Friday, July 19, 2013

Limits of authority?

"Scripture", "the authority of Scripture", "the Bible says," are shorthand for longer ideas about the will of God being revealed to humanity, a will expressed in acclamations and proclamations, in commands and prohibitions, in warnings and encouragements, and in guidance and general directions for how we should live as people claiming relationship with God.

Rightly, yesterday, a commenter here raised questions about our knowledge of the revelation of God (see bottom of post). If, for instance, it is declared to us within the 'canon of Scripture', that is, within a prescribed set of pages of writing, on what basis do we understand the limitation of that canon since there is no additional message in writing "they be the limits of my revelation to the church."

One response, articulated by another commenter is: "because the Church has acknowledged Scripture, as collected by sheer use/citation early on in the piece, is both the authoritative witness to and unique instrument in the saving economy of God, climaxing in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel."

I agree with that response but acknowledge that it does raise the question whether the church which acknowledges Scripture as authoritative witness to etc might at another point in its life acknowledge something else as "authoritative witness" to God acting in history, as, indeed, I understand those parts of the church today are wanting to do when they say something like "we now see that God is working in the lives of [identity of people group]."

I think one way forward in such discussion could be to acknowledge a point at the heart of Eastern Orthodox theology, God has spoken in ecumenical councils where "ecumenical" means the "undivided church" and "council" means a true representation of the whole church. That is, we might one day be in a position to say with authority that the authoritative revelation of God has been given on [issue of the day] because a new ecumenical council has assented to such proposition.

That makes working for the unity of the church, organically and organisationally worth doing!

But if you would allow my paragraph above, a proposal I am articulating within it is this: if we do not have the agreement of the whole church on the matter we do not have much authority  when we attempt to claim that on a matter we have now received the authoritative revelation of God.

Focusing down to the Anglican church in these islands and decisions we might come to at our General Synod in 2014, it is comparatively easy to predict that we will pass by a majority some decisions that will change our polity on the blessing of same sex relationships while simultaneously indicating to ourselves that we are not a united church on such change. Such change, no doubt, would enable those who wish to perform such blessings and to have such blessings performed to proceed. What could not then be claimed (I suggest) is that our church had now received an authoritative revelation from God to so proceed.

In other words, effectively, if change comes to pass, (I suggest) we would be allowing that on this matter we did not have the authoritative revelation of God but we did not mind if individuals (ministers, parishes, dioceses) proceed to bless.

If, from the perspective of "revelation" this was so, then it would be a matter of integrity, fairness and justice that our church transparently indicated that it would be equally permitted that individuals did not proceed to bless.

What do you think?

"Bosco Peters commented: That all relevant revelation is already received by the church in Holy Scripture is a revelation beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture. Discuss.

The canon of Scripture is a revelation beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture.Discuss.

What is the Christian canon of Scripture? Discuss.

That many issues are so difficult to find unmistakably articulated in the Christian canon of Scripture points either to the inadequacy of it for the purpose of all relevant revelation received by the church or indicates that a variety of responses to these many issues are acceptable to the Revealer. Discuss."

57 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bryden Black's response looks lovely in theory, but is severely limited in practice. It does not lead to the delineation of a Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox canon. And merely avoids the questions by creating new ones.
Shawn Herles, furthermore, (July 19, 2013 at 1:16 PM) adds further important issues for discussion:
"The very first time God commands the Israelites to go to war the pacifist argument goes out the door. It becomes impossible to reconcile the God revealed in the OT with the God of the NT, which is why pacifist theology always ends up cutting out and discarding significant parts of Scripture.

This is done through the idea of a Canon within the Canon that is the true Word of God. In other words, parts of Scripture are true revelations of God, and parts ate not. Pacifiers apply this principle to dismiss the "warlike" God of the OT, preserving only those parts of the OT that do not contradict the pacifist principle.

This way of doing Biblical theology quickly descends into pure subjectivity and any real self-revealing by God is lost.

So any argument based on a Canon within the Canon should be dismissed outright. It is certainly not a legitimate Anglican approach to Scripture (or tradition for that matter, which is not confined exclusively to the pre-Constantine church)."
Most evangelicals here ignore parts of the Old Testament, saying that God has overridden these in the New. Shawn is more consistent, having a God who doesn't change his mind. Discuss.

Alison

Father Ron Smith said...

One problem, Peter, with the argument that the revelation of God to humanity has been limited to either Scripture or thr great Councils of The Church! Is that the hierachical structure of the Church has changed - with separated parts of The Church arrogating to themselves differing under-standing of leadership roles and authority.

Roman Catholics even believe that their is no sacramental priesthood in Anglicanism, that priests can only be male, and that ther can be no artificizl contraception practised by their people.

Orthodox Christians believe that priests may marry, but bishops must remain celibate.

Why, even within our own denominztion, we have Sydney Anglicans (and some others) sinserely beliving that women cannot be priests, nor must they have a teaching role over men.

