Part 6, but a relevant view/opinion (since all we cna do is state an opinion):
Reading Scripture After Inerrancy
How shall we read Scripture? And how shall we organize its diverse witnesses into a theological whole? These are questions that naturally come to mind once we have rejected Biblicistic inerrancy and the hermeneutical approach that it seems to imply. In this part of my discussion I will try to formulate some key elements in a theological agenda that takes Scripture seriously without entailing a docetic-like rejection of Scripture’s genuine humanity. I go into further detail in my essay.
a. Scripture as Ancient Human Discourse
God gave us Scripture in words written by many ancient authors in diverse social and historical contexts, so it seems to me that we best honor this design by treating the Bible as the ancient text that it is. If we wish to read the Epistle to Romans well, we will try to receive it as Paul’s words and, in doing so, to receive it by informing ourselves about the historical situation and context of Paul’s day insofar as this is feasible.
Our attempt to discern the aims, intentions and ideas of a biblical author will not provide a “determinate meaning” that guarantees we will get Scripture right. Nevertheless, we can achieve a sufficient sense of confidence in our understanding of Scripture, even a sense of certainty, that allows us to “run with it” in our attempt to understand God and the human situation.
Second, our attempts to read and understand Scripture should never be reduced to a singular pursuit of the author’s aims and intentions. Authors also convey unintended meanings (which careful readers might sense), and there are any number of other things that might interest readers. Good interpretation will ask questions about the author’s intentions and motivation, or even questions about what modern science can tell us about a given book of the Bible, respecting both its author and implied audience. Though historical, linguistic, sociological and theological questions may be quite foreign to the intentions of the particular biblical authors, there is no reason that readers should not put these queries to the biblical text and benefit from the answers.
b. Discerning Unity from Biblical Diversity
When we read the Bible with historical and contextual sensitivity, we discover fairly quickly that Scripture does not speak consistently on all matters. But in many other cases we find Scripture’s undeniable beauty, as it encourages us to love God and neighbor with a spirit of abandon and self-sacrifice. If this is right … if Scripture speaks the truth through often perceptive yet warped human horizons … then how can we piece together a useful and coherent understanding of God and of his relationship with us? How can the Bible, as a diverse and broken book, serve as a primary source of our theological insight?
First, if we keep in mind that every text in Scripture provides an “angle” or perspective on the truth, then we are reminded thereby that all of Scripture, even its most broken elements, speak a word from God. There is no need to resort to some kind of “canon within a canon” that excludes parts of the Bible from the theological conversation.
Second, in spite of Scripture’s obvious diversity, the overall impression is one of unity. The Bible was assembled by editors and theologians who sought to present a portrait of the human situation and of God’s redemptive plan to put it right; they were “systematic” in some respects. One result is that Scripture as a whole creates the impression of a coherent story … of what one scholar has called a “theodrama.” 1
In particular, the shape of this biblical story explicitly points us to a third principle for organizing our theology. Namely, our theology should grant priority to Jesus Christ … to knowing him, his teachings, and the redemptive significance of his resurrection, ascension and eventual return. The entire canon of Scripture, with its first testament leading up to Jesus and the second reflecting back on his life, is oriented around the revelation of God in Christ.
Fourth, God speaks both explicitly and implicitly in Scripture. For example, he speaks explicitly in Deuteronomy 6 when he invites us to love God with all of our heart, and in Matthew 5 when he tells us to love our enemies. In these cases the human author’s ordinary meaning stands very close to God’s meaning. God speaks implicitly in other texts, where there might be a very great distance between the human author’s meaning and God’s. Such is the case when the human author of Deuteronomy portrays God as demanding the slaughter of Canaanites. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that this portrait of God is warped and implicitly attests to the broken condition of the biblical author and of our world.
The practical implication of a “dark text” is not that we, as modern Christians, have better insight and ethical fiber than the biblical author. Rather, the implication is that all of us are like him … all of us have “Canaanites” that we hate. So we stand together with the author of Deuteronomy as broken human beings in need of Christ.
The task of rightly relating the Bible’s diverse texts is fostered by a fifth element in our theological reading of Scripture, which usually goes by names like “progressive revelation,” “redemptive history” or, more recently, “trajectory theology.“ All of these approaches reflect a belief that, in the nature of things, God’s continuing conversation with humanity gradually unfolds within the emerging contours of history. God speaks first through creation, then through the Old Testament, then in Christ, then in the New Testament, and then through the ever-present and continuing voice of his Spirit (including its activity in and through the Church). It is fairly easy to see that there must be something right about this progressive understanding of divine discourse, both logically and substantively. Logically, whenever God speaks to us, it goes with the territory that there is some measure of “progress” in our understanding of God.
Will trajectory theology not lead us “wherever the winds of culture blow?” This is an understandable and very reasonable concern, and we should make every effort to insure that our theological work does not simply mime the latest social fashions. At the same time, we really must admit, I think, that trajectory theology has always been far-reaching and surprising to those on the conservative side of theology. Trajectory theology led the early (largely Jewish) Church to embrace uncircumcised Gentiles and led the later Church to renounce slavery and polygamy, two social institutions that were permitted in both Testaments. And in the case of slavery, it was indeed the “wind of culture” … especially the Enlightenment critics of Christianity … that contributed to our understanding of human freedom. 2 So we cannot easily say beforehand where (or how) the Spirit might lead us as it guides us in reading Scripture.
Though I’ve not spelled it out up to this point, the foregoing discussion of trajectory theology implies another principle that should be at work in our reading of Scripture. Namely, a healthy use of Scripture should recognize that theology can by no means depend on Scripture only. Christian theology, as it reads and seeks to follow Scripture, must be ready to move beyond Scripture in some cases. And when it does so, this theological move is not foreign to the Bible but rather invited by it. That is, paradoxical as it might sound, it’s quite biblical to go beyond the Bible. The goal of biblically informed theology is not merely to go where the Scripture goes … we must also be ready to go where God, through Scripture, is pointing.