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The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

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10.28.2009

What bias do you bring to scripture reading?

Is it ever possible to get to the "true meaning" of scripture? Or are we always reading into the text things that aren't there through our biases?
Should we try to pull personal meaning from the Bible or just try to only read it based on what it originally meant?
Is it possible to read some of the Bible as poetic non-literal literature while firmly believing other parts?
What sorts of biases do we bring when reading the scriptures of other faiths?
What is scripture's place in an emergent community?

We'll be discussing scripture at 3:00pm on Sunday Nov 1st at Global Gallery based loosely around the book Free for All by Tim Conder and Daniel Rhodes. Please come out and share your thoughts on how you interact with scripture.

If you are unable to come feel free to start some discussion in the comments of this post.

42 comments:

Chris said...

I won't be able to attend your cohort meeting (wish I could) because I'm not nearby. But I thought I might challenge you to consider some other questions that might relate to this discussion. Maybe that way if I can't be there in body I can somehow be there in spirit.

Some other questions I might raise would be:

• Does God want to be known?

• If He wants to be known is God incapable of breaking into our world by means of a text and transcending our cultural baggage so that we may know Him meaningfully?

• Is language not a means available to God for the purpose of communicating to humans meaningfully? If not what does this say about the limits of God?

• To what extent have we acquiesced to the culture by embracing philosophical postmodernism as an epistemological starting point?

• The question, it seems isn't: "is it ever possible to get to the "true meaning" of scripture", but rather, is it ever possible to get to the true meaning of anything? How so? Can those same methods be applied to the reading of scripture?

• Your question: "Is it possible to read some of the bible as poetic, non-literal literature while firmly believing other parts?" is curious to me. Your assumption seems to be that someone is saying that none of the bible is poetic in it's genre and that it must all be taken absolutely literally. Who is saying this? I once heard a lecture from a professor at one of the most conservative seminaries in the country state that we must take the genre of the particular book of the bible in question into account. We don't/can't read it all the same way. I think sometimes we get in our heads this false picture of what it means to be more conservative in ones theology. We see this archetype of this stark, raving street preacher telling every passerby that they are going to hell. Maybe they are out there, but it's a very tiny fraction of a minority.

Chris said...

Part 2-

I haven't read the book in question, but did follow the link to the excerpt. I thought the author's analysis in that excerpt was somewhat faulty. I once heard someone say, for every new book you read on religion in general and Christianity in particular, you should read two old ones. In this way you get a better sense/ perspective of the way God uses people through history.
The author mentions J. Gresham Mechan. Mechan was one of the preeminent theologians of the early 20th century. He should not be casually lumped in with the fundamentalists. What Machen saw during his time was the infiltration of liberal theology into the church, specifically the Presbyterian church. His problem was not so much that he disagreed with the liberals. His problem was that he felt that they were not open and honest in their disagreements. What he began to see was that although the liberals were using much of the same Christian language as their more conservative counterparts, they were actually meaning very different things. There was much equivocation in language and terminology, and so much confusion as to what the liberals actually believed. There was a great sense on the part of Mechan and others of being misled. What was being observed was that, individuals that sought ordination into the ministry of the church would take solemn vows and declare belief in certain articles of faith, and then five minutes after they were in would quickly begin to question, and even decry the very beliefs that they had previously so lovingly embraced. This was seen as an insidious attempt to effect change from within. And it continues to happen. I've personally witnessed it. People play word games. They fudge. They rationalize. It all depends on what your meaning of "is" is. It may not be intended this way, but it looks like deception, and so what inevitably ensues is the breaking of fellowship.
I've heard it said that emergents try to walk a third path between liberalism and conservatism. But postmodernists aren't the only ones that can be suspicious and cynical. Because of the emergent/postmodern tendency to de-emphasize clarity of language, I think that it is often just viewed by more conservative thinkers as old-line liberalism re-heated and re-served.
I find often that emergents eschew things like reason, logic, propositions, or the plain sense of a text when it comes to the bible because, they say, it's just enlightenment carryover. But find those things very acceptable and useful when it comes to Phyllis Tickle.
I could be wrong, but Ithink you guys get too much of one side. From the posts I see here you go to all the same general sources and read and listen to folks of a similar mindset. Open up! Read Mechan. Read Schaeffer. And read Rollins and Tickle too if you like. I may be jumping to unfair conclusions, but it's mostly based on what I read on this site.

Peace, and God bless ;-)

Zack said...

Chris thanks for your thoughtful comments. We'll definitally have to discuss those questions at our meeting.

I think I might have better worded my question about the taking parts of the Bible as poetic as: how do we determine which parts of the Bible to read as poetic or not. Is Job poetic or was there a real person named Job whose family Satan killed? Is Jonah poetic? Creation? Jesus?
I think you're right though that no real biblical scholars say that none of the Bible is poetic. Some of the Bible is obviously supposed to be taken as a historical account, but other areas it is not too clear. Those not too clear areas are what I'm talking about. I guess another question that stems from this is: Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God 100% inspired by him from the pen that wrote it to the picking of the books to the translation we have today. I have many friends who would say yes, that we don't have to try to wonder what the original authors meant because the Holy Spirit worked in the translators of the Bible to get the meaning that God wanted in plain english on the pages for us today.

As far as your first question Does God want to be known: I think from scripture it seems largely like He does want to be known. He reveals himself to the Jews through prophets and Jesus, and it appears like he intimately cares for people. However it becomes a bit more difficult in a personal sense. I've prayed very hard to hear from God and often just hear some sort of chaotic emptiness or random whims. Why would God not want to be known? Why would he hide himself? Why would he choose only to reveal himself through certain unreliable mediums. I think some people would say because he wants us to have faith, and if we just saw things plainly we would not need faith, but I don't buy that.

Thanks for your suggestion with picking authors. I've never heard of Mechan before so thanks for the brief history too it does help a lot to understand where these writers are coming from. I think many of us do read from a variety of ideologies, but we choose mostly emergent/postmodern authors to discuess since we are an emergent cohort. Most of us are here because something in the writings of McLaren or some emergent author jived deeply within us that as we were reading we felt "YES this is what I've always thought and just haven't been able to express"

Jesse said...

Thanks for the intro questions Zack. You are bringing up exactly the type of difficult issues that circle around in the back of my mind when I try to read the Bible, especially when I try to read it in a group with other people. I especially like the last one, "What is scripture's place in an emergent community?" I think we all agree that scripture should play a prominent and important role in our community, but just exactly what or how is something different. I'm excited about discovering that together.

Thanks for your comments too Chris! Have you commented on the blog before? I tried clicking on your blog profile, but it didn't come up. If you don't mind, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from, etc. And if you can ever make it to Columbus, please come to a discussion! It'd be great to have you.

I appreciate the questions you raise in response. You bring up a lot of good points, so I won't try to respond to everything, just share a few of my thoughts. First, I get the impression that you view postmodernism as a threat to an orthodox reading of Scripture, or perhaps even a fair reading of any text (for example, you say that people don't read Phyliss Tickle with the same postmodern critique as they read the Bible). I would like to point out that postmodernism is not just some insidious cultural philosophy that can infiltrate a true reading and interpretation of Scripture. Rather, postmodernism is the REALITY of life in which we are living, reading, and believing. We are, all of us, postmodern. And so the challenge is not to try to maintain a more appropriate lens for reading/interpreting Scripture, or to reject a postmodern reading, or to argue about which reading is better. That was the whole point of the first chapter of Conder's book: We all have different lens when reading Scripture. We have to recognize that, and take it into account. If we simply battle over whose way of reading is more appropriate (whether it be Machen, Schaeffer, Rollins, McLaren, or George W. Bush), we will realize at the end of the day that we disagree, and we will return to our respective Christian circles, apart from any contact with those of the other view.