Some of these entities will calim the authority of Scripture for their varying stances, but what does this have to say about the fundamental place of either Scripture or Tradition, as the sole arbiter of authority in the Church?

Any Church hsitorian worthy of their salt must acknowledge that 'sweet reason' has its place as recognisant of other, contemporary, influences on the establishment and operation of the Gospel mission of The Church(es) in contemporary society

Jesus did point to the indefinite 'future' of revelation to and in the Body of Christ, when he said that :-) "When the Spirit comes, He/She will LEAD YOU into ALL the Truth..." From recent and contemporary experience "those with eyes to see and ears to hear" are convinced that "The Lord is doind new things" - as Scripture itself warns us!

Bryden Black said...

I’d rather think Alison the view I expressed looks lovely in practice too - for it was sheer practice that produced it!

I am all too aware the three groups you specified have slightly different contents to their collections termed Biblical canon. It was this very awareness that governed how I set out an Old Testament Theology unit I taught back in the 1990s, where I followed the Hebrew Bible’s format of Torah, Prophets and Writings - permitting just such an openness to the last part of the collection. It enabled the students to see more easily how Chronicles sets up an intertextual set of readings to Kings, for example; it also helped them to follow key features of the NT itself (for example, how Matt 11 embodies an implicit Wisdom Christology, based on Ecclesiasticus, for the Wisdom Tradition does not stop at Ecclesiastes).

But the point you try to make is even more problematic. A question: what seminal, doctrinal difference is actually engendered from the various, different collections of the canon? And please don’t cite “purgatory”, based on Maccabees, supposedly! Rather, the differences are not exactly raised by means of the contents of the canon; they arise due to differing roles played by Tradition, where Tradition itself has differing understandings - over the course of Tradition’s evolution. I.e. the canon itself is downplayed in some traditions. Which leads me to Ron’s comment.

There is a world of difference between authority, Ron, and revelation itself - even if they are related as Peter tries to show, and which I alluded to in another thread. An ecumenical council has authority on account of its role among the Catholic Church’s organizational life (including the Anglican branch of that Church, even as we aver councils may “err” as per the Articles). The canon of Scripture uniquely witnesses to God’s revelation in the economy, such that it norms thereafter what may be authoritative for belief and practice: this is the Reformation stance. Peter’s point - as I take it - is just the simple one that at this stage nothing even approaching an ecumenical council has pronounced on the supposed “new thing” the Spirit is seemingly leading some sections of the Church into believing and practising. In particular, when the Anglican branch of the Church was last offered an opportunity to begin to approximate such a conciliar form of gathering, at Lambeth in 2008, such was the ‘due process’ that no such decision could have been forthcoming, quite deliberately ... And so, to foist any belief and practice that has such flimsy sanction upon any organization with even a hint of a conciliar dimension to it would be a serious mistake because a serious omission and oversight - particularly when the canon of Scripture seems to suggest, upon any ‘plain reading’, that that belief and practice is almost certainly proscribed.

Conclusion: Peter is right to raise this important conciliar aspect re our present Anglican ‘dilemmas’. May it be granted some local traction at a bare minimum ... My own conclusion is to repeat yet again Rom 12:1-2 ... For such a “view”, painstakingly practised over time by the body corporate, is how eventually the Church reached its conclusions of 381, despite all the twists and turns and apparent victories in between 325 and 381.

Shawn Herles said...

The problem with Ron's argument is that "sweet reason" is often little more than various political or philosophical ideologies dressed up as reason.

At one point in recent Western history it was considered rational to kill the mentally and physically disabled. Eugenics was the "reason" of it's day. So was the idea of racial differences and racial superiority, which was based on the science and "reason" of the day.

Both Hitler and Stalin considered National Socialism and Communism respectively to be perfectly rational, and plenty of scientists and doctors also believed so, on the basis of "sweet reason."

Because of original sin, human reason is radically corrupted, and not a reliable guide. Nor are human beings reliable, whether scientists, philosophers, or Church authorities.

Scripture alone is the only valid basis for Church doctrine.

Peter Carrell said...

Lightly moderated from Shawn:

"It should also be pointed out that Jesus did not say the words Ron claims. ...

What the Holy Spirit does do is to lead us into deeper understanding of the truth we already have, not entirely new "revelations" that contradict Scripture.

... [if we put words in the mouth of Jesus ...]

That path leads to apostasy and the corruption of the Church and the Gospel.
"

Shawn Herles said...

The above edited post are not my words. The editing has rendered what I said meaningless, and given that it contained no ad hominem I am not at all sure what the point of the editing was.

So just to he clear, Jesus did not say "He/She" when referring to the Holy Spirit.

Father Ron Smith said...

I think, this time in common with Shawn, that some of his own reasoning may not be immune to error. It is so easy to accuse others of error in their reasoning, while insisting on the (purely subjective?) 'truth' of our own.

