspired we contextualize the phenomena within the framework of an inpired text. And so on.
This doesn’t lead to absolute certainty about the hard questions Kent raises like what, if anything, is the “historical” basis for the Biblical Passover story. But, at the same time, it elides absolute certainty that something like the Biblical Passover story “must be” essentially a-historical, even given the glaring absence of extra-Biblical evidence for such an event. Given the operation of our feedback loop, there perhaps are a variety of reasonably warranted views on the essential historicity of the event, such that clear and simple litmus tests for the question on either “side” are inappropriate. This seems like an appropriately epistemically humble position to me.



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dopderbeck

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:38 am


Oops, sorry about the misplaced bold in my post above. Disregard.



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RJS

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:01 pm


dopderbeck,
Good comments.
I don’t like the way 2 Tim 3 is used in most discussions of doctrine of scripture because I think the statement is ripped from context and turned into a free-standing propositional truth. But this is just the wrong way to read any text – including biblical texts.
I agree that the scripture serves a function as Divine communication. And isn’t the purpose of communication – including divine communication – ultimately relational? There is a functional intent of scripture related to relationship with God – to convey wisdom for salvation and faith, for teaching, reproof, correction, and training. But it is a cultural bias of modern thinking that insists that this functional purpose is only served by an “inerrant” text that can support certitude in every isolated word and “fact.”



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm


#12 Travis
My suspicion is that the answer lies in communities that act as narrators instead of relying on to heavily on specific individual “oracles.” We will always need specialists who help us discern aspects of the story and will always need to “tell” the story, but I think the NT call is to “be” the story (in community) before the world.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:25 pm


dopderbeck 11 and RJS 12
I like the idea the we “listen in on” the feedback loop dopderbeck mentions of God interacting with his people in specific times and cultures, when we read scripture. That communication was appropriate to that time and context, and God both inspired the authors/editors to create what they did.
I just got the book but haven’t cracked it yet. I look forward to reading it.



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dopderbeck

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm


RJS (#12) — yes, I hear you, and in my comments I was trying to avoid the question what, if anything, theopneustos implies about total inerrancy. BUT — tas graphe thepneustos is a propositional statement about the nature of scripture. So is 1 Peter 1:21. Now, I agree, I don’t think we want to treat the Bible as a sourcebook of propositions for analytic philosophy. Yet, it makes some propositional claims that somehow have to inform how we think, doesn’t it?: e.g., “God is love” (1 John 4:8); the gospel confession of 1 Cor. 15:4; etc. — and doctrine must also have some propositional content to function as “doctrine” — e.g., “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord…”
So, if we want to develop a doctrine of scripture that serves the Church by guiding how we think about the place and function of scripture, I don’t see how we can avoid dealing with certain kinds of propositional statements. One of those, I think, must be that scripture is theopneustos in a way that other texts are not. Yes, it is comprised of human words, but still is God’s word in human words.
Again — I agree with Kent and Pete and others who have observed that the conservative evangelical doctrine of scripture that extends B.B. Warfield’s view of what theopneustos must imply vis-a-vis critical scholarship is not helpful for many of us who have to deal head-on with these phenomenological issues. This of course includes those of us who understand that the best inferences of the natural sciences in a wide variety of areas (evolution, but not just that) just can’t be squared with a “common sense realist” approach to Biblical inspiration, inerrancy, authority and hermeneutics. I completely understand Kent’s point that the same is true concerning many of the best inferences of the archeology and historiography of the ANE — though I think I’d suggest that the methodological questions differ in some significant ways as between the natural sciences and archeology / historical inquiry.
So I agree that we need to move past the common sense realist approach. Yet at the same time, I don’t think we want to elide that the text is the product of God’s outbreathing.



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Eric

posted May 5, 2009 at 2:21 pm


Dopderbeck (#11),
“What if, instead, we thought of the presupposition that scripture is theopneustos, and the observations we are able to make concerning the phenomena of scripture, as elements of a feedback loop, rather than opposite ends of a spectrum?”
Very, very helpful way of framing this, in my view. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that point.



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Scott M

posted May 5, 2009 at 3:03 pm


I do agree that Scripture is ‘god-breathed’ and thus different than other texts and useful for a whole variety of things. However, Scripture does not claim to be the ‘pillar and ground of truth’ (1 Tim. 3:15). I think both need to be seen in synergy.