As much as I can tell from the first few pages of "Free for All," reading the Bible in an emergent community means realizing the existence of all these different lenses and interpretative stances, allowing them their proper voice, and finding out what we can learn from each other.

Machen has a lot of great things to say! I especially benefited from his NT Greek text when I was in college. But, as you (Chris) pointed out, he was writing in response to liberals of his time. That puts him in a unique situation. other authors and interpretations can be helpful (but not exhaustive) as well. So we try to bring them all to the table - as well as our own understandings. And see how we can grow closer to God in the process.

The emphasis of reading the text has to be shifted away from "what is 'right'? what is 'true'?" The new question is, "How does this text, and my reading of this text in community, lead me into a closer relationship with God and with other humans?"

A sectarian, argumentative, comparative, "my-way-is-more-correct-than-your-way" reading pushes us further apart from each other, and I would argue from God as well.

Thanks again for offering your ideas before the discussion Chris - we will certainly raise these points and questions tomorrow. Also, I will try to record the discussion and post it on the blog later in the week for anyone interested.

Chris said...

Zack,

Thanks for your response. Just a little quick follow-up ( just noticed Jesse's post and will try to respond to his later as well).

I asked the question, "Does God want to be known?" and you responded: "I think from scripture it seems largely like He does want to be known. He reveals himself to the Jews through prophets and Jesus, and it appears like he intimately cares for people."

Did you say you get this from scripture? Why do you accept that God wants to be known from scripture? Perhaps it's just your personal biases being read into the text making you think this. Or do you actually think it is possible to read a text and extract true meaning from it based on the intentions of the author. Maybe God doesn't want to be known at all. I think you get where I'm going.

You also stated: "I've prayed very hard to hear from God and often just hear some sort of chaotic emptiness or random whims. Why would God not want to be known? Why would he hide himself? "

I hear and understand your frustration and I think it's legitimate. But an amazing thing about scripture to me is the way it speaks to the human condition, rather than controversies du jour. The universals (meta-narratives) that emergents often reject are the ones that the bible often speaks so poignantly and pointedly. The story that Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus is a great example. Forget for a minute whether or not this is a literal story of a real person or event. Lazarus was suffering torment in hell and asked God to send an angel to his brothers so as to warn them of the terrible future that they could possibly have in store.
Two extremely pertinent things scream out from this story for me. 1) If I were to witness or hear clearly from God or an angel about some other-worldly happening, I think in a week, or a month, or a year, or twenty years, I might start asking myself the question, did it really happen? I would start to doubt and wonder if it was all, as Scrooge said, possibly just the result of a bit of undigested beef. Think of the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt and how often they were privelaged to see God's miracles directly, but still failed to let it sink in and went right back to behaving the way they did before. As humans we just want miracle after miracle, or confirmation after confirmation.
2) God's reply to Lazarus' request was to say no, I won't send them a warning, because his brothers already had Moses and the prophets. In other words they already had the scriptures, and if they didn't listen to them, they would not listen even if an angel were sent. The point being that God does not hide himself. He speaks through natural revelation and He speaks to us from scripture. If we think he's hiding himself we have to ask ourselves if we are truly open to listening where God has already spoken.
The reason I advocate reading serious Christian writers of the past is so as to give yourself the best possible chance of hearing and discovering what millions of other people before you have heard and discovered. That He is there and He is not silent, to quote Schaeffer. Guys like McLaren and some others are nice and kind individuals, but from what I can tell they were hurt in the past. Unfortunately what that can do is give you a seriously jaded attitude towards the tradition you've moved away from, and their writings flow out of this experience. His view is not neutral. It loses balance and perspective. It creates and perpetuates stereotypes. It borrows too much from a philosophical postmodern understanding and attempts to rob scripture of those universals. As well as rob God of aspects of his nature, like wrath for example, that is spoken of so profusely in scripture because it's not the peace, love and happiness parts that we would prefer. So yeah, go ahead and read him, and other emergent type authors. But to be fair to yourself you should read older authors as well so you may gain a fuller and fairer picture.

Chris said...

Jesse,

thanks for your kind invitation. It'd be tough for me to make it to one of your discussions 'cause I'm up north of you guys a couple of hours or more. Plus I get really busy. But you never know.

In answer to your question, yes I do hang around in the background (you never know who's reading ;-) and chime in on occasion. I don't put out much info on myself on the web 'cause it just doesn't feel right to me to do so. I don't facebook or twitter 'cause to me it feels narcissistic and I don't blog about my pet pug. Instead I just jump in different places where the conversation looks interesting. I guess this means I'm old.

I have felt some dissatisfaction in my church and am 99% sure I'm leaving, so in that sense I can sympathize with the emergent need for conversation outside the institutional church. I would have some pretty big differences philosophically though with what I understand of emergent. And I'm willing to say I could be very wrong in all of my assumptions regarding emergent.

Jesse, you said: "postmodernism is the REALITY of life in which we are living, reading, and believing. We are, all of us, postmodern."

That's a big claim, and maybe I'm misunderstanding you. I would agree that we live by-and-large in a period of postmodernity. But if what you mean is that as a culture, or a society we have adopted a philosophical postmodern understanding of the world around us I would strongly disagree.
In our world we are still modern and postmodern. There may be features of a kind of postmodern understanding present. But as long as people still bump up against certain hard truths, there will always be what you might call modernists. That will never go away. The pendulum always swings one way, then it swings back. Unfortunately what often happens is an effort by the new wave to eviscerate what came before. The saying goes, any time you tear down a fence, you should always pause long enough to learn why it was put there in the first place.
Do I think there is a perfect reading of scripture? I would probably say no. But do I think there is a better reading? I think I would have to say, yes there is. When I get my mail, isn't there a better reading? Can I say I actually think the bank owes me money, when it's actually the other way 'round?
Isn't much of the new testament mail after all? Correspondence from one individual to another or a group of individuals? It might sound like an oversimplification but I do believe the authors intentions matter greatly.

You'd also mentioned that: "If we simply battle over whose way of reading is more appropriate (whether it be Machen, Schaeffer, Rollins, McLaren, or George W. Bush), we will realize at the end of the day that we disagree, and we will return to our respective Christian circles, apart from any contact with those of the other view."

I don't believe in battle, and I hope I'm not coming across that way. But I do think persuasion and good, sound, and logical arguments are appropriate. Your statement actually kind of saddens me because it suggests a couple of things. It suggests that because we disagree, then we will inevitably have to cloister up with only like-minded folk. That's never been my experience. Secondly, it suggests that you might be unpersuadable. That ultimately, regardless of whatever good, solid reasoning you're presented with you will not be moved, and at the end of the day you will return to the protection of your group. That you are just as stubborn as those you are disagreeing with. I don't really know you and so I don't mean to get personal. It's just how the statement sounded to me. But I honestly feel as though I can be moved from my positions. And I like to acknowledge good points when given. I notice you guys like to do the same for the most part so I appreciate that.

Peace and God bless

Adam Newby said...

I just want to jump in to say something a little off topic. Sometimes blogs REALLY frustrate me. It can take 100 back and forth posts to communicate what 15 minutes of eye to eye conversation can do. It's just SO hard to really pick up what someone is trying to say without looking them in the eye.