There is a theological understanding of the word logic (logos) as the root of all reason. "en arche een ho logos, kai ho logos pros ton theon,"

(Greetings from Santa Cruz, Madeira, where last evening (Sunday) Diana and I took part in a procession of The Blessed Sacrament, in honour of thr local saint, Sao Silvestre. No lack of faith in this (Portuguese) community. Deo gratias!

Anonymous said...

"Because of original sin, human reason is radically corrupted, and not a reliable guide. Nor are human beings reliable, whether scientists, philosophers, or Church authorities.

Scripture alone is the only valid basis for Church doctrine."

In general, I agree with you, Shawn, so I know you will also agree that Scripture has to be interpreted to furnish doctrine. Remember that the Arians and the Socinians both claimed to be scriptural. Interpretation cannot be divorced from the rules of logic, the author's intentions, or the normal context for language and communication. The rebuttal of the Arians and the Socinians was posited on their inadequate scripturalism. Modern liberalism is also based on a partial and inadequate use of Scripture that fails to give due weight to grammatical, historical and contextual issues, or privileges the interests of one historical moment over another and then asserts, in a neo-Montanist way, the Holy Spirit's 'leading'. Luther knew of the Schwaermer of his day, too. I can remember leftist Methodists in the 1970s ('New Citizen') who seriously suggested Mao's China was the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Damnata simplicitas.
We should indeed use human knowledge (linguistics, history, science, philosophy etc) to illuminate our understanding of the Bible, but not to subvert it.

Martin

Anonymous said...

"Because of original sin, human reason is radically corrupted, and not a reliable guide. Nor are human beings reliable, whether scientists, philosophers, or Church authorities.

Scripture alone is the only valid basis for Church doctrine." Shawn Herles

Once again Shawn provides us with more discussion content:

“Original sin” is not mentioned in Scripture. That “human reason is radically corrupted” is not mentioned in Scripture. That “Scripture alone is the only valid basis for Church doctrine” is not mentioned in Scripture.

Rather, all Shawn’s points are derived from Scripture by “human reason” which in Shawn’s case is “not a reliable guide”. All three of Shawn’s conclusions from Shawn’s “radically corrupted” reasoning are not universally held by Christians, nor have they been universally held in the Christian Tradition.

Also, as has been mentioned here before, those who hold to Shawn’s conclusion cannot agree with each other on the Church doctrine that they claim Scripture is the basis for.

Discuss.

Alison

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Alison, I, for one, appreciate your reasoned arguments here, that have the purpose of challenging Shawn's 'sola scriptura'- based arguments. God is much bigger than the words about God in scripture. Otherwise, we would be worshipping the scripturers, rather than the God to Wom they point.

The definitive 'Word-made-flesh' is the Logos, Whom we meet in the Eucharist, referred to in the scriptures. "Be ye DOERS of The Word, not hearers only!". Christ in us is our hope of glory.

Shawn Herles said...

What is or is not "universally held" is not relevant as truth is not a matter of majority voting. Truth is truth, regardless of it's popularity or lack of it.

On Original Sin; "Sin came into the world through one man." Romans 5:12.

And; "The judgement following one trespass brought condemnation on all." Romans 5:16

And; "we were BY NATURE children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Ephesians 6:4

On the corruption of human reason; "They are darkened in their understanding." Ephesians 4:18

On the sufficiency of Scripture alone; "ALL SCRIPTURE is breathed out by God." 2 Timothy 3:16......... No mention of tradition also being so.

Those are just a small sample of relevant passages concerning those doctrines. Many more could be cited.

As far as disagreements over Scripture are concerned they are always a result of human error and sin, rather than a problem with the clarity or sufficiency of Scripture.

Anonymous said...

Bryden Black hits the nail on the head. It is not the equating of the canon within the Christian variants of the Biblical canon as being the Protestant (or in his course’s case, Jewish) canon. It is, as he rightly says, an acknowledgement of “differing roles played by Tradition”.

Alison

Bryden Black said...

With respect to taunting advocates of the Reformation Alison, it might be more constructive, not to merely “discuss” - i.e. to pool our meagre, corrupted opinions - but to sit together at the feet of one giant like Aurelius Augustinus. Both his Confessiones and De Trinitate are properly manuals of contemplation, whereby our false desires are purged and our minds returned to their authentic goal of reflecting the Image of God, thus returning praise to the Creator of all things. Such an invitation might be more Christ-like than asserting one’s own authority ... Naturally, both make extensive use of Scripture as divine speech!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn and other commenters,
I am not infallible and get things wrong.
However I do not read the above comment which Shawn draws attention to as 'ad hominem'.
I would be very pleased to hear from commenters who think I have misjudged the situation.
I try to moderate without fear or favor.
But I can be wrong ...

Shawn Herles said...

I will make a final comment and I would greatly appreciate it if this gies unmodersred. I think I am owed that at least.

