Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Comments on a Feminist Theology Student's Blog

Here are my comments from the blog that I had mentioned before. I am continuing in dialog, and if you would like to see the full conversation you can follow the link that is provided.

I read this post, and found it very interesting. I could not resist commenting. But first let me just come out and admit my perspective. I'm one of those who you might call a fundamentalist. Actually there is quite a spectrum even within this label, and I'm probably toward the middle of the spectrum of those willing to take the name. I'm currently working on a Master of Theology, and read Tillich this semester. What you had to say sounded much like him. I really only have one question: What place does the Bible hold in what you call Christianity?

Just trying to engage in dialog,


jfile said...

You said, "Bible is foundational; it is our primary text and a cornerstone of our tradition" If I'm not reading into what you said, I think this reveals something about where we would differ.

For you the Bible is foundational--I assume this means that it is a starting place. It is what we build on. I differ here. I would say that the Bible "defines" what it is to be Christian. It is not only where we must begin, but it is where we live and where we end. You say that it is our "primary" text--a primary text might just be the texts which come from the beginning of the movement. Written by people who were involved in its founding. Rather than primary, I believe that the Bible is our "authoritative text." It has the right to make demands on us, if we are to call ourselves Christians.

Also, you said that it is "a" cornerstone of our tradition. (I guess that may depend on how one uses the term cornerstone.)I don't see how there can be any other cornerstone but the one that was laid by the apostles and the prophets and ultimately by Jesus Himself.

I don't think that our differences are because you are using philosophical language either. They are much deeper than etymology or nomenclature. Our differences hinge not on the language we use but on the epistemology we employ and the way we see the nature of ultimate reality.

9:36 PM

jfile said...

I wouldn't claim to have it all figured out. I recognize that I have my own presuppositions--just as you have yours. No one comes to the text of scripture objectively. We all read it through the lenses of tradition. I concede that. We will always see things differently, but there are certain presuppositions that can help or hurt a person's understanding. Does a person come to the text to receive or to critique? Do we come to the text willing to accept it, or do we come with the presupposition that is hostile? Do we think that the Bible's message is clear enough so that people have fairly well understood it throughout the years, or is it only since the enlightenment that people have been able to understand it correctly, or is it something else altogether?

And then there is the philosophical presupposition: Is there objective truth that exists outside of us? In what way does our perception of the world match its ontological reality, and does the universe even have an ontological reality?

The answers to these questions are the presuppositions that determine our interpretation of Scripture.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think that there really is such a thing as an objective truth that is true for everyone. I may be delusional, but I think that I'm at least reasonably consistent, and that my understanding of things is at least coherent.

11:27 PM

jfile said...

Please forgive me for coming across as if it is my intellectual understanding of things that is superior. I cannot even begin to make that claim.

It has nothing to do with me at all. I am not the one who is consistent and coherent--truth, particularly Christian truth, is.

If I may, I have another question to provoke further discussion if you are willing: How are we to get our data that makes up the picture of who Jesus is? Where does it come from?

8:37 AM

jfile said...

I have to admit that I'm no scholar of Wesley. I'm much more comfortable with Calvin and Edwards.

I would have to agree that we do know God in some sense through reason and tradition, but these other means I would understand to be inferior to Scripture. Sin (the traditional definition) clouds our minds so that we do not understand rightly through reason, tradition has also often been simply wrong (the most indisputable example of this would be on the church's response to slavery in the early American experience). And experience is hardly an adequate means to know what the ultimate truths are. Experience is so varied, and human beings are so "finite" and frail that we are poor interpreters of it without aid of Scripture.

I admit my presupposition here. I accept that the Bible "is" God's revelation to man. It does not merely testify to it, nor does it merely contain it, but it is God's very word breathed out by His Spirit. I presuppose this because it seems to be the Bible's own estimation of itself. Paul said that all Scripture is God breathed. Peter said that Scripture was written as the spirit moved men to write. This is only a small sample, but if it is true, then it should be true of the whole.