Zack said...

Yeah I'd like to jump in real quick on Jesse's defense of the battling it out thing. I'm pretty sure you misunderstood him. I think he meant just the opposite of what you took his statement to mean. He does NOT want to just go our separate ways after disagreeing, but he knows that if the entire emphasis is on finding one specific truth that we will all agree on it will end up that way instead of rejoicing in each others differences and continuing fellowship with those who believe differently than us.

Having known Jesse my whole life(he is my brother). I know he is persuadable(although not easily), and does change his position when presented with good sound logical arguments.

Chris said...

Hey Adam,

You are absolutely right. These kinds of blogs and forums are a far, far inferior way of communicating. Face-to-face is far more preferable. Unfortunately for me it's kind of what I'm stuck with if I choose to interact with your group. Maybe comments here should be restricted just to members of your cohort where you've already had and opportunity to interact personally.
If you would prefer that I can politely withdraw from further comments as I don't wish to disturb the peace.

Adam Newby said...

Chris,
I think there are benefits of dialogue like this. I like that people like you can engage. Otherwise, there would be no way for you and others to engage. It's good for all of us. I was just stating matter of factly my frustration. But my small frustration doesn't outweigh the benefits. Nor does it warrant dramatic measures.

Adam Newby said...

P.S. I like disturbing the peace sometimes! I think it's often just what we need.

Zack said...

I think the benefit of outside input outweighs the tedium of circling explanations and defenses. We talked about some of your questions at our discussion and I think we are better off for having had to think about these things. We're all new to the blogging/commenting format of communication so it just takes a while for everyone to learn the best way to get your idea across without it being a battle. That doesn't mean we should stop.

Probably the most frustrating comments for me are the accusatory ones of people who assume are group is a certain way, and tell us to change and do something else that we might actually already be doing.

Adam Newby said...

Yeah, Chris. You're questions and comments were a great addition to our discussion yesterday. So thanks for being there in spirit. :)
I have some things to say about what we talked about in light of some of today's comments. But don't have time at the moment. Hopefully soon.

Anonymous said...

Chris, Zack & Jesse,

Thank you for all the time and thoughtfulness put into your communications. Part of my own journey into this arena of philosophy / theology involved an AHA realization that the issues raised by postmodernism were not inventions, but discoveries. I'm wondering if Jesse means that the categories of PM are REALITIES - whether or not they have been recognized as such in history or in the current debate-- sort of like gravity. Protesting that perception (and understanding) is not a subjective process is like saying I can't feel gravity. My own evolution in thought involved (involves) grappling with the reality that perception and understanding are of necessity subjective if they are informed by the senses and/or the processes of rationality.

For me, the issue of bias is not to ask IF God could use scripture to inform regarding the true and real (in my experience He does), but HOW does he uses scripture and/or other means. Propositionalism fails because it does not (classically) allow for nuances of subjective involvement. It considers truth as an "Out There" reality without any inquiry regarding the means by which truth reaches the heart and mind of the one seeking it.

I find the Emmaus road experience very compelling as a model of at least one way this happens. It involves dialogue, it includes Scripture, it requires an encounter with the risen Christ, it culminates in the breaking of bread. Lots of fodder to chew on there.

Thanks again, all you folks, for being so engaging.

Jim

Kyle said...

I enjoyed Sunday's discussion and meeting the group. I came across a passage from Walter Brueggemann's The Book that Breathes New Life that is relevant to our discussion (re: what is the nature of the Bible? why do we feel the need to read the Bible? why do we give the Bible privileged status in shaping our Christian community?)

Lately Brueggemann has been becoming for me a last strand to hold on to in the storm of a confused and wandering faith. He is proving to offer a strong strand indeed, that of a scholar, a poet, and a prophet.

From The Book that Breathes New Life:

The Bible is fundamentally alien to modernity, even as it is fundamentally alien to every dominating mode of rationality in every age of the synagogue and the church. It is for this reason that the Bible and its authority can never be articulated or summarized in dominant modes of rationality. The book can be received and its authority evidenced only in communities of obedience and praise which, with marvelous indifference to categories of explanation, act with power, courage, freedom, and energy toward a new world envisioned, imagined, and promised in the text.

To try to reduce such liberated imagination either to the categories of literalism or to the more respectable but equally problematic categories of liberalism is a sorry, mistaken assessment of this book.

The practice of literalism is to hope for a kind of control that this inspirited book will never countenance. To practice liberalism is to hope for a kind of benign distancing that this restless book will never tolerate.

In the face of such ill-conceived control or distance, genuinely authorized communities regularly find the book more terrifying than that, and more dangerously healing. Any formulation of authority that alleviates the terror or domesticates the healing is inadequate for the book.

Such a reduction in either direction is an attempt at domination, whereas the book insists upon yielding as the point of access to its truth and power. This yielding means that truth and power, with all their terror and healing, are yet to be granted in new forms.


Wow. "Marvelous indifference to categories of explanation" and "dangerously healing." That is good stuff.

Jesse said...

Love that quote Kyle. It speaks to the paradoxical idea that we can't approach the Bible in the same way that we approach anything else - but rather have to be willing to be approached by the Bible. I think that's some Barth coming out there too...anyway, Brueggemann is the stuff for sure.

Hey Chris - if you are still following this comment thread, I'd be curious if you could offer an explanation of how you read the Bible? Looking back over the comments, I felt like you gave some good and legitimate critiques of what we were saying, but never really stated clearly how you think the Bible should be read. I'm not trying to bait you so I can come back and critique you in return, but just curious what you would say. Thanks!

Chris said...

Hi guys,

it sounds like it was a very good conversation. I'm sorry to have missed it but happy that I was able to contribute in some small way.

Jesse, your question regarding how I read the bible is a good one because it does push me to look hard and ask myself honest questions. This is one area that I think I really have to give credit to the EC movement and thank them (that includes you guys). I don't know that had I not been pushed in certain areas of my faith I might have been content to stay in my comfort zone and never really grown in my faith. I still have tons of questions and am uncertain of some things (maybe a lot of things), but I actually feel more certain about some others and I have come to some very different conclusions than some of what would be considered the "leadership" of the movement. I guess I'd add, if I were to compare myself to someone in the conversation it might be Dan Kimball, if that tells you anything.

Anyway, how do I read the bible?

I guess the short answer would be, I read the bible as it was intended to be read. That entails a lot of things but if I can I'll try to summarize.

First, I think the authors intentions matter greatly, maybe supremely. I don't believe, as do the philosophical postmodernists, that those intentions or that meaning is inaccessable to us, and that it needs to be endlessly deconstructed to where the real or true intended meaning is lost or up for grabs. Secondly, I think knowledge of the genre of literature of the particular book in question helps tremendously. You can't drag every verse of scripture through the same keyhole and expect to arrive at common understanding. You lose way too much that way. A very simple example of how genre affects a reading would be the Sunday newspaper. You have the world news section, the sports page, classifieds, obituaries, entertainment, religion, etc. These are all different genres. If I read the headline "TIGERS MAUL INDIANS" in the world news section it will most probably be relating how a tiger in a village in India has gone on a rampage and started eating its residents. But if I read it in the sports section, I see that once again, the big bad Detroit Tigers are beating up on the poor little Cleveland Indians. Reading scripture in light of its genre is probably one of the most basic, but likely the most violated principles for interpretation. What percentage of the bible is written in human genres? 100%. All of it. What are genres? Genres are public, shareable forms of communication. When we understand the genre that a person is using, then we're on our way to understanding what it is that a person is trying to communicate to us. If we don't, we'll often be confused. What are some genres of the bible? They include things like parables, history, poetry, narrative, geneology, wisdom literature, proverbs, eye-witness testimonials, and so on. Each one has its own particular rules for interpretation. If you ignore them, like in the case of the newspaper example, you get into lots of trouble.