Ron's response insinuates that my comments are not reasoned. That is obvious from the wording of "reasoned arguments for the purpose of challenging Shawn's sola-Scriptura based arguments."

In other words, I'm not being rational. That IS ad hominem.

"Be ye doers of the Word, not merely hearers."

In other words, I don't practice what I read in Scripture. That IS ad hominem.

IF I ever post here again, and Ron has not been banned, he is no longer allowed to respond to my posts. He clearly cannot do so without taking cheap pot shots at me.

And as far as being doers of the Word, there are many things in the Word of God, such as sexual purity, that Ron dismisses. It is therefore hypocrisy to accuse others of failing to practice the Word.

The ball is now in your court Peter. But I think I have made a good case that Ron is repeatedly engaging in ad hominem, and I'm just not going to put up with it any longer. I won't take any further action, but I would please ask you Peter to take my concerns seriously.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn and Ron
I ask that each of you cease to comment on the other's comments. I ask this because such comments run a very high risk of being received as ad hominem. It would be best if we steered clear of pathways which cause offense however unintentional it might be.

Thank you for observing this request.
With apologies for any offense I have caused by inadequate and inconsistent moderation.
Peter

Bryden Black said...

A. Thanks Alison for your endorsing something of a previous comment. I think though I might have one more crack at this and then leave matters there. I do so via an extract of an essay I wrote a few years ago, using Telford Work (among others), Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Eerdmans, 2002), as a springboard.

3.2 “... the Bible is the very language of the Messiah ... his heritage, his horizon, his formation, his practice, his authority, his instrument, his medium, his teaching, his crisis and his vindication, his witness, his confession, his community, and his glory.” (p.212) Scripture/Tanakh is “the voice of the Father who sent him.” Thereafter too the Holy Scriptures continue to have their mission in a similar way.

3.3 This mission assumes a basic principle, that there is a community who are to become incorporated into the Logos. Just as Jesus, as Word-become-flesh, was God’s presence among his people in the power of the Spirit, so too are the Scriptures the means of that self-same presence among those people formed around and through and with and in the Living Christ. Quite simply, after the ascension, with Jesus as the Head, the Church becomes the sharer in Messiah’s Body by means of the Spirit’s gifts, supreme among which is that self-same word which formed the Messiah in the first place, in his heritage. And since God’s Messiah’s identity is what it is, so the Church (both individually as churches and collectively), by means of attending to that “school” (Athanasius) provided for in the Scriptures, is to become one holy catholic and apostolic, with the Scriptures effecting these distinguishing marks of the Church.

Bryden Black said...

B. Yet at this very point are we presented with something of a fissure, a series of fault lines around what constitutes and how to constitute these very marks of the Church. For, given the eschatological nature of the Church, tensions have arisen as to the relationship among Scripture, Tradition and the traditions [these distinctions echo the work of the WCC F&O] as these have been envisaged by sundry church communities throughout the history of the Church. It is important to note that it is this very eschatological aspect which has brought this about. On account of the manner in which the triune God has seen fit to (re)establish the divine rule among humanity, so there have arisen such tensions as pertain towards the Scriptures and the realisation of the Church’s distinguishing characteristics, which beset the Church and the churches. Yet - and this is Work’s concluding thesis - the very emphases in the respective ecclesiologies of the churches are themselves but reflections of the emphasis each places upon eschatology - whether realized, inaugurated, futuristic, dialectical, etc. In other words, a fuller and more comprehensive eschatology, as this governs the nature of the Church’s mission and identity, will pave the way for a fuller appreciation of Scripture’s true nature and role.

3.4 Telford Work’s insistence that the tensions among Scripture, Tradition and the traditions be placed within an eschatological context is both insightful and helpful. More helpful still, in disentangling the struggling relationships among these three, would be to stress as well a related factor not quite so emphasised by him. This has to do with how the various ecclesiologies relate themselves to God’s rule, to how they envisage Church and Kingdom to be related. For the more ‘realized’ in this sense they are, the more they ‘collapse’ matters of the Head into the Body, so the more is Tradition deemed as normative. Contrariwise, the more Kingdom and Church, Head and Body are distinguished, so the more is Tradition relativized and Scripture’s canonical role allowed to come to the fore. And while Augustine’s vision of the totus Christus after the vision of the Church in Ephesians and Colossians is surely correct, even as this goal of the Church seeks to become embodied and enacted, there remains a place for carefully distinguishing matters of God’s grace and matters of human reception and ‘interpretation’, and cooperation in faith within the divine economy. Just so, there remain creative tensions among Scripture, Tradition and the traditions in the pilgrim churches, which tensions are functions of the eschatological emphasis on the one hand (3.3) and the ecclesiological emphasis (3.4) on the other; an evident triangulation is at play here, with varying emphases to be discerned and mapped accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Shawn’s approach, popular on this site, seems to have a problem.

