Biblical Authority

“Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

This is an excellent (and lengthy) article on the Christianity Today website that details the widely differing views on biblical inspiration and authority between the Northern and Southern spheres of Christianity.

Southern (hemisphere) Christianity in the 2/3 world interpret the Bible in ways that we in the North would label consvervative and literal. Kind of. And yet, as this article also shows, the South also engages the Bible in ways that we in the North would call liberal.

This dovetails with something I’ve been wrestling with lately. At school I’ve been increasingly leaning in what would be called liberal directions in terms of my theology of inspiration and interpretation. However, this kind of approach has not historically seemed to produce a vibrant, healthy church. Rather, it would seem (from my perspective) that a conservative theology of inspiration and interpretation is strongly correlated with a vibrant church life.

So, this is the wrestle: which comes first: intellectual conviction, or missional conviction? Is this a false duality? It would seem that the article indicates that, but I’m not sure how that works out within our own context. The journey continues…

8 responses to “Biblical Authority”

  1. (all the following are Regent ideas regurgitated)

    (And I haven’t read the Christianity Today article because of laziness)

    Conservative theology sometimes goes hand in hand with highly structured church – something that apparently does quite well at growing and tithing and such.

    Medieval interpreters apparently had a good grasp of what was presented as factual and what was not, along with a broad perspective on canon. Leaving aside their obsession with allegory, it would seem that this “liberal” theology (I.E. Genesis 1-11 doesn’t need to be all scientific facts, but rather facts about God) did pretty well. (Augustine as one example) They produced some good mission too (Lindisfarne).

    I would agree that the “intellectual” church has sometimes done poorly. There are probably excellent reasons for this. Sounds like a doctoral thesis of some sort. :/

    I will say that the modern pre-understanding of how history must be written should be defenestrated when reading the Bible.

    Missional Conviction: The intellectual church probably has an edge on mission to care for the earth and thus the people that live on it.

    After weeding through the Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics (1982!) I’m ready to say the evangelical world is in a pickle with this whole issue.

    Single author inspiration is perhaps better posited as: maturing communal/canonical inspiration.

    A lot of ideas that aren’t mine. Yay. =)

  2. Cheers for the (regurgitated) input Cam. I am oozing with appreciation that you used “defenestrated” in a sentence! Well done.

    As for the Chicago Statement (did you actually read the whole thing?), I’d say that you’re right that it’s a pickle all right. A house of cards if you ask me. Which nobody probably is.

  3. In 1984 Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled “The Great Evangelical Disaster”. In chapter two of that book he opens with the following illustration:

    “Not far from where we live in Switzerland is a high ridge of rock with a valley on both sides. One time I was there when there was snow on the ground along that ridge. The snow was lying there unbroken, a seeming unity. However, that unity was an illusion, for it lay along a great divide; it lay along a watershed. One portion of the snow when it melted would flow into one valley. The snow which lay close beside would flow into another valley when it melted. . . .

    “The snow lies along that watershed, unbroken, as a seeming unity. But when it melts, where it ends in its destinations is literally thousands of miles apart” (Schaeffer 43-44).

    The watershed issue of the Evangelical church, Schaeffer goes on to argue, is the inerrancy of Scripture. From where else would Christians get a record of God’s interaction with humanity? From where else would believers derive a basis for their faith? From where else would we read of Jesus, His teachings and substitutionary death on the cross? Those who would seemingly discount the complete relevance and authority of scripture, he argues are like the snow on that ridge: they may appear to form a unity on the mountain, but when spring comes they end up thousands of miles apart.

    The question that you conclude with seems to me a sort of chicken and the egg kind of quandry. I wonder, though, if we often over think faith to exclusively mean giving mental assent to something, rather than being more holistic in our understanding – therefore, creating the ‘false duality’ that you suggest. Perhaps the moderns and postmoderns both have it wrong? As finite beings we can often construe of, focus upon, and carry out one aspect well: either the intellectual side, or the missional side of things. It is truly the work of the Spirit to bring the two together in holistic unity.

    Hopefully I didn’t take up too much space. Some of what I wrote is abbreviated and may thus come across as incomplete. I at least wanted to dive into a couple of points, while minimizing the word-count.

  4. Hey Colin, thanks for the thoughts. And no, you didn’t take up too much space. In fact, you easily could have said more. In particular, since I haven’t read Schaeffer before, is he saying that evangelicals must believe in the inerrancy of Scripture?

    But I agree with you totally that I want to say both intellectual and missional excellence. I think that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are only what they should be when they are interactive and parallel with one another.

  5. There is probably no better way to write something that is utterly ignored than to reply to a two-week old blog. But your question, Matt (about the vibrancy of the church not matching up to the more liberal theology that might make the most sense), is worth it because it strikes me as one of the central questions that I have struggled with for a long time, and your voicing it made me give it another go in my head.

    Recently I read that pessimists are statistically more correct in their predictions than optimists, but in spite of their poorer accuracy, optimists are more successful and happy in life. Seems to me there is a correlation here with what you are saying. I can’t really talk my brain into believing that at least a slightly liberal theology isn’t more true, but that slightly conservative communities seem to live better lives (yes, I admit I’m writing off both extremes). Is it possible that just like it’s better to be more optimistic than reality seems to warrant, it’s also better to point communities in a direction that is slightly more conservative than our intellectual judgment would suggest?

    One might also apply the metaphor of needing to factor in gravity when aiming an arrow. If gravity in this case is our tendency both to take too much pride in our own judgments and to have too much laziness to act well when given too much freedom, then we may need to point our communities toward a theological vision that is a little more traditional and submitted than our actual theology might hold to be true. Can we do this with integrity? It seems to me that it’s what works the best.

  6. Thanks for leaving the comment Walter. I get emailed whenever someone comments, so at least for me it doesn’t matter if the post is old or not. It’s good to have some thought from someone for whom this is more than mere theory. There is little to no rubber hitting the road in my life so far.

    Those stats are interesting, as are your connections to church life. I wonder if there’s another way of looking at these things that doesn’t require a dichotomy. But I haven’t seen anything yet that isn’t.

  7. I suspect the only way out of the dichotomy is a community that contains it well – i.e. the vibrancy and the thoughtful theology are well respected within the same community even though only a very few are actually likely to embody both themselves. Merry Christmas, Matt.

  8. You’re probably right about the community part Walter. I’m slowly learning to shed my culturally accrued individualist bias when it comes to dealing with theological problems. Slowly.

    Merry Christmas to you too!

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