Saturday, March 14, 2009

A theology of the Bible discussed

Hey folks, this is a long email to a friend of mine who I am having a discussion with about the KOG. What I discuss is a way of reading the Bible, and I thought it might be interesting enough to share. I apologize for not editing it down, but I need to hang out with my kid.


Ok, I'm gunna finally try to give a decent response to your thoughts here. I have been excited to respond for a while just haven't had the time/energy to put pen to paper (so to speak). Like I've said, I'm excited because I think we are getting to the crux of things, and that's where good conversation happens.

The points in your post I would like to highlight are these:

"I think what has also turned me off a bit to that part of the conversation has been the way of talking about the Kingdom in a way that it is we who are bringing it about."


"I would say that I root a lot of my understanding of the KOG in Romans 5, where Paul outlines Jesus as the New Adam and His recapitulation of humanity."

Ok, before I talk more about the KOG (which I might not get into in this email), I wanna talk a second about how I think that you and I read scripture differently. And I only dare discuss this because I feel at this point you know that I respect you as a Christian and as a theologian. So, even though I will be communicating in such a way that proposes my way of reading scripture as being somehow better, please understand I hold that opinion humbly, realize I could be wrong, and regardless do not consider it the measure of a Christian. But it's useless to try and pretend that I think all theologies or strategies of reading the Bible are equally valuable because I don't and if I did, what would be the point of discussing it. Anyway, here it is.

I imagine, from reading your thoughts thus far, that you read the scriptures through the lens of a systematic theologian. Which means that there is a kind of meta-narrative or philosophical schema, a systematic theology is what I'm saying, that scripture then fits into. Now don't hear me wrong here. I trust that your overall structure is Biblical and I'm not suggesting that it is something made up "outside" of the text and superimposed on top of it. We can have conversations about who's overall systematic theology is more biblically sound then the other, and that's a useful conversation to be sure, but I am talking about something different here.

The theology riding underneath your strategy (forgive my assumptions, please correct me where I am wrong) is that of God's, how should I say, hands on approach to the creation of the scripture. I don't know if you go as far as inerrancy but I assume that you believe that God's inspiration of the Bible means a handful of things. For example, that there is coherent "truth" that is represented throughout the text. That there are no serious contradictions in teaching or doctrine in the Bible. That the Bible itself is sufficient for our faith. Etc. How am I doing so far? (btw. don't assume I'm too big a heretic yet, I'm not saying I disagree with all this, entirely)

So what, then, is a different view of the Bible? I believe that God was active in inspiring the events of the Bible as well as the folks who wrote down those events, as well as the communities who edited and canonized those accounts. I also believe that God has been active in the communities that have read them over the centuries, and still is today (no disagreement so far, I bet). However, I also believe that at every step of the way, humanity was active in the process as well. In the events, the stories told, the creation of the text, and the interpretation. I think the creedal statements about Jesus work for scripture as well – entirely God (inspired) and entirely man (man made).

Therefore, I don't believe that the Bible offers us a perfect, consistent, systematizable, truth. Rather, I believe that the Bible is a man made/God inspired text that we read, study and meditate on for a lifetime to, hopefully, through prayer, understand more and more about God throughout our life.

So, I am ok with there being tensions in the Bible, and here's my point. I believe that the stories about Jesus as represented by the Gospel writers (at least Mt, Mk & Lk) present to us a teaching primarily concerned with the Kingdom of God, and our activity in it. Whereas the teachings of Paul are primarily concerned with something else (I'm not sure how to say it, maybe 'the theology and ontology of the Christ event"?). And that these two things, though not exactly at odds, are in tension with one another. Which is why churches have a "canon within the canon" meaning parts of scripture that they concentrate on, dictated, I would argue, by whatever theological superstructure they come to the Bible with.

However, I believe that if we instead come to the scripture without attempting to find an overarching superstructure of truth we will be able to do justice to the tensions that exist in the text.

So, for example, if the question is: Is the KOG up to us, or up to God, the answer can be YES.

Now, to your point about the Emerging Church, do I think that sometimes some of us fall to far on the side of human responsibility, as a reaction to our evangelical roots that we felt were in error on the other side, yes. Which, actually, is why I originally sought you out as a conversation partner, to provide that tension in my own life. Because I believe that the tension is itself, biblical (I'd love to see a systematic theology based around the idea of tension, maybe I'll write one someday).

I'm excited to hear your thoughts on this.

Grace and peace,


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