Revelation is by Scripture alone. There are different interpretations of Scripture. This is the fault of human error and sin. Human reason is radically corrupted and so cannot be relied upon to rightly interpret the Scripture. Numbers do not matter. So a minority interpretation can be the truth, and a majority position false.

So God has produced the only source of revelation knowing that we cannot use it for that purpose. And with eternally devastating consequences, or so some interpretations of Scripture have it – but who knows!

As to Shawn’s scattering of Bible quotes – some are well-known for their ambiguity even in the original Greek, none mention the doctrine explicitly, and all are open to a variety of interpretations.

Alison

Peter Carrell said...

How then, Alison, do Christians discern the truth?

Anonymous said...

Are you saying, Peter, that you agree with Shawn's premises?

Alison

Peter Carrell said...

I am saying that in trying to work things out, including whether or not I agree with Shawn's premises that it would be helpful to learn from you, Alison, what your positive contribution to the question of discernment is.

Bryden Black said...

Hi Alison, I'd slightly rephrase Peter's question and ask:
How do you authorise your belief?

Anonymous said...

Is there not some concern, Peter, as a theologian and with the roles you hold, if you are still trying to work out whether you agree with Shawn’s foundational premises or not? I am clear I do not.

Alison.

Peter Carrell said...

Many people, Alison, are concerned about my theological shortcomings, including myself. I am also concerned that I have not yet heard an answer from you to the question I asked.

Bryden Black said...

Still pending Alison ...

Anonymous said...

“How then, Alison, do Christians discern the truth?”

Christians, Peter, seem to have great difficulty discerning the truth. They appear to be unable to agree as to the source or the methodology of discerning it. You yourself, a theologian, ordained minister, with responsibility for theological education, cannot yet plainly state whether or not you agree with Shawn’s premises or his methodology - yet you continue to insist that I should be able to do so. Some commenting who agree with each other on the same foundation, cannot agree on the conclusions. Others agree with each other in their conclusions but from conflicting foundations.

Alison.

Bryden Black said...

Me thinks thou dost protest too much; for pray tell, how dost thou, O Alison, authorize thine own belief?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
Having been away for a few days with only my iPod Touch for computing I have not felt technologically able to respond to your points. Now that I am back in the land of the laptop, I will attempt to respond with a post within the next weeks or so. In the meantime I continue to look forward to your own constructive proposal!

Anonymous said...

Dear Peter

I am looking forward to your post.
I have no idea what authorising my beliefs means.
If you do a google search for “authorising belief” you will see it mostly refers to the UK marriage bill. Bryden does not explain what he means, but he seems to see it as a preferable translation of what you were asking. I thought what you were asking didn’t need translation into something I cannot understand, nor can find an explanation of, nor am provided with a translation of Bryden’s translation.
I’m afraid I do not think I can help you much, Peter.
I don’t think I agree with Shawn’s gloomy understanding of reason, and I am also conscious that Eastern Christianity does not follow Shawn’s finding the Western concept of “original sin” in the texts he offers.
I hope that helps you a little. Let me know if I can help you more, but like you, my time is limited.

Alison

Bryden Black said...

"Equivocation rules" - OK?!

Father Ron Smith said...

Iam very interested in thefootwork going on here, between Alison and theologians Peter and Bryden. I suspect that ther will be littlefothcoing from the offical theologians on the challenges that Alison has presented. Understanding is a two way street, and Alisons's questions require a sensibke answer.

(Written in Sipngapore Transit Lounge, en route to Godzone

Anonymous said...

It is a little difficult to understand to what Bryden's sardonic comment refers. Best interpretation I can see, is it applies to the length of time it is taking for Peter to decide whether he agrees with Shawn's points or not.

Alison.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison
I think Bryden is keen to hear from you, as I am, about what authorises your belief.

True, in a comment above, you confess to not understanding Bryden's question. So let me repeat my own question and offer a reframing of his question. I do so on the basis that, as I re-read your comments above, you seem very clear about what does not work for you about discerning truth and authorising belief but say little about a constructive way forward.

- How, in your view, do Christians (or should Christians) discern truth?

- What is the basis for your own belief about God?

I am working on my response to your questions to me about Shawn's presuppositions.

Bryden Black said...

G’day Alison,

Nothing very complicated actually; in fact, it’s quite simple.

You have demonstrated a penchant for dissecting others’ beliefs. Fair enough; that’s the world of blogging. Now it’s quite simply your turn. Rather than offering us only negative critique, let’s have some positive construction. To wit: what authorizes your own beliefs?

Now; that is actually a very concise question, embracing especially some of the major themes of this thread and its title. Nor am I at all surprised a google search was pretty unhelpful! It’s not your average run-of-the-mill approach to life that is being addressed by the question. In fact, most of the time most people will strenuously avoid addressing the issues raised by it - as have you too to date.

So; either continue down the road of equivocation; or address those concerns raised by this really rather basic human question. The choice is yours. And thank you in anticipation.

