Friday, February 10, 2006

Feeling Inspired?


I had a wonderful conversation tonight with a peer of mine who has an incredibly bright mind. The struggle which he expressed to me is quite similar to my own struggle as I attempt to craft my theology.

Essentially, the crux of our discussion was the meaning of inspiration as it pertains to the Bible. The subject is certainly one of great significance and also one which brings forth strong reaction from those accustomed to being told that any discrepancy within the biblical text is merely alleged. To suggest otherwise would certainly make one out of sync with the typical evangelical layman's theology. My friend believes that, especially since the time of Luther, the Bible has been elevated to this place where it has assumed authority based upon the claim that it is inerrant. What is interesting to me is the manner in which my friend is wrestling with this whole issue.

There are those who would declare that what it means for the Bible to be inspired is that God dictated the text word for word to the biblical authors. Thus, any apparent discontinuity within the text is cause for alarm. I cannot imagine any reputable scholar making this claim, but this is where things begin to get hazy. The Church has, at times, used the Christological analogy when speaking of the dynamic inspiration of Scripture: just as Christ is both fully human and fully divine, so is the Bible both fully human and fully divine. How, though, is this inspiration different from the inspiration given to a pastor preaching a sermon on a given Sunday?

Here's the basic argument from my friend. We say that God inspired Scripture but we also say that God inspires preachers to preach Scripture. After preaching a sermon, a congregant can come to the pastor and say, "You were really inspired today. What you said about the hypostatic union was right on. But, what you said here was incorrect." The pastor could listen to this comment and upon studying his alleged error find that he truly is incorrect. How is it that a person can be inspired to deliver a message, and while the core of the message is good, still error therein? Why is this not also the case with the inspiration of Scripture? If Scripture is fully human as well as divine, can it not err? And do we not then run the possibility of constructing our theology upon the errors rather than the truths?

Upon investigating the clear development within both the Old and the New Testament my friend has also been left to say that much of what is recorded in the Old Testament is man's inability to correctly understand the workings of God. Does the Old Testament give us a completely distorted view of God because of the conceptual categories which the ancients were drawing from? James Dunn argues that it is quite likely that Paul potentially had semi-Arian views pertaining to Christ. Is it okay for Paul's Christology to be incomplete, and if so, is it not possible that much of what he says is in fact incomplete?

The result for my friend is placing his trust in a theological dialectic: what the Church has said throughout the ages is most trustworthy. There is certainly a true tension which exists here, one which I'm not entirely sure what to do with. I do find that the best appropriation of Scripture is seen through the eyes of Church Tradition. But important to this discussion is the value the Bible loses when large portions of the text can be seen as irrelevant and the result of man's incapacities.

So what do you think? How are we to understand the inspiration of Scripture?

7 comments:

Sniper said...

Progressive revelation is huge for me. The OT is not wrong, in as much as it is the authors expressing what they believe to be true of God, from the framework which God has given them at that particular time.

I too place faith in the Church Tradition (maybe too much at times.) If you are going to fault, fault with too much trust in the Church. But it is this idea of progressive revelation that allows me to do so. There is this desire in the back of my little mind to believe that God is still not done revealing. The NT was an expansion and a new framework from the OT, and today could possibly be another expansion (so long as it doesn't run contrary to the Word we already have. The NT does not run contrary to the OT, it expands on it).

Paul being an Arian? eh...I won't fight it completely quite yet because Dunn is a genuis but I don't buy it as of now. I believe Paul sees salvation as coming through faith in Christ, even in the OT, when the patriarchs had no clue who Christ was yet. If Paul's an Arian, would that fit? Could Abraham be saved through faith, even when "Christ was not?"

Ben Robinson said...

"The OT is not wrong, in as much as it is the authors expressing what they believe to be true of God, from the framework which God has given them at that particular time."

Sure, but would you then say that it is "incomplete?" It is not a "wrong" picture of God per se, but it is incomplete? I think the same problem still exists: what portions of the Bible are therefore seen as incomplete and we can dismiss or modify them? If an Old Testament author interprets a series of events based upon his framework given by God at that particular time and we have since received frameworks which allow us to more correctly understand God, is not the old framework in some sense incorrect? It may have been good and necessary but the expansion upon the old has allowed us to see where the old may be inadequate.

I too like the idea of progressive revelation and think that there is a clear trajectory of theological development present within Scripture. But it seems that we would have to call into question the validity of certain Scriptural passages due to their incomplete conceptual paradigm.

In essence, I don't disagree with what you said, but perhaps you can give a greater articulation of what you believe as it pertains to my last paragraph. "But important to this discussion is the value the Bible loses when large portions of the text can be seen as irrelevant and the result of man's incapacities." Even within the paradigm of progressive revelation, I think this tension still exists. So what do we do with it?

By the way, I don't think Dunn would argue Paul is an Arian. However, he leaves open the possibility that Paul may have held some semi-Arian views. Certainly it would be anachronistic to place Paul within Arian categories. However, as Arianism is understood Paul may have had an understanding similiar to semi-Arianism. As to your question, "If Paul's an Arian, would that fit? Could Abraham be saved through faith, even when "Christ was not?"" Arianism does not assert that Christ was created upon the incarnation. He is a creature, but he was firsborn of all creation. In other words, he was the first thing to be created. So the Son existed during the Old Testament period as well.

JohnLDrury said...

Ben,

Great thoughts to frame the issue of inspiration. I have long used the Chalcedonian pattern to speak about Scripture. It is a great middle way between extreme views.