This is just a very brief, cursory explanation of how I approach scripture. There's so much more.

But honestly, Jesse or anyone, if you had other questions of me I wouldn't take it as an attack. I think iron sharpens iron and I'm not averse to point/counter-point type discussions. I know some people think of it as a modern, binary taboo. I think it can actually provide a lot of clarity. Lord knows I don't claim to have all the answers. I feel generally that open, seasoned, but gracious, respectful and loving interaction to be beneficial. I'm always open to the suggestion that I'm wrong. But help me to see where. I also feel that what I know in the light covers much of what I don't know in the darkness.

I pray that we would all grow wise in these kinds of conversations.

Kyle said...

Chris,
You are right that original intent and genre (not to mention literary and historical context, etc.) are vitally important to an informed reading of scripture. It would be a grave disservice if any movement, postmodern or otherwise, contributed to a disregard of proper exegesis.

But even applying "proper" exegesis does not guarantee that various readers will arrive at the same interpretation (not that you are claiming that it will). So there always remains some uncertainty in our interpretation, which calls for humility.

I am not a philosopher, so I can't really say whether or not "philosophical postmodernists" believe that all intentions and meaning are deconstructed to the point that all interpretations are equally valid. In my limited exposure, I don't get the sense that most in the the EC movement take this stance toward Scripture. However, I do know that getting to original intent and meaning in many cases is very difficult, and impossible when we are unaware of the biases we bring to the text.

This is where critiquing modernity's notion of true objectivity is valuable. There is no "true meaning" of Scripture abstracted from context and human experience. All meaning is subjective and contextual, both in the original intent and in our contemporary reading.

I don't believe God has "broken into our world by means of a text and transcended our cultural baggage so that we may know him meaningfully" (your 1st post). Could he have? Maybe. But I doubt it. In any case, it doesn't seem like he did this, if I understand you correctly.

My take is that he somehow worked ("insprired") through communities as they lived in relation to Him and gave testimony to God's acts of revelation. Their testimony is loaded with their own cultural baggage, and we cannot separate the "pure" truth from the baggage. We have to wrestle with it, all the while we bring our own cultural baggage to the adventure.

Jesse said...

Hey Chris -

Thanks for your responses. I greatly appreciate your spirit in these discussions - especially since it can be tough to "talk" online (as we've already pointed in these comments).

Since you said you don't mind, and enjoy, the discussion - I'm going to push back a little more. I thought about your statement, "I read the Bible as it was intended to be read," for the last few days. I think this is a great initial approach to a text like the Bible. Like Kyle said - using all the various forms of criticism we can is really important. This type of study certainly helps to eliminate erroneous understandings of the text - but can we ever know how it was "meant to be read" ??

I used to this that it was possible to reach the original intent of the author; and I still wish it was that easy. Such an approach would fit nicely within a scientific, research-hypothesize-test framework. I used this approach alone for several years, and I still use it, but have found it to fall short for a few reasons.

First: in some situations, it's just impossible to know for sure how we are to read the text. For example, the book of Revelation. It uses an outdated literary style (apocalyptic) which we cannot accurately understand; the imagery is so multi-layered we cannot always parse the original intent. The result is strictly divided camps of theology, denominations and even Christendom at large.

The brings me back to one of my initial points that I think you misunderstood, and Zack correctly restated. If our approach to the Bible is only about finding the "right" or "best" way to understand any given passage, then "we will realize at the end of the day that we disagree, and we will return to our respective Christian circles." If the goal is to understand Scripture, we will disagree and be divided. But if the goal is to know God more, and to know God by learning from each other, by finding God in one another, by seeing our own short-comings and sin, and also holding to our convictions and attempting to speak truth, I believe we can make real (although sometimes small) steps in this direction.

I don't believe any honest person - pre/post/modern; whatever - would say that we can fully understand Scripture and discover the "true" meaning. And unfortunately, that should not even be our intent!! Our life purpose should be to know more of God. Scripture can be an amazingly powerful tool to bring us closer to God if we are willing to let it break free from the confines of literary criticisms to which we are limiting it. Sure, these criticisms are helpful to a point, but then an attitude of humility must take over (as Kyle stated), and we have to be willing to open ourselves up to the approach and perspective of the other person in order to see where we fall short and how we can know God more.

Those are just a few of my thoughts - and not very well stated. This is such a big topic! But I'm enjoying the chance to dialogue here. Thanks again Chris, and everyone, for your charity and peace here on the blog.

Adam Newby said...

Back to Machen, just thought I would throw this out there. In this book, "Free for All", Conder and Rhodes talk about how the view of the Scriptures changed in response to modernity. It's in Chapter 2 entitled "Rediscovering the Word in the Bible: A Living Word." With new modern thought, philosophies such as the Scientific Method, Darwinism, and Scottish Common Sense were all seen as an affront to Chrisitianity, especially the Scriptures.

"Protestant liberals responded by shifting the basis of their faith from the embattled Scriptures to a far less vulnerable foundation - universal religious experience." While ... "conservative Chrisitan leaders [like Machen] responded in kind to both the threat of science and what they perceived to be a shameful marginalization of the Bible by liberals." They go on to say that Machen's "arguments against liberalism centered on one issue in particular, the Bible."

They later point out that "liberals have already paid a harsh price for their brand of foundationalism, their communities frightfully waningas the result of a diminished vision of the Scriptures." ... "At teh same time, a foundationalist view of Scripture has come to dominate the evangelical understanding of the Word of God. The Bible hs become the sole foundation of the faith upon which everything else stands. Foundations such as this, however, are weak, for when truth is erected like a tower on a base of non-negotiable essentials, it only takes a little tinkering with the base, in this case the Bible, for the whole thing to come crashing down."

They state that the important issue for them ... "is a lack of recognition that this kind of foundationalism is not a long-standing Christian tradition but rather a response to the disillusionment with the Bible found in Protestant liberalism."

Finally they state that ... "at the end of the age of Protestant liberalisms and evangelical fundamentalism is that many of us (not just evangelicals) have, like Machen, substituted the Bible ... for the crucified Christ, the living Word of God. If you think this is an overstatement, remember that Machen states that the Bible is the stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, whereas Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that it is the proclamation of the crucified Christ."

I think they've done a good job of tracing the changes in how the Bible is viewed throughout the changing eras. IN the same chapter, the authors write "It is becoming increasingly clear that we are watching the last gasps of modernity. Einstein's theory of relativity and the development of quantum physics, deconstructionism in literature, and postmodern philosophy have all come together to undermine the hegemony of the scientific method, commonsense realism, and foundationalist construction of truth. We are at the end of an era. And with the ending of the modern era, the church must ask itself if we are clinging to a conception of the Bible that was born of the modern ethos and must therefore end with it as well."

Zack said...

Adam you have so many quotes I can't quite figure out what you are trying to say. Are you trying to point out their discrepancies? Can you just say it plainly?

Chris said...

Hey Jesse,

I appreciate your kind interaction and words (and everyone's in this cohort) as well.