Shawn Herles said...

Alison,

All forms of Christianity believe in the fall of humanity, including Eastern Christianity. They may not use the sane terminology, such as "original sin" but the basic idea is still there.

"Sensible" answers have been given to Alisons questions contra Ron's usual and still ongoing Ad Hominem comments.

Shawn Herles said...

Alison,

Simple question. What is the basis in your view for knowing that God has revealed Himself?

Bryden Black said...

... in case you have still to "translate" my repeated question: Shawn has himself now gone half way - but only half way - towards translating it himself, with his v latest "simple question".

I'd however prefer not to use that word of yours, "translate"; I am not translating Peter's earlier question. Rather, the relationship between the two is more like this: they are the flip side of each other akin to two songs on an old 45rpm vinyl record. Nor am I saying Peter's is the A side and my question the mere B side!! Each question approaches the same core concern from a slightly different perspective, each worthy of being asked. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

A brief response to some of Alison's comments on Shawn's (alleged) views:

"Revelation is by Scripture alone. There are different interpretations of Scripture. This is the fault of human error and sin. Human reason is radically corrupted and so cannot be relied upon to rightly interpret the Scripture."

No, that is overstating things and is not what the Reformers actually claimed. Read Turretin on the perspicuity of Scripture ('claritas Scripturae'). Most of the Bible is *not actually difficult to understand; it is not some elaborate and esoteric code. That was the burden of Irenaeus's complaint against the Valentinaian Gnostics, that they treated the Bible like a cryptic code for their bizarre gobbledygook. Read any standard work on historical interpretation from Irenaeus to the present. Early Christians were sophisticated people! Check out resources on hermeneutics by Don Carson in the Institute of Contemporary Christianity. Human reason is used to interpret Scripture, but it needs the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture in its truest sense, as the personal conviction of sin and the call to repentance and faith.

"Numbers do not matter. So a minority interpretation can be the truth, and a majority position false."
Up to a point. The Arians were probably the majority in the middle years of the 4th century, notwithstanding the decree of Nicea. The argument raged for years, and the central question for both parties was: which teaching truly interprets the Bible?

"So God has produced the only source of revelation knowing that we cannot use it for that purpose."

Not true. See above on historical hermeneutics. We have the dominical promise that those who seek will find.

"And with eternally devastating consequences, or so some interpretations of Scripture have it – but who knows!"

God knows. Every theoretical theological question needs to return to the personal one: Do I seek His glory or mine?

"As to Shawn’s scattering of Bible quotes – some are well-known for their ambiguity even in the original Greek, none mention the doctrine explicitly, and all are open to a variety of interpretations."

Just about all doctrines involve a level of abstraction, a collation and ordering of biblical texts, which implies necessarily that the Bible has a symphonic unity, rather than a heterogeneous and often antagonistic collection of 'voices' - which is where the atomizing tendencies in modern secular 'biblical' studies has taken us. (The speech marks are deliberate because the modern secular approach doesn't work with the idea of a canon but rather 'ancient Jewish' or 'early Christian' literature.) That all human beings have a radical disposition to sin is taught by all Christians, Orthodox included.
Again, my best advice to Alison is to do some reading in the history of Biblical Interpretation. You can find a succinct introduction to these questions in the essays at the back of the ESV Study Bible, before looking at deeper engagement by first-rate scholars like Vanhoozer, Carson, Habermas or Tim Ward. The Reformers did not emerge in a vacuum or propose their ideas de novo. Their strongest roots are in the Antiochene school of Theodore of Mopsuestia.

Martin

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Martin,

I think we are on the same page, but I should have qualified what I said by saying, 'Human reason is radically corrupted, and, on it's own, without the light of the Holy Spirit, cannot be relied upon. With the Holy Spirit, reason, like tradition, is an important tool for understanding Scripture. But it is a tool only, and not itself a source of special revelation.'

Hope that clarifies things.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, you have now moved from the not-mentioned-in-the-Bible “original sin” to the not-mentioned-in-the-Bible “fall”. By doing so you are just reinforcing my point, and undermining your own.

As to Peter’s and Bryden’s now-becoming-obsessive haranguing that I need to authorise my belief (a concept so esoteric even Bryden acknowledges it would not be found in a google search, nor does he provide his own authorisation as an exemplar, nor has Peter) in order to question the approaches others present here, I note all the while that Peter himself is continuing to prevaricate on the simply-understood question whether he agrees with Shawn’s last 2 paragraphs of 22 July 11:30am or not.

Finally, my response to Shawn’s straightforward question (at least I can understand what he is saying): my faith.

Alison

Anonymous said...

Shawn: yes, I think we are singing from the same Geneva hymnbook. Insofar as the Scriptures use human language, they can be understood by anyone of normal intelligence equipped of a good translation and enough persistence. But to grasp their meaning with faith ('I, the reader, am a sinner in need of forgiveness and Christ is the means of salvation') does indeed need the work of the Spirit. This saving knowledge, as opposed to objectifying knowledge - such as the demons have.