But of late I have begun to doubt it aptness. Is not the Bible a fully human creature? Is it not 100% on our side of the ontological divide? Does it have a "divine nature" in any sense remotely analogous to Christ? Divine authorship and inspiration doesn't mean that God subsists in the text, at least I think that's a stretch. I am starting to wonder if we should keep the hypostatic union safely where it belongs: Jesus Christ.

As for errors, I am swinging between two happily inconsistent possibilites:

(1) to affirm inerrancy in principle, but to point out errors in practice (this seems to be how Wesley swings)

(2) to affirm errancy in principle (because of full and exclusive humanity of the text) but to plead ignorance as to which portions are in error (that should be any one's call; maybe not even the church).

I have been slowly moving from (1) to (2). But we'll see if I find a third option or make a u-turn.

Thanks for a thoughtful post!

Sniper said...

My bad on the Arian controversy. You teach me to not speak where I am ignorant. I was confusing my heresies. I have never gotten them straight. I usually just know when I am one, and when I am not. Thanks to Bounds of course...the red "H" is still branded in my chest.

You said: "But it seems that we would have to call into question the validity of certain Scriptural passages due to their incomplete conceptual paradigm."

Reponse: Linking validity to completeness seems like a false paradigm all together for me. Validity may be the wrong word choice here. Calling certain passaged invalid (which is what in essence we would be forced to do if my logic combined with your wording was taken to its full) is something I am not prepared to do. It is like when we use the word "myth." Let's say Job is a mythological story to explain suffering. We tend to hear myth and equate it with a fictional story, we hear fictional, and many of us think "untrue." But this is not the case. Myths can contain Truth. In the same way, I would say even some passages that seem to be traced more to human hand and experience than to God's inspiration (ultimately, it's all inspired, please see that as my view), can contain Truth. They are not "invalid," rather, hey are a different medium for God's Truth.

Am I getting anywhere close to your question? I feel like I am not so I am going to just go back to cooking dinner

Jonathan Yen said...

I may have misinterpreted exactly what your post was saying, but this is what I think.

If the Bible is fallible in some places, who is to say which is correct and which isn't? Who has the authority to determine what the writer was wrong about and what the writer was correct about? It leaves the whole Bible prone to error and would allow people to question whether there was a literal virgin birth or ressurection, the latter of which our very faith hinges upon.

There is no doubt that the logical argument that your friend brings is correct, but my counter would be this: is the holy inspiration that God gave for His written word the same inspiration that we receive daily? Isn't it possible that God would allow His word to be written perfectly because this is what is most important? It's not to say that sermons on Sunday aren't as important, but those sermons are (well, SHOULD) be based on God's word itself.

As humans, we're prone to make mistakes. The writers of the Bible were too, but I don't think that God would allow a mistake to happen in something that is so foundational in revealing his existance.

Ben Robinson said...

John-

Thanks for stopping by!
I would have to agree with you on the inspiration of Scripture being analogous to the hypostatic union. There simply is not enough continuity. I think I tend to fall into your first category rather unintentionally. The many attemps to harmonize what are called "alleged discrepancies" is well intentioned but inevitably an unnecessary task. We need to be okay with letting John say what John says, and Mark say what Mark says, and Luke say what Luke says, etc. If we are to affirm your second category, how then do we find assurance that what we have built our theology upon is not those portions of the biblical text which are in error and we were ignorant of their error? For example, one would develop a very different picture of God if they developed their theology from 2 Samuel 24:1, as opposed to 1 Chronicles 21:1. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the category, but I'd be interested to hear your further thoughts.

Mike-
You certainly are close to my question. Perhaps I'm attempting to micromanage too much. You said,

"Myths can contain Truth. In the same way, I would say even some passages that seem to be traced more to human hand and experience than to God's inspiration (ultimately, it's all inspired, please see that as my view), can contain Truth."

Linking validity with completeness was bad word usage. Nonetheless, as it pertains to this statement, I agree that passages traced more to humanity contain truth. But in saying they contain truth you are implicitly acknowledging that they may not be "true" in entirety. Perhaps this is me reading too much into your statement, but it seems you are saying that even amidst a myth, truth may be contained, thereby denoting that while the myth may not be factual in a historical sense (like you said, if Job is a mythological story about suffering), it contains nuggets of truth.

So...how do we know what aspects of our [hypothetical] myth are truth and what aspects may be humanities' inaccurate perception of the divine?

It seems that we may develop heinous theology if we build it upon an incomplete framework. How do we avoid doing this?

Jon-

You definitely got the gist of what I was saying. Question: in what ways does the inspiration of Scripture differ from that of the inspiration of a preacher? I'm not disagreeing with you, but wondering how you would define those differences. Also, perhaps it would be helpful if we defined what we mean by "mistake." What exactly do you mean by "mistake" as it pertains to the biblical text?

Jonathan Yen said...

After reading John's post, I think category 1 is what I personally lean towards. I think that the Bible is perfect in principle, but there may be some areas that are incorrect, which is why there are minor conflicts in the gospels for the same story.

By mistake, I meant core principles of our faith. Some things in the Bible may be in error, but I don't think it would be anything too major that could have any impact on what we believe.

I mentioned a difference between sermon inspiration and scripture inspiration to present a possible difference that is unobservable by humans.

However, when preaching, we receive inspiration directly from God and through his written word. If the written word is wrong in principle in some areas, why would it be the basis of our faith? If the word is wrong, then potentially all of what we hear on Sunday morning is wrong too.

All these questions just hurt my head and make me want to take the easy way out by saying that the Bible is perfectly written as God had intended it to be :).