Tuesday, August 02, 2005

"Would you like Frei's with that?"

There's an amusing fictional dialgoue between Hans Frei and N.T. Wright at cafe apocalypsis. If only someone would market dolls in thier likeness so we could do puppet shows as well . . .



Nathan Logan said...

As you know, I'm shooting from the hip here, but it seems like both men make some good points.

On the one hand, Frei upholds the scripture as authoritative, regardless of what science or history may imply. This position strikes me as fairly wise, given the generation in which we live and the many deceptions of Satan in this world.

On the other hand, Wright seems to uphold the scripture as authoritative in a different sense. That is, if research is done, it will confirm the historicity and accuracy of the Bible. This, too, strikes me as wise, in that it is accurate and jives with actual experience (although I am a bit nervous on his take if what he finds externally does not jive with his view of the Bible).

So both men seem to uphold the authority of the scripture (as stated as the men were summing up in the faux-narrative), which is good.

My main question, though, has to do with how these arguments intersect with "the real world".

While Wright contends that his view is tied closer to reality, it seems to side-step the issue of faith (to some degree). Finding, unmistakably, the body of Christ, while helpful to proving His point, is entirely impossible. How do I know? God's Word revealed, accompanied with my faith, tell me so. Jesus raised from the dead.

So in that sense, I agree with Frei. I don't need outside evidences (beyond those that have already influenced me in whatever ways they have) to believe wholeheartedly that Christ was raised from the dead, bodily. The Bible plus faith is all I need.

So those issues aside (the real issues, in my mind), it seems silly to pull Biblical events or people out of their historical or cultural contexts. While external history, culture, and science will never succeed in killing my faith (God-willing), they can certainly provide meaningful insight into the context in which something was written. Understanding trade routes, for example, may provide valuable insight into the problems with Corinth in Paul's time, and why he addressed the Corinthians in the way he did. But not study of those trade routes, nor anything else, is going to convince me that Christ did not die or was not raised in body.

Please forgive me for my ignorance, and please correct me where necessary, but it just seems that all we need is God's Spirit working in us, His Word revealed, and faith in Him, resulting in loving obedience. The rest (history, science, and the like) is just icing on the cake - it may help us to better understand those things, but it won't change the nature of them.

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks for your comments, Nate. I especially commend your recognition that both of these men affirm the authority of the Bible in superlative terms. I think your comments highlight the difference of these two men, which is really a difference of epistemology. With regard to the biblical narrative Frei doesn't think that a non-storied objective event exists to get behind -- our access is mediated through the stories we choose to inhabit. This doesn't mean that there is no extra-textual reality or correspondence to reality with regard to ontology; but it does mean that if we take the world which the biblical narrative projects to be reality, it might be a questionable enterprise to step outside of it in search of the chimera of "objective reality" lying behind the text.

Wright, on the other hand, subscribes to a critical realist sort of epistemology, which claims a middle way between the naive objectivism of the Enlightenment and the skeptical relativism of postmodernity. In other words, he affirms enthusiastically that our understanding of the world is mediated by tradition and other lenses such that there is no detatched objective observer; but one can seek to bring such a perspective in conformity with reality through critical reflection. Thus Wright affirms that truth and knowledge can be a public affair, and not merely one private conviction among many. This answers your question as to how these things intersect with the "real world" -- Frei thinks that there is no "real world" outside of the narratives through which we understand it. Wright thinks that getting at the real world involves critical public discourse in our storytelling. These are generalizations, and maybe even mischaracterizations (others please comment here, as I'm only recently familiar with Frei's work in particular) -- but that's how I understand it.

Wright does not side-step the question of faith at all -- he merely suggests that matters of faith must be matters of public discourse and examination, not merely personal privately held beliefs. He might also respond to your comment, "The Bible plus faith is all I need" by saying: "You seem to also need to be capable of understanding language, which is ultimately a historical affair." In other words your comments about the supplementary helpfulness of things like trade routes may be a naive way of thinking about how the Bible is even intelligible to you in the first place. Historical context and cultural factors are a lot more significant than that! Someone had to do a lot of historical work in primary sources to find out what all of those Greek and Hebrew words even meant in the first place; lexicography is a historical discipline. When you read about events that take place in an entirely different culture, you make a lot of assumptions as to the historical situation whether you know it or not -- the question is, "are those assumptions accurate or not?"

The incarnation demonstrates that theology is really about God entering human history, and to avoid questions of history in reading the Biblical text without some sense of accountability to history may threaten to leave the Bible open to all sorts of abuse, manipulation and power-plays (exhibit A = Roman Catholic abuses in the time of Luther). Wright's sentiments seem to jive better than Frei's with Paul's statements in 1 Co. 15:14 about the effect of there being no actual historical event called "resurrection" in human history. Anyway, its probably appropriate to affirm the fact that neither Frei nor Wright think that it's okay to "pull Biblical events or people out of their historical or cultural contexts" -- they just disagree as to how we have access to these things.

Nathan Logan said...

Thanks for the clarification. I think I need to slink into observation mode here... This stuff is definitely above me.

I guess that's why it's good to be under men who have good theological training and can understand not only what is going on here, but the dangers and benefits inherent to either position.