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

"Haranguing" Alison?

Hmm.

In any case, I am not prevaricating. Perhaps procrastinating. Certainly prognosticating. I have actually begun the draft of the post you are asking for ...

All in good time.

Shawn Herles said...

Alison,

My position has not moved at all. And I have already posted above the proof that Scripture does indeed clearly teach that Adam sinned and passed on his corruption to all humanity.

Faith in what? People had faith in Hitler. Christian faith is a response to God's revelation. The question you have steadfastly refused to answer is; how does God reveal Himself so that we can have true saving faith in the first place?

And there is only one answer to that: the Bible. Without the authority of Scripture we would not know what to have faith in in the first place.

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Alison for your seemingly “straightforward” answer to my question.

But I say “seemingly” now myself for a very good reason. For if this were your answer to the question, What authorizes your belief(s)?, then in effect you are saying that your own faith authorizes your belief(s). Now; to be sure, this is indeed what most people in western societies do actually mean, given our contemporary culture and its philosophical and (a)theological history these past decades/centuries. But it simply will not work! It is a tautology and a mere existential declaration. It is actually a case once more of the Emperor’s clothes.

On the contrary - and to answer now your own request of myself - a genuine Christian answer to my question goes as follows: the triune God authorizes Christian belief. My/our part thereafter is just this, as Eberhard Jüngel puts it so succinctly: Verantwortliche Rede. I give the original German, since the German initially catches the necessary double meaning in English of “responsible speech” - “both answering and answerable”. The entire point of the Christian Faith is that we humans of ourselves cannot help ourselves, as the old BCP puts it. Just so, the entirety is therefore based on God’s own Good and Compassionate Grace, as declared and demonstrated in the economy of salvation, climaxing in Jesus Christ and the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

There is of course far more that should immediately follow from this, like where Peter started on this thread, quoting myself: “Scripture is both the authoritative witness to and unique instrument in the saving economy of God”. For here we have a necessary tying together of the Word-made-flesh in Jesus and that indispensable, authoritative testimony to this Person. For what will we ‘fill’ the word “Jesus” with? Not all uses of the word “Jesus” and “Christian” are equally authoritative - far from it! Here again there are nuances: we have four Gospels, not merely one; yet we do not have 24 - others are precisely outside the canon! And thereafter again, as Karl Barth famously elaborated, the Word has a necessary threefold form: the Person of Jesus Himself; Holy Scripture; and finally, the Church’s proclamation. The last thing (for now) I’ll touch on is the Church’s own witness in word and sacrament, “founded on the apostles and prophets”. Here of course such things as interpretation come into play - the meaning of texts and the significance of the sacraments. But others (like Martin) have already given us a steer here. To close, I’d only recommend again what someone else on this Blog profusely thanked me some time ago for bringing to her attention: Paul Griffiths & Reinhard Hütter, eds, Reason and The Reasons of Faith (T&T Clark, 2005), being papers from the Princeton Center of Theological Inquiry colloquia between 2000-2003. It speaks into our age and its unique dilemmas just brilliantly.

Anonymous said...

"Hmm." Peter Carrell

How then, Alison, do Christians discern the truth?
July 26, 2013 at 1:48 PM

it would be helpful to learn from you, Alison, what your positive contribution to the question of discernment is.
July 26, 2013 at 6:05 PM

Hi Alison, I'd slightly rephrase Peter's question and ask:
How do you authorise your belief?
July 26, 2013 at 8:15 PM

I am also concerned that I have not yet heard an answer from you to the question I asked.
July 27, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Still pending Alison ...
July 27, 2013 at 8:02 PM

pray tell, how dost thou, O Alison, authorize thine own belief?
July 28, 2013 at 12:36 PM

I continue to look forward to your own constructive proposal!
July 28, 2013 at 1:33 PM

"Equivocation rules" - OK?!
July 29, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Hi Alison
I think Bryden is keen to hear from you, as I am, about what authorises your belief.

- How, in your view, do Christians (or should Christians) discern truth?

- What is the basis for your own belief about God?
July 30, 2013 at 7:26 AM

G’day Alison,

Nothing very complicated actually; in fact, it’s quite simple.

either continue down the road of equivocation; or address those concerns raised by this really rather basic human question. The choice is yours. And thank you in anticipation.
July 30, 2013 at 1:28 PM

Alison

Anonymous said...

"And there is only one answer to that: the Bible. Without the authority of Scripture we would not know what to have faith in in the first place." Shawn

So it was not possible to have faith prior to the writing of the Scriptures and agreement about the canon?

Alison

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bryden,

I never realised it was a trick question.

Alison

Bryden Black said...

For those who can be bothered to read all this ... It might throw some light on our "Discuss" requests ...

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2013/07/22/10-basic-facts-about-the-nt-canon-that-every-christian-should-memorize/

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison
That is quite persistent refusal on your part to answer the questions!

