Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jesus Is Lord

I was recently incited to worship by a paper given by Marianne Meye Thompson. It was about the Lordship of Jesus, which is something I've been thinking about lately, and since I'm terribly busy this week I thought I'd reproduce part of it here for your reading enjoyment, hoping it will have the same effect on you.

By the way, in reading the following don't get too nonplussed by her comments about meeting those of "other religions" with kindness and acceptance. Remember she says "as much as one can", and realize that the rest of her article makes it pretty clear that she believes salvation can be found nowhere else but in Christ alone. The balance of honoring what's true and correcting all that errs in the worldview of others follows Paul's own pattern in addressing the Gentiles (Acts 17:22-34).

Our context is no more pluralistic than was the context of Paul or of any of the apostles who lived, worked, and taught in the Roman empire of the first century of this era. Although people are fond of saying so, we do not live in unprecedented times. The world of the early church knew of the claims that there were indeed “many lords and many gods.” There were claims for the gods of nationalism and power, such as the Ceasars and Rome; for the various gods of foreign and mystery cults, such as Isis and Osiris; local and civic deities, such as Athena, Artemis, and Apollo; the gods of chance and fate, such as fortune, fate, and luck; and the generic life force of the universe. Precisely in the context of such claims, Paul affirmed that there is “one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Our world, too, knows of “many lords and many gods” – and many of them take the same form as they did in Paul’s own day – nationalism, foreign deities, fate and fortune, and the pantheistic belief that all is God. In the ancient world, Christianity provided an alternative to the shapeless confusion of antiquity; in the modern world, it can provide the same alternative, but only if it articulates the gospel clearly.

In such a world, it is urgent that the Church have the courage to speak its belief in the one Lord, for this is the content of the Gospel. In making this proclamation, it must be clear that it does not seek to add another deity to the pluralistic mix, but that it intends to bear witness to the Lord who is “above every name,” for he is the one whom God has “set above all rule and authority, all power and dominion.” In other words, the foundation of the church’s confession and proclamation who Jesus is, through God’s mercy and grace, for all the world and also for us. The confession that Jesus is “my personal Lord” is not the same as the confession “he is Lord.” And unless we truly believe that he is Lord, we ought not to make the confession he is “my Lord,” because to do so is tantamount to idolatry, honoring one lord among many lords.

As one author put it, “To assert today that the one Creator God has revealed himself fully and finally in Jesus Christ is to risk criticism on the grounds of arrogance or intolerance. The mission of the church, however, does not commit Christians to the proposition that there is no truth to be found in other religions. All philosophies or religions which have some ‘fit’ with the created world will thereby reflect in some ways the truth of God. [This] does not, however, imply that they are therefore, as they stand, doorways into the new creation. That place … is Christ’s alone” (N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon [Leicester: Inter-Varsity; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986], p 79).

If the church compromises its witness to the Lordship of Christ, then it has ceased to be the church of Jesus Christ. But in proclaiming and living this news as good news, we must be certain that our mode of confession matches the trajectory of the self-giving and self-emptying of the crucified one who loved us and gave himself for us. So question 52 of the Study Catechism asks, “How should I treat non-Christians and people of other religions?” Answer: As much as I can, I should meet friendship with friendship, hostility with kindness, generosity with gratitude, persecution with forbearance, truth with agreement, and error with truth. I should express my faith with humility and devotion as the occasion requires, whether silently or openly, boldly or meekly, by word or by deed. I should avoid compromising the truth on the one hand and being narrow-minded on the other. In short, I should always welcome and accept these others in a way that honors and reflects the Lord’s welcome and acceptance of me.”

If this is what the catechism asks of us in relationship to people of other religions, how much more should we deal with friendship, kindness, generosity, and forbearance with our sisters and brothers in Christ. In other words, the virtue we must seek to cultivate is not the American virtue of tolerance, but the biblical virtue of humility. Humility is not the same as tolerance, for humility recognizes that a word of judgment may always be addressed to us, and that there are logs in our own eyes which we need to remove. Humility is the stance that we, as those who are united in baptism to the death and resurrection of our Lord, must seek. We have a long ways to go before we show the kind of compassionate and courageous love which Jesus demonstrated to the tax collectors and sinners as he welcomed them to his table. We forget the scandalous character of his act, as we forget the shameful character of his death on the cross, which he endured for us while we were yet sinners . There will be a profound irony and, indeed, shame if those of us who insist most vociferously that “Jesus is Lord” are also known to be characterized by a lack of humility and love.