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Ken

posted May 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm


How much of our view of scripture – our interpretation of scripture – is determined by our cultural context – and how much of our view of scripture is inherent to the viability, the truth content, of the Christian faith?
According to Richard Dawkins, Kurt Wise’s views can be characterized as follows: “We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism?s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.”
Does Wise believe that readers interact with and interpret scripture?
It appears to me that Wise believes that scripture must correspond to the most modern of valid scientific theories. There cannot be an interpretation of scripture based upon the views of the pre-modern writers of scripture.
It seems to me that Wise’s interpretation of Scripture is entirely based upon his cultural context.
Is “Faith seeks understanding” a reasonable approach to understanding our faith, or should we just stop with faith.



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Rebeccat

posted May 5, 2009 at 6:24 pm


I really appreciate the comments about our very, very modernist notion that history is what is true and anything which does not contain historically accurate accounting is made-up fiction bordering on deception. This is not a way of thinking which would have made sense to the people to whom scripture was originally given. The challenge for us modernists is getting ourselves to receive the truth of scripture more as it was intended than as we’d have it be – that is to accept that inspired truth is contained in the places where fact and myth and storytelling overlap and meet and mingle. And to stop insisting that the bible’s “inspired” and “true” must be confined to simple history as we moderns think it ought to be. I’ve never been a big fan of the idea of “plain reading” of scripture simply because it fails to allow for the fact that my plain reading may be radically different from the plain reading of the people to whom the text was originally given.
OTOH, one of the ideas which I think is interesting is what modern knowledge of the causes of the various calamities and blessings of life means for the idea of God’s hand in history. Does the fact that we know the scientific cause of earthquakes remove the possibility of God’s hand? Does the fact that we understand the climate patterns which cause a good growing season remove the possibility of God’s blessings? (Of course, the idea that God controls the disasters and blessings of life as a means of judgment can and has been abused. Yet, clearly the view of scripture is that sometimes these events must be understood as judgment and blessing, so despite the abuse and our own inadequate ability to know what is going on, I don’t think it’s an idea which can be thrown out entirely.) It seems to me that this is the failing of the rationalist intellectual as well as those who want to go to battle with them – an assumption that anything which has a rational explanation cannot also have a spiritual explanation. As is so often said here, we probably need a both/and perspective rather than an either/or view.
Finally, one of the ideas which comes up often here is as Travis says “a large, mutually-correcting community of love is a safer place to explore the Bible than a solitary reader alone, with only his or her own biases and assumptions as a guide”. However, it seems to me that most of the biases and assumptions which the average Christian takes into their reading of scriptures come straight out of their spiritual communities. It is an exceedingly rare church community which allows for open, challenging explorations of scripture lead by the Holy Spirit instead of by passed down biases and assumptions. Which is not to say that the solitary reader is the best solution either. But I think that sometimes our idealization of what community ought to be makes it hard for us to effectively move in communities as they actually exist. The person who is trying to read scripture with the leading of the Holy Spirit without a lot of biases and assumptions may well find that it is near impossible to do so within their larger church community. Forums such as this are fantastic for serving as a larger community where scripture can be examined, questioned and thought about in outside the box sorts of ways while providing the constrain on the impulse to go too far afield. However, it is hard for a forum such as this to actually be a loving community. I’d like to hear more about how to bring these two sides of our faith – the intellectual and the loving – into the same sphere. If that all made any sense! :)



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RJS

posted May 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm


Rebeccat,
Good thoughts. I don’t think an identifiable “natural cause” be it weather patterns, plate tectonics, evolution, e coli, or penicillin, negates the action of God in the world. Blessing and curse can both use so-called secondary causes.
On community – I don’t think that it is correct to say that this is not a “loving community.” In fact, I think that one of the things that Scot does reasonably well here is to try to maintain an environment for “civil” loving conversation. But I know what you mean as well – a virtual community is not a replacement for flesh and blood, face to face interaction complete with involvement in many aspects of life. But if we search for perfect community the majority of us will wind up discouraged and disillusioned. Perhaps it is best to just take the good bits and pieces we have and stop searching for ideal …