I have to say I generally agree with your statement that in many instances it's really tough (don't know if I'd say impossible) to determine original intent, mostly for the reasons you'd mentioned. However I think there are opportunities to know intent quite clearly. I think that the gospel writers Luke and John really give us a break here by explicitly telling us their intentions.
A little side note here. I am not the product of an extremely conservative, literalist, theological upbringing. I was always pretty much a wanderer and seeker all the way into my thirties. I was married in a Unitarian church. Attended a Disciples of Christ church and a PCUSA (Presbyterian) church. Most evangelicals would call those liberal to extremely liberal churches. The reason I mention this is to let you know that I am not all that interested in biblical eschatology for the very reasons you stated. I think the prophetic parts of Revelation are beautiful and terrifying (in some ways I think like God) but can be so inscrutable ( again in some ways like God, and which is amazing in itself) that I don't go there much or I go there reluctantly. Now I feel that in some ways for me it can be kind of an advantage because I don't feel the need to rebel against my tradition. I never felt the insistence that I must hold to a particular view of the end times, nailed down to the micro-second of Jesus' return, ala John McArthur (I may be misstating his views). I'm satisfied knowing that He will return in some manner. Remember what I said about the thing that really captures me is how the bible speaks more to the human condition. This is what completely amazes me about scripture. It's not that it is so accurate as to world events, but that it is so accurate regarding us. It addresses our problems, the ones that never go away, as well as our hopes, fears, existential longings, etc., and speaks to our responses to those things. This is truly God speaking. The parts of Revelation that I find most interesting are not the prophetic parts, but the parts that speak to the church, and both take-to-task and commend the various churches and its members for behavior that is all too familiar, even today. Again, scripture speaking to the human condition. This gives us very big clues as to not just how we should think of God, but what God expects of us.

Anyway, back to intent. I think that probably a very good starting place when trying to cope with real meaning in the bible are both John's and Luke's gospels. What does Luke say about his intentions? I think he is very open, honest and upfront regarding them. He states very openly and plainly that he was not an eyewitness to the events regarding Jesus, but that he had very carefully gone and researched these things so that others that were not there might have access to the knowledge of Christ. He says that he is trying to be as reliable and trustworthy as he can by doing things like scrutinizing the evidence and that this is his motivation. Hmmmm, sounds like a very modern, scientific approach doesn't it? I thought the preoccupation with truth, evidence and research came after the enlightenment. It seems like maybe, just maybe this particular postmodern analysis may be somewhat suspect or at the very least overstated.

Chris said...

Part-2

Anyway, I for one believe Luke and I don't feel the need to deconstruct his testimony for the same reason I don't deconstruct the eyewitnesses of the Fort Hood shootings. I give people a basic default credibility unless I'm given a reason to think otherwise. I don't have a suspicious, postmodern cynicism in my bloodstream. Cynicism and suspicion are a kind of spirit. Cynicism and suspicion are akin to not forgiving, and what does God want us to know about forgiving and being forgiven?
John also gives us his intentions openly when he states that Jesus did lots of other things that were not recorded in his gospel, "but that these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing you may have life in His name".

Are the intentions always this clear (at least to me these are clear)? Like you said, I wish they were. But when I read scripture, although the intention, and possibly even the genre are not always clear, I see so much intersection of points of truth (the kind I'm talking about regarding the human condition) between the gospels, the epistles, on down to the Hebrew scriptures that converge so amazingly that it gives me great pause, and then I rest, and then I say, that's enough, I'm convinced. I have to take this seriously.

Jesse, you said: "I don't believe any honest person - pre/post/modern; whatever - would say that we can fully understand Scripture and discover the "true" meaning. And unfortunately, that should not even be our intent!!"

I have to say here, agree and disagree. I don't think any honest person would say that we can fully understand Scripture as well. And I don't know of anyone that claims this, so I'm not sure how this is germane. But when you say "discover the "true" meaning" we may just have a difference in emphasis. I'm not sure but when I hear (read) this, what I think I'm hearing is that we may not discover the "exhaustive" meaning. But this doesn't mean that the meaning (or truth) can't be meaning-full. For example, if I write a song or a poem to my wife professing my love for her, and maybe I'm just so ga-ga in love with her that I just really want the world, as well as her, to know how great my love for her is. In that song I will never be able to project anything like my total love for her exhaustively so that she or anyone else can come along and say they get it "perfectly." But this does not mean that what I've expressed isn't true in the truest sense, nor that it isn't highly meaningful. Anyone that doesn't know either of us could one day come along, pick up that poem, read it, and I think a fair-minded person would have to say it would be possible to know the truth of my love for her, in the sense that I've just described it. Not totally, but meaningfully and truly. I agree that charity and humility are essential when acknowledging differences in understanding. But let's also admit when we can know things quite clearly.

Chris said...

Part-3

You also said: "we cannot always parse the original intent. The result is strictly divided camps of theology, denominations and even Christendom at large." Again, I think this is an observation that is overstated. Yes, churches and denominations split and are broken up in various ways, possibly because some particular church chooses to emphasize some aspect over another. But something to consider here. You may have heard the saying that unity does not have to mean uniformity. In one sense this is almost a beautiful thing about Christianity. I find that very often when groups of diverse Christians get together (admittedly outside the church building), it is very interesting how much more what they have in common is emphasized over what their differences may be. And I also see lots of institutional church interaction as well, so let's keep things in perspective. Like-minded Christians hanging out is not a crime. It's certainly what emergents do as well. I think I've read statements here on this site from members who've indicated that they are no longer in an established church. Isn't that separating? Isn't that dividing?

Have you read "Finding God At Harvard"? It's a pretty big book which is a collection of essays and writings from faculty and staff at Harvard. I know that Harvard is mostly thought to be a liberal bastion, but this book explores the thoughts and theological journeys of a wide range of Christians ranging from all across the spectrum of liberal and conservative. It is amazing how although they have such supposedly irreconcilable differences, they seem to speak in one voice in their love, awe, and reverence for God.

As far as the need to shift away from trying to know what is true, I'd probably disagree pretty strongly. Of all the questions we like to ask (and most all of them are valid) probably the most important one you can ask is "what is true?" If you had an acquaintance that you were getting to know as a friend, and you posed the question, "are you a true friend?" would you feel satisfied if he responded by saying "what is truth?" or, "whose version of the truth?" Would that really comfort you?
Truth in Scripture is not a concept that is taken casually or disparaged. It certainly isn't one that Jesus tries to shift away from. He regards it highly. He doesn't just speak of it in the relational (although He does speak of it in this way), but also very much in the propositional, so let's not separate them unnecessarily. Truth, it seems mattered to Jesus, and so it matters to me.

I think your thoughts are stated just fine, and I thank you for sharing them. If I could I'd like to ask one question of you. Could you help me to know you better by telling me what you mean by "the goal is to know God more". And does obedience enter into this in any way for you?

Also, this isn't just my and Jesse's conversation. Anyone else, please...


I may be coming up on a pretty busy time here so this is kind of a last gasp (the reason for this long-winded post) so I'm not sure if I'll be able to contribute for a while, but I'll try to read on. Please pray for me. I'll pray for you.

Thanks again and God bless you all.

Jane Johnson said...

Good discussion everyone!

Chris, I wanted to respond to a few things that you said in your last post (how many times have you heard this now? :) About your comments on author intention, I agree that the detective work all of the gospel authors accrued in writing their accounts is amazing, given the technological difficulties of the time and that "eyewitness" testimony was a mode of thinking rather foreign to the culture (except perhaps when it came to the dealings of the highest rulers).