But as the catechism states we must also “meet error with truth.” There is no formula — nor has there ever been — a formula for how one measures and mixes truth and forbearance. Paul’s unflagging commitment and unfailing compassion can remind us that we can never compromise on our zeal for truth —or for forbearance. This is neither an easy road to walk nor an easy witness to bear. But let us also be reminded that where the church fails to hold fast to its commitment to Christ as Lord, and therefore to hold and speak this truth in the humility of Christ himself, the loss is not only ours, or the church’s, but also the world’s.

Friday, February 17, 2006

What Do They Mean By "Story"?

One of the many confusions amidst Old Princeton-style pastors and theologians concerning postconservative and postliberal models is in regard to the word "story" or "narrative". Common misconstruals of contemporary use of these terms include seeing them as genre categories, or as a subjective "feelings-oriented" approach to life and the text of Scripture. Another tendency is to see the invocation of "narrative" as fundamentally opposed to historical fact; thus Hans Frei has been labelled a "liberal" because of his seemingly ambivalent disposition toward whether the events in Scripture "actually happened". The same sorts of accusations have been levelled at Barth in a previous generation. With these words in greater currency among theologians, along with the more opaque "metanarrative", which is used to talk about everything from very important stories to "worldview" in general, it might be helpful to settle on some working definitions.

Firstly, references to "story" are emphatically NOT the arbitrary exaltation of one type of Biblical literature over another, such as propositional or poetic genres. While attention is typically drawn to the overwhelming percentage of the Bible that is actually in narrative form, this point should be seen as supporting a larger claim about the fundamental nature of reality itself. Instead of seeing our world through the a canon of abstract universal laws, detached from any particularity, these theologians are claiming that the make-up of our rationality is itself a "storied" one. Our attempt to make sense out of data is to fit it into our understanding of our individual stories as well as our broader story of the world. Every individual sees the world as inhabited by key characters interacting in such a way as to drive forward a plot. Our understanding of the world has a beginning, it carries on according to the plot with various themes weaving in and out of it as challenges are overcome toward some desired final conclusion. Nothing, it is said, is exempt from this sort of thinking, no matter how empirically detached it may appear. Scientists carry on according to their own "grand metaphysical stories" by which they can make sense out of notions like "progress". Because the structure of our minds is story-like, our observations of the world are always "storied" observations - and in that sense there is no "way it is" apart from the way these events are interpreted by and fit into our understanding of "the story".

These claims impact biblical intepretation and theologizing because they reverse the priority of explanation in doing theology: instead of appealing to abstract "attributes of God", soteriological concepts, etc. and then using individual accounts in Scripture as illustrations of these definitions, narrative theology commends particular stories about God as our primary definitions with the propositional content being the commentary. Our doctrine of redemption isn't an abstract category in which "God's purchasing sinners by the death and resurrection of Christ" is one instance - we only know what redemption is because of Christ's death and resurrection! God isn't omnipotent with specific instances of God acting powerfully in the Bible - those instances define what we mean by omnipotent (a definition which includes powerfully conquering sin through weakness on the cross). In this way postmodernism's critique of "Enlightenment rationalism", which claims to operate without cultural factors and biased accounts of the world (like stories), happens to share presuppositionalist critiques against evidentialism and Christianity's critiques of secular science.

But isn't this idea antithetical to postmodernism? Isn't Christianity a "metanarrative"? Lyotard's famous definition of postmondernism, namely "an incredulity toward metanarratives", isn't the denial of this - that there are these larger stories in which people see the world - it is, at least according to Merold Westphal, rather the rejection of "totalizing" accounts which say that their view of the world is outside the mediation of a narrative. It is, as it has elsewhere been called, "the view from nowhere". Thus whilie many theologians continue to use the word in reference to a "worldview", making Lyotard's conception of postmodernism the utter denial of "grand stories" of the world (like Christianity), it might actually be rather the opposite; namely a denial of scientific rationalism that can open a space for Christianity as a "worldview". Christians don't take the Gospel writers to be recording what happened in a detached way - they're writing theologically, describing the events of Jesus' life as part of a larger narrative of God's work in the world. They weren't simply robotic biographers, noting details for the sake of accuracy - they were heralds of the Son of God, proclaiming His arrival, death and resurrection in order to defeat sin and death. Moreover, any attempt to get "behind" the text to reconstruct what really happened (something conservatives do through excessive harmonization and liberals do through radical biblical criticism) isn't a way of achieving "what really happened"; it's simply another ideologically motivated account which competes with the Gospels ideologically motivated account. All history-telling is revisionist. One either chooses to believe the account given by the Gospels as a product of divine inspiration, or one chooses to weave one's own equally ideological account.