Father Ron Smith said...

I wonder if it is only Alison and I who find some of the theological gobbledegook expressed in response to her quite simple question of Peter, and her quite simple answer to Bryden, to be somewhat esoteric, and hardly helpful to anyone not acquainted with academic discourse?

Really! For Bryden to feel the need to express his comments in the original German language, lest he lose the force of his argument, is nothing more than scholastic persiflage

Tim Chesterton said...

If I might weigh in briefly here (I'm on holiday, and so busy with family stuff and only checking blogs occasionally), I don't think the question of 'how we authorise our belief' (which I take to mean 'What authority do we recognize in deciding what we think is true?') is a simple one at all. All the usual answers have inherent problems.

Let's start with 'The Bible'. The problem is that no 'Bible-believing Christian actually takes all the statements in the Bible as authoritative for their belief and practice. If we did, we'd be stoning people to death for adultery and for cursing their parents, returning all land to its original owners every fifty years, and abolishing the system of lending money at interest. We might even appeal to a bloodstained sheet as evidence that, contrary to the accusations of her new husband, a bride was a virgin on her wedding night.

Obviously, then, the concept of 'the authority of the Bible' does not mean 'the authority of every single statement in the Bible'. We therefore need some sort of hermeneutical system for deciding which statements continue to have authority for us, and which do not. A 'canon within the canon', perhaps? And there is also the problem that much of the Bible is, in fact, narrative. How are we to understand the concept of an authoritative narrative?

What about tradition? All well and good, and often very helpful, but there are problems here, too. For one thing, have you noticed how the word 'tradition' is almost always a bad word in the gospels? How Jesus often sees it as a barrier to obeying the command of God? And for another thing no church that claims to recognize the authority of tradition actually obeys everything in the tradition. So once again, how do you decide what's authoritative and what's not?

Anabaptist-oriented folk like me tend to appeal to Jesus as the Word of God, but even that is problematic. After all, how do I know anything about Jesus unless the gospels are at least reasonably historically reliable (and, of course, scholars are all over the map on this one)? Are we back to 'the authority of the Bible', then? Well, not necessarily - a reasonably reliable gospel tradition is not necessarily the same thing as an infallible and inerrant Bible.

So - as I say, I see it as a complicated question, and I think that people who are looking for solid rock certainty are not going to get it.

Peter Carrell said...

Excellent points, thank you, Tim.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Tim, although you and I don't see eye to eye on every matter propagated on this blog, I do appreciate your very clear reasoning set out above, on the dangers of a literalisitc interpretation of every Bible passage.

One of the problems with biblical literalism is the old chestnut of: if Cain, after slaying Abel, went off and got married; whom did he marry? Was it a sister we didn't hear about in the narrative? What might this have to say about other people's existence at the time - besides Adam, Eve and their 2 sons?

Bryden Black said...

I can assure you Ron, it is highly unlikely that most English speakers - including yourself - would naturally and easily pick up the double entendre in the phrase “responsible speech”, one that necessarily addresses both senses, “both answering and answerable”, as they duly respond to God’s addressing them. Unless of course they are Augustine! See July 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM. And surely he is no Parsifal ...

For there’s also the implied question: What constitutes “responsible speech”? And once again the answer to that question is seldom appreciated; it takes an Augustine to try to make it plain. Yet even he is barely understood nowadays ... For my money, I’d like to suggest you engage with Jean-Luc Marion’s In The Self’s Place: The Approach of Saint Augustine, notably his opening chapter on the double meaning of Confession - both in praise of God’s glory and in our own laying bare of our sin before the sheer glory and beauty and holiness of the One True God - whose praise thereafter acknowledges such contemplation of the divine mercy and compassion in Christ Jesus and the Gift of the Holy Spirit with regard to human sinfulness that we are ever set upon an utter dialectical journey of double confession that the cosmos will indeed be filled the Glory of the Triune God for ever! Really; absolutely really!!! Or just try Rev chs 4 & 5 ...

Peter Carrell said...

From Bryden (sorry, pushed 'delete' by mistake instead of 'publish'):

I don’t know Alison if you know the film, Dead Poets Society, in which Robin Williams plays the role of a literature teacher at a prestigious boys’ academy. Well; as he’d say, “Thank you for playing” - sincerely. However, I can assure you my question was and is no “trick question”; it is most important. And thank you Tim for nicely amalgamating both sides of my old 45 vinyl with your paraphrase of both Peter’s question and my own. (Even if I do not quite agree with you thereafter about how we may seek to navigate the necessary issue of the hermeneutics of the Scriptural canon - see https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/40623476/Lions%20Work%20ed%2011.pdf if you can be bothered!)

Bryden Black said...

Alison; given the way comments on this thread began, you might be interested now in this delightful interview and the book they speak of:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/08/when-god-spoke-greek

Enjoy!