With this presupposition, I would say that reason, tradition, and experience must all be governed by Scripture.

12:23 PM

jfile said...


Then do you admit in the above statement: "I don't believe that God has ever given direct revelation to humanity." That your view is in conflict with the Bible's statements about itself? 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21; et al.

Are you not saying that the Bible is wrong in its own estimation of itself? If that is the case, why should a person trust it in any respect?

The fact that there is a language barrier to the original languages is not an insurmountable hurtle. It may be a little more work, but it is possible to know what it says just as well as you can understand the words that I am typing.

Also, when you say that you don't believe that God has ever given direct revelation to humanity, do you mean in a written form, or do you mean in any form at all. Even Schliermacher speaks of an immediate experience of revelation when one realizes his feeling of absolute dependence. In my estimation this is not sufficient, but if even that is excluded--then God has not spoken at all, and we are left with merely man's reflections on a God that might or might not even exist. If God has not revealed himself then he is unknowable--so we might as well give up on it all because it is pointless anyway.

6:07 AM

jfile said...


"The Bible was written by pre-modern communities of faith who did not yet have a developed understanding of epistemology."

Interpretation: The people who wrote the Bible were not that intelligent.

Then why should we care what they say?

"BECAUSE it is an honest account of particular communities' of faith understanding of and relationship with God."

Interpretation: The people who wrote the Bible were delusional.

Again, this really inspires my confidence.

"I am claiming that it is evidence of the interpreted nature of Scripture and all human experience."

Interpretation: If something has to be interpreted then we really cannot truly understand it.

On this basis all communication breaks down. Maybe this is because we disagree about what interpretation is. For me, interpretation is trying to understand what a text means. It seems that for you interpretation is to find what a text really means, because what it appears to be saying on the surface cannot possibly be what it actually means because that perceived meaning is in conflict with your world view.

Yes. All human language is interpreted, but it is nonsense to say that on that basis we cannot truly understand one another. You, yourself are working on the assumption that the words that you write make sense, and you have something that you intend to say. You would probably be quite offended if I treated your words the same way that most liberal scholarship takes the Bible. I know I'm going against the intellectual tide to say that a texts true meaning is based in what the author intended to communicate--but honestly we all know this is true. It cannot be lived out practically to treat language with such skepticism.

"Where I differ from Schliermacher is in understanding this affective experience as universal, that is the same from person to person, context to context."

This I can agree with--that is, our experiences differ from context to context. Schliermacher was unjustified in making this assumption. However, we do live on the same planet. There is some kind of objective reality that this experience testifies to; however varied our perceptions may be. I would argue that if God exists at all then God must have some objective essential nature.

Of course I know this goes against the existentialist hesitancy to say anything that predicates God for fear of objectifying Him. This whole concept destroys any idea that anything can actually be known about God.

"YES...but isn't that what faith is all about? How little is one's faith in God that they need a complete instruction book, without any ambiguity or complexity?" And might I add, without any objective reality.

That's not faith--at least not in the Biblical sense. Faith in the Biblical sense has an object. The Bible never asks anyone to make a leap of faith against all possible reason. The evidence for this is that it actually gives reasons to believe. Of course there is ambiguity and complexity, but there is also something real. Otherwise the whole matter of faith is just soap bubbles.

"The Bible is not to be read for content alone."

This is true as well. I'm sure that is why God revealed it in so many different genres. I'm not particularly a proponent of Barth, but I think he is right when he speaks of speech-acts. The Bible is not "just" revealing propositional statements--it is doing something. It is commanding, it is encouraging, it is teaching, it is rebuking, it is nourishing, it is penetrating, and it is breathing life into those who read it and have their ears open to hear what it says.

7:19 PM

I'm sure that there will be more dialogue to come. Stay tuned, and if you like, respond to what I have said.


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