So how does story relate to historicity? Isn't concieving as Christianity, and the Gospels in particular, as "story" tantamount to denying that anything actually happened in time and space? In Hans Frei's 1987 exchange with Carl F. H. Henry, the issue of historicity obviously became a central part of Henry's critique. Consider Frei's response, which I'll quote at length:
Of course I believe in the “historical reality” of Christ’s death and resurrection, if those are the categories which we employ. But they weren’t always the categories employed by the church. There was a time when the church didn’t talk about “the Jesus of history” and “the Christ of faith.” There was a time when we didn’t talk, as many people have talked for nearly two hundred years now, about Jesus Christ being “a particular historical event.” And it may well be that even scholars won’t be using those particular terms so casually and in so self-evident a fashion for much longer. In other words, while I believe that those terms may be apt, I do not believe, as Dr. Henry apparently does, that they are as theory-free, as neutral as he seems to think they are. I do not think that the concept”fact” is theory-neutral. I do not think that the concept “probability” is theory-neutral. I do not think that we will talk theologically in those terms, perhaps, in another two generations. We didn’t talk that way 300 years ago. One talked in that day and time much more nearly about one person in two natures, undivided, but also unconfused. And that was just as adequate and just as inadequate a way of talking. If I am asked to use the language of factuality, then I would say, yes, in those terms, I have to speak of an empty tomb. In those terms I have to speak of the literal resurrection. But I think those terms are not privileged, theory-neutral, trans-cultural, an ingredient in the structure of the human mind and of reality always and everywhere for me, as I think they are for Dr. Henry.
Frei was pointing out that the language of "factuality", divorced from distinctly Christian ways of talking, is to import an ideology - namely that of the Enlightenment rationalism which dominates biblical criticism - into the discussion to the neglect of the biblical text. Apologetics and criticism concerning the "historicity" of the Gospels took the authoritative focus from the Gospels and placed it upon the historians' own reconstruction, whether conservative or liberal. And that, thought Frei, was the chasm between the text and the reader which one ought not to fall into.

Again, in reading Frei I hope you can hear the faint but shrill voices of Van Til and Schaeffer crying out against the evangelical acceptance of the "brute fact" and the "theory-neutrual", "common ground" interpretations which we claim to reject in our apologetics. I also hope you can discern the difference between this boldly Christian approach and the subjective existentialism with which it's often wrongly associated (as recently as in a popular lecture series I've just heard). These, and not some other touchy-feely motives, or parroting of "Phil Donahue" (talk about a generational insult!) are what drive many "emerging Christians" to speak so passionately about the importance of "story" and how Christians fit into it.

There are, of course, some difficulties with seeing the theological task this way (as there are with the "Old Princeton" hyper-propositionalism), but I'll leave those for the comments (and the mostly ignored previous post about David Kelly Clark and narrative theology)!

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Last Post on TMS and Emergent

I'm not a self-proclaimed superhero fighting for accuracy and fairness in scholarship. I'm a self-proclaimed superhero who flings forks and speaks with a fake Brittish accent. But lest anyone think that my previous concerns about the latest faculty lecture series was motivated out of either a) a secret longing to be emergent b) a secret longing to be liked by "the emerging" c) a secret longing to give my children in marriage to emerging Christians or d) a self-righteous desire to be viewed as academically acceptable and "with it" or e) some other self-righteous desire to correct those who annoy me, allow me to clearly state my incredibly self-interested reason for being so irritated by the misrepresentation:

These lectures get used to weed out and destroy not just ministries who believe the views being condemned, but those who don't get in line and fire off the same strong rhetoric. That's not a theory. It's happened to us, and it's happened to several other graduates I know. The problem isn't that I've lost my respect for MacArthur and written him off - it's the opposite. I continue to refer to him in a praiseworthy way so that when he says that some label ("the New Perspective" or "Emergent" or whatever) represents the next thing rolling off the anti-Christ assembly line, those who love him (rightly) take anything less than his wholesale rejection as partnering with the Devil and possibly golfing with him on Wednesday afternoons. Hear that again - the problem with his presentation is that it encourages people to think that anyone who offers a more mild critique, or who chooses to focus on what can be learned from the movement without adopting its failures, is every bit as heretical as the most extreme elements of it.