I believe that the gospel of John was one of the most amazing things ever written, but this isn't because he managed to get it all right. We have to be honest and recognize that the gospels are certainly not perfect accounts. Despite Luke's explanation of his book as a repository of "what happened," things occur out of chronological order in his text, and Jesus' audience and setting is often very unclear in sections where we get direct quotes. I would question the validity of anyone's eyewitness account, because there is 30 years of psychological research that documents how problematic these essential testimonies are. We must rely on eyewitness accounts to understand events at which we were absent, and yet there is a large margin of error in the human memory process. For more on this subject, see http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~hflowe/eyepsych.htm

About author intent in general, this is something I work with a lot in my research, and current scholars that deal with textual sources a lot (except maybe Biblical scholars, honestly)take suspicion of stated author intention as necessary to good textual analysis. This is because the research tends to reveal that all of your "informants" are tainted by their allegiances and personal beliefs. A good example from my range of research is the French anthropologists of the late-nineteenth century, who often explicitly stated in racial studies that they were just strictly scientists, giving the plain facts. But then a few pages later this author confesses that he is relying on personal experience. Often, an author's truest intentions are likely sublimated, and that is where the whole idea of deconstructing comes in. One begins to ask what the sources of power were at that time, and how that author is related to those who were either in power or fighting for it. In the case of the anthropologists, it was a little too convenient that at the same time as they wrote, France was conquering massive regions of Africa, and the anthropologists, whose informants were unanimous in the view that the black race was so inferior to the whites that it was best for the whites to subjugate them.

The gospel writer of John is a good example of an author whose intentions are complicated, because while he states that he just wants to spread the truth of Christ, it has been well-established that his gospel was written largely in response to the rising Gnostics (I'm not putting a link up for this because I assume that everyone is generally in agreement about this). This doesn't mean that we should discard his text. It means that we should treat it like a text, like we would treat Dickens. John's biased intent caused him to break away from the synoptic gospels, it seems, and to give us some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible (one of my favorites, 7:37-38).
Of course its possible that God caused all of the eyewitnesses to remember things perfectly. But it really doesn't seem like he did, because there are discrepancies (Jesus' last night being an example) and holes in the story. I find that God is much more powerful if he can take a flawed (yet certainly amazing) text and spread such a powerful message through it.

What do you do, Chris or anyone, when you come across inscrutable Scripture? Chris, you seem to say that you don't focus on it, but instead gravitate to the more propositional sections. But maybe there is a way to find all Scripture useful? I feel like this kind of a way of parsing Scripture leads some Christians to really never talk about entire books, like Ecclesiastes.

Jesse said...

Thanks for your comment Jane. It was really helpful. I appreciate you including some specific, academic information and examples. You do a great job explaining why deconstruction is necessary, and helpful.

You state, "This doesn't mean that we should discard his (John's) text. It means that we should treat it like a text, like we would treat Dickens." I understand what you are saying, and definitely agree. But it reminds me of a question that Kyle appropriately raised during our discussion at the coffee shop - Why do we feel like we need to read the Bible? If we read it just like we read Dickens, why does it have any higher authority? Or does it? I personally don't feel much of a need to read Dickens, because his style doesn't resonate with me. Can I say the same of the Bible? This was a tough question for some of us to answer when Kyle asked it.

Thanks for your final question Jane - you make a good point that we can easily gravitate to the parts of Scripture that "make sense" or "fit" - I think a big part of what Conder is trying to do in his book is challenge Christians to be brave enough to read the whole Bible. My answer to your question would be that I try to "wrestle" with the inscrutable parts. I don't feel like I have to have an understanding right away, and I'm willing to change my understanding. I think that there are some things in Scripture that are really difficult, and perhaps they are there for no other reason than to remind us that we don't know it all and we need some help from God.

Thanks again for this comment Jane! good stuff!!

Chris said...

Hi All,

Hopefully this latest contribution won't get lost at the end of this topic, to keep it going just a little more?

Anyway, thanks Jane for your thoughtful comments. Lots to think about there. You give some interesting "evidence" and "reasons" (again, rather modern sounding) why we should cast doubt on reading these particular texts without the "proper" deconstuction. Here are some of my thoughts regarding some of the points you've raised.

First, you had said that ""eyewitness" testimony was a mode of thinking rather foreign to the culture". If it is true (there's that word again) that this method of thinking was so foreign to the culture then why would Luke feel the need to make such a point of it? When he states his intentions to Theopholis so emphatically it's as though he believes that this is a mode of undergirding his personal testimony in a way that will lend credibility and resonate with his listener. In other words Luke knows that facts, research, evidence and the like are things that do matter and make a great deal of difference even in a pre-enlightenment culture. It was not something that was so "foreign". If it was then who were his statements for the benefit of? Was Luke thinking about and wanting to speak to the enlightenment readers preoccupation with those things many hundreds of years later? That would be quite amazing wouldn't it? Luke was an educated person and knew the importance of research and how it related to credibility.
You also said that "things occur out of chronological order in his text, and Jesus' audience and setting is often very unclear in sections where we get direct quotes." Honestly, I am not trying to be combative, but my question is, So?
What follows from those observations? Does it mean that because things are stated out of sequence that what Luke says isn't true? I don't believe that Luke ever stated that "all the events I describe here are in precise chronological order", but rather that he had written an "orderly account". Are these the same thing? I'm not so sure. I understand "an orderly account" in the sense of an efficient or systematic account. Maybe Jesse can help out here since he knows the Greek. And is it is even pertinent that the settings be described in microscopic detail. The point is that Luke's gospel is true in it's salient themes and facts. Luke really believes these things and he wants us to believe these things. You may say that Luke is wrong in what he believes, but I don't believe in fairness that you can say that he is being deceitful or part of some struggle for power.

Chris said...

Part 2

Jane, you also said: "I would question the validity of anyone's eyewitness account, because there is 30 years of psychological research that documents how problematic these essential testimonies are. We must rely on eyewitness accounts to understand events at which we were absent, and yet there is a large margin of error in the human memory process." , and then you gave a website to confirm this. I didn't check out the website because I know that what you say about human memory is true. I don't need 30 years of research to tell me that people do get it wrong sometimes. Where I mostly agree is here. That any-ONE's testimony should be up for scrutiny and perhaps debated. But here is where I would disagree. Luke doesn't rely on one eyewitness or one personal testimony. When we are trying to have access to history, any history, even as recent as yesterday, the way we do it is via converging lines of evidence. We don't just take one strand of evidence from one source and say, Here, you must believe this. We take various lines from various sources to see where the lines of evidence converge. And when they converge on a point, this gives us access to history. We also do things like deductive and inductive reasoning, so we don't just take the evidence from one "pool" of eyewitnesses, as in the example you gave recounted by the French anthropologists. We take all of these evidences from various sources and put them together to see if we can find those points of convergence. This gets us to a place, not of absolute certainty, but a place of justified confidence from which we can learn and move forward.
After the second world war General Eisenhower, who was an eyewitness to the atrocities of the Holocaust by the Nazis predicted that one day people would deny that the Holocaust actually occurred. Today in parts of the middle east and europe there are movements that are seeking to deconstruct the events surrounding the holocaust, saying, as you said, that "the "informants" were tainted by their allegiances and personal beliefs", that it had more to do with political power, and that it never really happened. By your reckoning Jane, the last survivor of the holocaust should not be believed because they would be the only one, thus making their testimony too suspect. Actually, by your reckoning it wouldn't matter how many survivors there were because there were too many underlying plausible motives that might cause them to exaggerate or even to lie. Their testimony would of necessity have to be deconstructed to the point where this persons hatred of the Nazis overrode the notion that their description of the events could be believed as "true". That it actually did happen. Nowadays it's even worse because documents can be easily forged, pictures can be photoshopped, etc. Are you willing to go this far to uphold Derrida and Wittgenstein and the French anthropologists you'd mentioned and say that we really can't be sure whether or not the holocaust actually occurred?