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Kent Sparks

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:13 pm


Two brief points …
(1)?I don’t think we want to elide that the text is the product of God’s outbreathing.?
At several points in the book, I refer to the special revelation or insight that the biblical authors sometimes had. So I don?t necessarily resist the idea that the biblical authors had sources that aren?t available to just anyone. But I?d quickly point out that, whatever those ?revelations? may have been, they became a part of their human horizon and were understood within and through it. Else, revelation would be like a Russian book for English readers (to use the metaphor of one comment.
At the same time, my book tries to challenge as errant the simple distinction often made between ?special revelation? and ?general revelation.? For example, creation and evolution are not contradictory; evolution is God?s creative process in action. In a similar way, parts of the Bible ? perhaps much of it ? amount to canonized human insight. It is God?s word, and hence is god-breathed, because God has used the historical process of writing and canonization to produce his text. To give an obvious example, ?Thou shalt not murder? needn?t have been specially given to a biblical author. More likely is that this simple truth, so obvious through natural reflection on the human situation, was included in the text by a wise human author, whose words came to be understood as God?s word.
Given these comments, I would very much resist the idea that ?cultural viewpoints? and ?revelation? and ?God?s word? and ?human insight? are to be pitted against each other. All ideas and insights?including spiritual insights?are understood and appreciated by human beings through the grasp of our cultural horizon. This is why, when God wanted to speak, he gave us a historically conditioned book. And even that book, when it points us to the ultimate word of God, points us to a real, flesh and blood human being who didn?t know when the end would come and who grew in wisdom and stature.
(2)About certainty ?
It is often said that my book stands against ?certainty? ? but it CERTAINLY doesn?t. Rather, following John Henry Newman, my book reframes certainty as a function of our epistemic apparatus that forecloses an endless interrogation of what we believe is true. On this account of certainty, correctness is not guaranteed; but practically speaking, in most cases certainty works well enough.



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Kent Sparks

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:18 pm


“an assumption that anything which has a rational explanation cannot also have a spiritual explanation”
There are obviously parallels between my previous comment and those of Rebeccat in #20.



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Doug Allen

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:04 pm


How much of our view of scripture – our interpretation of scripture – is determined by our cultural context – and how much of our view of scripture is inherent to the viability, the truth content, of the Christian faith?
Good question, and here’s what I think we learn from comparitive religion studies. Interpretation is usuually culture dependent. For example, Jewish and Muslim scholars interpret Jesus’ role very differently from Christian scholars. Christian scholars interpret many things differently depending on whether they are premodern or modern, anabaptist or calvinist, etc. From their religious culture you can usually predict where a scholar will come down on issues in dispute. Wise, informed, religious persons such as Ghandi and the Dalai Lama find exclusive understandings important to particular religious cultures and an important part of the whole, but do not find them universal. Because Christian scripture is so rich in redundancy, contradiction, metaphor, and possible meanings, all interpretation involves selection as well as the tools of philosophy and hermeneutics. The text itself, therefore, lends itself to many different interpretations that pass scholarly muster. So yes, it’s easy to interpret in accordance with one’s own cultural grounding, one’s own interpretive community. In fact, it’s hard not to.
That’s why I’m a minimalist and and lumper. I’m not particularly concerned about all the variations in interpretation except where they result in turf wars and behavior that undermine the message that everyone agrees on and Jesus taught was most important- the Jesus Creed.
Doug



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Rebeccat

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:27 am


RJS, forget perfect! I’d settle for a church where I was tolerated in a friendly sort of way if I said something people didn’t agree with every once in a while. It’s just where I’m at – it’s a town of 10K with 4 Lutheran churches. Not to mention that the town is 98% white and we’re an interracial family. So we’re oddballs in an area where conformity is often seen as a social nicety. It is what it is. But I also know that given the somewhat troubled state of the Christian church in America, there are other people in similar situations. It’s just a tricky thing to navigate. And realistically, for some of us, it’s probably going to mean finding “church” communities outside of traditional church settings. Which isn’t a bad thing – just not nearly as simple or convenient, I suppose.



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Travis Greene

posted May 6, 2009 at 9:22 am


Rebeccat, “But I think that sometimes our idealization of what community ought to be makes it hard for us to effectively move in communities as they actually exist. The person who is trying to read scripture with the leading of the Holy Spirit without a lot of biases and assumptions may well find that it is near impossible to do so within their larger church community.”
Good point, and I know the Church can be an ugly whore sometimes. But she’s still our mother. My point is we aren’t going to be able to read Scripture without biases and assumptions, and it’s better to be in a community (a heterogeneous one, preferably) where other folks, with different biases and assumptions, can draw attention to ours. And we can draw attention to theirs, and together we figure out better what the text is really saying, and what it means for us, today.
For instance, I’m never going to be able to read the Bible as woman. So I dang sure better have some women in the community I read Scripture with, to correct or to question my inescapably male vision. And vice versa. Needing one another like this is how we were made.



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Sarah Bellem

posted May 7, 2009 at 2:05 pm


A better equation for the epistemologic basis for the troubles with interpreting scripture would be better described:
People wrote the Bible (6-2 thousand years ago)-the Bible gives society its vision of who the Judeo-Christian God is-Therefore people created God.
The Bible is suited to a Bronze aged, male dominated culture that no longer exists. No matter how many ways you try to parse the meanings of the Bible it is no longer relevant in our society today.



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