Chris said...

Part 3

I think this is one of the key places where I part company with the postmodern. It's where the postmodern tendency towards suspicion of meta-narratives kicks in. Postmodern philosophers and historians believe that we can't have access to true history. I disagree. Ideas have consequences. The holocaust was the result of an idea. Modernism had it's consequences, and postmodernism is proving to have its own. The reason I asked the question: To what extent have we acquiesced to the culture by embracing philosophical postmodernism as an epistemological starting point? at the beginning of this thread was because I have always been mystified by the enfatuation of the postmodern paradigm by emergents (or the progenitors of Emergent). Firstly, most of the big names (the philosophers, literary critics, etc.) that emergents principally got some of their thinking from were not people that I could see a whole lot in that personally radiated from their lives that I could either take from or want. A lot of them lived and died anti-God, lonely, and bitter. In other words, these were no friends of Christians and no friends of Gods. Yes, we can and do learn things from non-Christians, but why, I ask would folks that call themselves Christian want to drink so deeply from the well of these people? This is the philosophical starting point from which the postmodern epistemology has sprung. It has gone from an effort to seek engagement with the culture (which the church at it's best has always sought) to the adoption of it, and to me it's seems a huge mistake. I don't mean to sound alarmist, but again, ideas do have consequences.

Jane, you also stated that, in terms of John's gospel: "it has been well-established that his gospel was written largely in response to the rising Gnostics (I'm not putting a link up for this because I assume that everyone is generally in agreement about this)."

Now hold on just a cotton-pickin' minute. ;-)
I might have to go back and do just a little more research to be a little clearer about my recollections regarding this particular point, but I think you may be mistaken here (or maybe I am). First, I have never heard this assertion (which doesn't mean it's not true). My understanding is that it was actually the effort to refute the spurious and secret teachings of the Gnostics that brought about the need for the councils that established the formation of the canon, which was much later. John's gospel was written much earlier than this. Your statement would presume that Gnosticism was already full blown by the time of John's writing so as to necessitate a refutation. Gnosticism (as best as I understand it) had not come to a more fully-formed articulation of a secret and separate understanding of Christ and his teachings that had the potential to threaten the common understanding until at best the mid-second century. If anything it was thought by a few that John's gospel actually contained elements of gnostic wrting. A quick trip over to Wikipedia would confirm this (if you believe wikipedia ;-). Here's a quote:

"Christian Gnosticism did not fully develop until sometime around the mid-second century. As Roger Olson noted, “second-century Christian leaders and thinkers expended tremendous energies examining and refuting it.”[63] To say John’s Gospel contained elements of Gnosticism is to assume that Gnosticism had developed to a level that required the author respond to it."

Chris said...

Part 4

Read the whole thing. The point in question has much more to do with some people thinking that John's gospel had gnostic influence than it was seeking to refute it. This might suggest that John himself was a secret Gnostic (does this sound reasonable?), but not that he set out to refute it. If I am wrong in my understanding of the facts I stand corrected. But I think it just goes to underscore how good research, evidence, scholarship, etc. (ala Luke) is very important, and we should not try to escape these things or suggest that they are just the product of an obsession with enlightenment thinking. I appreciate how points such as yours, if stated accurately, can in fact bring clarity to the discussion.

There were a couple of other questions I could have brought up as well regarding some of what you said, but I'll just make this one clarification regarding one statement I made. I actually don't avoid sections of scripture altogether. I guess what I meant was that some parts speak more to me than others. I have nothing against biblical eschatology. I probably should (and will) spend more time in those areas, but I personally don't see them as helping me to learn to live life and follow Christ as much. But I could be completely wrong there. I agree that maybe it's the tougher parts that we avoid that hold the most for us. And I agree with Jesse that if they are there but for no other reason than to remind us of our finitude and to reawaken us to the mystery that is God, then that is a very good reason.

Zack said...

Chris,

I think your comments haven't been responded to less because they are lost at the end of this old post, and more because of their combative attitude.

Rather than argue the points which we could go back and forth on forever would you just ask yourself a couple questions?

Does questioning the authority of scripture scare you?

Why is it so important to you that the Bible be your source of truth?

Why are you reading this blog and arguing for the truth of scripture?

Are you trying to learn from us or trying to convince us of your position?

When you read our posts and talk about our blog with others are you thinking and talking about us negatively? Or with pride?

If the Bible was never written: How would that change your faith? Where would you look for truth, and authority?

Adam Newby said...

"A lot of them lived and died anti-God, lonely, and bitter. In other words, these were no friends of Christians and no friends of Gods. Yes, we can and do learn things from non-Christians, but why, I ask would folks that call themselves Christian want to drink so deeply from the well of these people? This is the philosophical starting point from which the postmodern epistemology has sprung. It has gone from an effort to seek engagement with the culture (which the church at it's best has always sought) to the adoption of it, and to me it's seems a huge mistake. I don't mean to sound alarmist, but again, ideas do have consequences."

Are you arguing that fathers of modernism were different? Scottish common sense? The Enlightenment?

Jesse said...

Thanks for your continued comments and interactions Chris. However, I would have to agree with Zack that this back-and-forth, point-counterpoint could go on ad infinitum, or more importantly, without either side really hearing what the other is saying.

I guess what I hear you saying is that you disagree with what you understand to be the core tenets of postmodernism, deconstruction, and emergent theology. I think Zack's questions cut more to the core of the issues, and I also think Zack's questions are good for anyone who reads and interacts on the blog to think about. They are really challenging.

For discussion to continue, I think that first of all it would be really helpful to meet in person, or at least to get to know each other more to understand the perspective each individual is coming from.

Second, I think we would have to get to a basic understanding of definitions and philosophies. Several times in your response to Jane, you are misrepresenting postmodernism/deconstruction and its representative philosophers, but to point that out in a response comment, again leads to a sort of back-and-forth volley where we think we are playing the same game, but actually just continue to misunderstand one another.

So finally, Chris, we would be willing to allow you to post an article to discuss, if you would like. Hopefully this article would have clearly defined viewpoints and not assume too much background knowledge. Most of the posts on this blog relate to specific topics, but when the discussion balloons to issues like metanarratives and postmodernism, more of a common ground is needed.

Again, thanks for your interaction, but I would prefer to shift any ongoing discussion in a different direction. Thanks.

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Chris said...

Hi folks,

Sorry, I messed up on the order of stuff before. That's why I removed it.

Jesse, I just read your response and what I hear is "thanks, but you need to find somewhere else for conversation." Forgive me for disturbing the peace. I won't contribute any comments here from now on. I'm not sure how to post articles so I probably won't bother there either. But if you could allow me one last contribution I feel the need to respond to Zack.

Zack,

My oh my. I guess as hard as I've tried to be gracious in my comments and interaction I really have failed haven't I?

You ask many good and valid questions, and believe it or not I have asked myself many of these questions before, so let me take them one at a time.

First you said: "Rather than argue the points which we could go back and forth on forever..." Honestly, I didn't think we were arguing, based on Jane's earlier comment that she thought it was a good discussion. Jesse even mentioned that he appreciated the spirit with which I was engaging. Adam graciously thanked me for my questions. I actually thought we were having good conversation as well. Jane brought out lots of good points which made me stop and think about my presuppositions and I tried as best as I could to respond with points as best as I have understood them. Maybe it's my poor attempts at jest at various points (I try to add a smiley ;-) so that people know I'm not being snarky or serious). Is it one of your rules that we are not to respond with counter-statements to any points made by anyone, ever? I think I stated more than once that I could very well be wrong in certain assumptions and statements that I've made. I don't know about you but this IS one (but not the only) way I learn. Maybe it's hopelessly modern, and maybe it's not for everyone, but we are all strung a little differently aren't we? And, God I think speaks to us all a little differently.

Does questioning the authority of scripture scare me?

The most honest answer I can give you is, yes and no. No in the sense that I do it all the time myself. I have lots of questions. I understand that how scripture came to be thought of as authoritative and everything that entails is messy, messy, messy ;-) This is why I appreciated Jane's comments so much. Because in the considering of what she has to say I'm able to simultaneously clarify my own thinking as well as to possibly arrive at new insights. I'm a little older now and I have changed in my thinking over the years. But not everywhere. I like Emergents willingness to have open and frank conversation (or at least I thought they were willing). But because I'm open to conversation, it doesn't mean that I'm going to throw out all of my convictions today and swallow everything that people put in front of me just for the sake of peace. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but is that what you really expect of me?
And I would say yes it scares me because maybe I have an appreciation that you may not for what could potentially be lost. If we have any kind of sense that this possibly, just maybe could be God speaking, how foolish would we be to not view it with awe, reverence, and yes authority. But if we really don't believe this is God speaking in any sense, then I can completely understand why the idea of the authority of scripture is threatening to some people, or even just plain wrong. I think that's a hugely profound question worthy of much scrutiny, discussion, and examination, so I'm sorry if I'm not willing to just roll over on this one.

Chris said...

Why is it so important to me that the Bible be my source of truth?

Mainly for the reason I mentioned above. If God is really mute as some folks here have suggested, then I can understand why the bible can and maybe should be relegated to the pile of interesting but outdated literature? But if God is a talking God, it changes everything.This is a determination I'm trying to sort out in my own mind. This is where you help me.
Don't assume that I'm saying that God "only" speaks or interacts with humans through scripture. I really don't believe that God stopped speaking after the last page of the Bible. I've had experiences that are so profound and personal that I would not share them here as they would be too easily misinterpreted by the careless or judgmental. I think that God is truly sovereign and that He will communicate in any number of unpredictable and unusual ways if He so chooses.

Am I trying to learn from you or trying to convince you of my position?

I am truly trying to learn from you, but if a conversation is truly an open one shouldn't you be eager to learn from me as well? At this point and from this distance all I can do is offer up some things for you to consider. If it's not welcomed just say so (I guess you have!). I really won't be offended, honest. Maybe you speak for your group and I should just be ignored or ostracized? Perhaps you believe that you've heard everything I have to say before, and maybe you are right. Or maybe you should also think about the ethos of ostensible openness that Emergents claim. I ask, If every time the conversation rolls around to issues of truth you just wave me off, then is the conversation truly open? Isn't it really a case of setting up artificial parameters for the conversation in a way that benefits you and marginalizes me?

Chris said...

You asked: "When you read our posts and talk about our blog with others are you thinking and talking about us negatively? Or with pride?"
Why would you assume that I talk about this blog with others? Or that I think of and speak of you or anyone else there in the negative to some people. I don't have anything negative to say about any individuals. How could I? If I've ever had any disagreements with emergents (and I know one very deep emergent personally that I consider a friend) I have never tied it to or cast any negative aspersions to them as people. That would be wrong. Disagreements, even very serious ones do not equate personal judgments or attacks in my world. If it gives you any comfort let me say plainly I have never spoken to anyone else about this blog. Period.
Finally, you asked: If the Bible was never written: How would that change your faith? Where would you look for truth, and authority?
If the Bible were never written I do believe it would affect my faith quite radically. I don't run from that. I'm sure I would still be on a God search, because I believe in God intuitively as well, but I couldn't tell you precisely where I'd look. Although I do at times see God in others, there is also enough pain and suffering that comes at the hands of others as well that I don't know that I could form any kind of livable faith. I certainly would never call myself a follower of Christ, as we know precious little about Jesus apart from scripture. And if as I said before, God does not speak, I don't believe that the question of authority would even be a valid one. We could dispense with that. Truth would still have meaning, but mostly just in the relative or subjective. It would have very little legitimacy beyond the immediate borders of a given community. At this point (and once again, I could be wrong) I don't see how we escape from a position of relativism, moral and/or ethical without a God-affirming truth. The correspondence view of truth gets us pretty far, but we need God to take us the rest of the way. That's how I see it today.
Zack, I know you said that I should ask these things of myself, and I have. But I just wanted to share my responses to the questions you've posed to maybe put your mind (and others if they feel as you do) at ease. You said I was being combative although I tried not to be, but I think you might do well also to consider whether or not you were being fair to me as well. You made several assumptions and your questions sounded accusatory and a bit like an interrogation. Maybe you should also ask yourself how truly open you are to hearing the thoughts of the other without assigning malevolent motives or personal judgments. But if your questions were really just rhetorical and posed in a spirit of love and helping me to reflect then I apologize and I humbly and gladly accept them as such.
Be well all,
Peace and God bless,
Chris ;-)

Jesse said...

Hey Chris -

This is a clear example of misunderstanding across comments on the blogosphere. I am in no way asking you to stop commenting. That wasn't what I wrote, and I don't have any right to speak for the cohort in asking you to stop commenting. Please, you (and anyone) is welcome to post or comment at any time.

I said, "I would like to shift the ongoing discussion in a different direction." We are above 40 comments on this post now. I'm not sure where we started or where we are going. Like I said before, I sense that there are some misunderstandings of basic terms and philosophies. For ongoing discussion (which I hope happens, but more productively), I think it would be helpful to start a fresh post.

As far as you posting an article, feel free to email a link to me, and any text you would like to associate with it. You could write the post in the email, and then I could put it up on the blog.

schroeder.jesse@gmail.com

Zack said...

Chris,
I apologize if my questions seemed to be brushing you off. I in no way mean to marginalize or ostracize you from the group. Also I in no way speak for the cohort, and am probably the least well read, and most uneducated of the group (HS degree only, where others here have studied theology or gone to seminary). I try to think of you as just as much a member of the cohort as anyone else.
You bring up good points about openness, and I apologize for not trying to learn from you as much as I should, and giving your posts the time and thought they deserve.

Thank you for taking the time to be a part of the Emergent Conversation!

Zack said...

Chris,
I also want to let you know that I did not mean my questions to sound like an interrogation, and did not expect posted responses, but just thought they might be good for personal examination seeing as I felt like you were on the attack (it seemed like you were critiquing every point even when it was irrelevant to the topic), just as you thought my questions were interrogative. Author intent is such a tricky thing to determine even when living in the same time-period and speaking the same native language.

I also agree that we should move this discussion to a new post even just for the sake of readability. This page is so long, and with everything being a response/conter-response it is hard to read anything in context.

Am I right that the Authority of Scripture is the root issue here? If there is something you're still wondering about Chris feel free to send your post to Jesse, or if we want to just move into a discussion on the next chapters in Free for All I think that would be OK too.