In other words, practically speaking, the fruit of true belief becomes something other than faith in Christ evidenced in the fruit of the Spirit. A believer (or a minister) must now not only accept a basic statement of faith, but reject and denounce entire movements and organizations in order to be considered worthy of fellowship. That, my friends, is heresy. Do a word study for "factious" in Titus 3:10, and you'll know what I mean. Its divisive fruit can be seen in the way churches have been devestated, not for adopting the views being criticized, but for refusing to condemn people who see some good in it. Those who do not say "I am of MacArthur" (cf. 1 Co. 1:10-17) on the issue are thrown onto the pile of burning liberals in the valley of Hinnom. Again, this isn't a theoretical observation. My church has been torn apart by those sporting this attitude in respect to the last faculty lecture series (on the NPP). In other words, the reason I've been thrown to the wolves in my ministry in the past isn't because I don't respect these men, but precisely because I do. I'm fully aware that the divisive and decietful actions taken by those who use these lectures can't be laid at the doorstep of the ones giving them, but I'm not willing to say that they have no responsibility for the way that their words will be used.

So, for the record, when I've begged for more measured words, some more acknowledgements of positive contributions, and more nuanced critique, it's not out of some abstract or pedantic longing for "academic integrity" - it's certainly not out of bitterness. It is, instead, out of a) a genuine longing for God's kingdom to be advanced through a local ministry which is entirely focused on the advancement of the Gospel and b) an intimate knowledge of the consequences of these presentations which ultimately hinder that work among Biblically faithful ministries (to the discouragement of even those who make them).

One final note - anyone who responds to this post by reminding me that "the NPP redefines the Gospel" or "the Emergent Church doesn't know the Gospel" has already missed the point. The spectrum represented in both movements have valuable contributions to offer, and we can safely leave aside the extremes and obvious errors. There are also various elements in both movements (NPP and Emergent) that believers may safely disagree about without invoking the word "heresy" or "separation". Yet as much as they might be grieved by it, the effect of these sorts of presentations is just as often irrational suspicion as it is "discernment" (though offenders will often equate the two). Ultimately no amount of protesting and clarifying one's position from the Scriptures will do unless the opposition is thoroughly and completely rejected using the same words issued by MacArthur. Again, don't mistake that for postulating possible negative outcomes. My family and others who I love have experienced the devestation. Similarly, any insinuation that my personal experiences have simply provided me with an "axe to grind" shows that you haven't heard what I'm saying - read the fourth paragraph again.

In any case, those are officially my last words about the issue, and perhaps my last words on Soylent Green. As I contemplate shutting her down, I'm thankful for the insightful remarks, patient reproof and thought-provoking comments offered over the last 8 months.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Some More Reflections on TMS and Emergent . . .

  • Given the response to my comments in a previous post about the TMS faculty series on Emergent, I thought I'd post a few links to throw attention elsewhere and distract from my daring helicopter escape:

  • Andy Snider's getting the emergent church hysteria out of his system here and here. Andy's a good guy. Check it out.

  • There have been a few posts on The Boar's Head Tavern, including this and this. The iMonk himself bestows some kindly sympathy upon the Raja.

  • Though I've never met him, there's something I really like about Scott Zeller in the various posts I've read. Check out his thoughts here.

  • Apparently these lectures have already made their way to Germany (!) where Danny Gandy has posted his brief appraisal (translation courtesy of Babelfish).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Stop the Presses!

It's come to my attention that some people (not within my church) have contacted friends of mine in pastoral minsitry with fears about my orthodoxy because of my occasional criticisms of Phil Johnson and John MacArthur. Some of these fears are related to what is seen as me "promoting the New Perspective", which has been given a blanket billing of heresy by some concerned individuals. Beyond the fact that our church has been ravaged by such controversy in the very recent past, and the fact that we have made our position on the New Perspective clear, I'd like to point out a few things to keep in mind when reading this blog:

  • I love Phil and John: Though I have in the past criticized both Phil Johnson and John MacArthur for their reactions to various trends in evangelical churches/scholarship, I have always pointed out that I respect them and agree with them on most issues. 9 out of 10 times it's the manner in which they criticize and the way their criticisms are sometimes used to smash other truly born again believers that fuels my critique of them, not the substance of their doctrinal conclusions. I have benefitted from the ministry of Grace Community Church in a hundred ways and recognize the positive impact of these guys.
  • I am theologically conservative and orthodox: What I will never do on Soylent Green is call into question the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, the Trinitarian nature of God, the secure, electing love of God, the Chalcedonian nature of Christ, the literal death and resurrection of Christ for the penal substitutionary atonement and forgiveness of our sins, the necessity of faith and repentance plus nothing to appropriate this forgiveness and justification, the imputation of Christ's divine status of righteousness to believers by virtue of union with Him, the sealing and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of regeneration and the bodily return of Jesus in His coming kingdom. However this blog IS NOT an attempt to explain these settled doctrinal positions. It is instead intended to promote discussion, reflection, debate and refinement (not redefinition) of my thinking on other theoretical issues and implications. Because it is a scratch pad for my thoughts, it isn't a reflection of my core doctrinal convictions anymore than thoughts about whether heaven will include pets or not.
  • I am approachable: If you have problems with what I post, POST THEM IN THE COMMENTS or EMAIL ME DIRECTLY. The point of this blog is for my edification and yours, and if there are Biblical, logical or pastoral reasons for disagreement I want to be confronted with them so that I can change and grow. That's the point. If you have a question about how I define words like justification or imputation, or if you're wondering if I believe in salvation by works ASK ME! And if my answers don't satisfy you, post your concerns and tell me why not! Don't try to use this site to silently build a case for my heterodoxy. It doesn't reflect concern for me and it doesn't display integrity as a brother/sister in Christ.
  • I love debate: It's been stated above, but in case anyone missed it: don't confuse discussion with my position. I'm trying to be thought provoking. I'm trying to sort out the issues, not claim that I have them all sorted out or reporting what I have sorted out. I'm often trying to play the devil's advocate in order to elicit Biblical reflection. Moreover I have several friends involved in Biblical studies and a devestatingly handsome twin I like to toss around theological issues with, and this is my primary means of doing that.
  • I have no liberal loyalties: Much of this blog is simply reflection on books I've read. I don't endorse the views of all the authors I read, and I actively try to find the best in them, so if you don't hear me blowing them out of the water or focusing on their errors, that's intentional. I will occasionaly be critical, but for the most part my focus is on what I can learn to help me understand God's Word. So, if I'm not blasting someone who you think deserves to be blasted or if I'm blasting someone you think doesn't deserve to be blasted, don't take that as me "defining my allegiances". I'm not. If you think I am, you'll be annoyed more often than not. My allegiance is to God, the elders of my church, the people to whom I minister and to all those who have been born again. My conscience is held captive to the Word of God, but I recognize that I still have so much to learn about it!
Maybe there's more to say, but I can't think of anything else right now. If you have concerns, take this opportunity to let me know or post a comment! I don't bite, and when I do, I apologize! For the most part those who have posted here recognize all of the above, and I offer my sincere thanks for the wonderful interaction I enjoy here. The idea of starting a blog was primarily as a ministry to me, in order to find a space to dialogue and mix it up over theoretical and methodological issues that don't find a lot of relevancy in the Sunday School class. The last thing I'd want to do is mislead or confuse a brother as to the essentials of the Christian faith!

If you'd like to read the few posts where I actually mentioned N.T. Wright you can read them here and here. The posts which more off-handedly mention him are here, here, here and here. You can judge whether you thought me to be saying something inappropriate or not.

In any case, for all those reading this post with lingering suspicion, I humbly suggest you read a previous post about what I call "doctrinal politics" in the spirit of brotherly kindness with which it was intended.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Objectivity and Interpretation pt. 3

Although I considered writing a separate article for each of the four points listed below, I think it may be in the best interest of time (mine, anyway!) to simply list them in summary form in a single post. It should be obvious by now that my own answers to the questions posed in my first post are "no", "no", "no" and "no". Exegetes do not operate with methodological objectivity, nor should they. Furthermore neither the apostles nor early church fathers paid much attention to the kind of procedures and criteria foisted upon seminary students in their quest for an unbiased reading of Scripture. What may not be clear, though, is how I might answer the last question - that is, are there interpretive options that repudiate the false ideal of Enlightenment objectivity and at the same time avoid relativistic nihilism? I believe that there are. Below are listed four resources that Christians should draw upon in developing a hermeneutical bridge from the text to the reader. But before I list them, there are some general comments I think germane to the topic of theological methodology and the interpretation of Scripture.

Firstly, while the postmodern critical theories of Derrida, Rorty, and Fish may be helpful in their chastisement of an overstated modernism as "too big for its breeches", I think they are ultimately bankrupt in providing sensible alternatives for what counts as textual meaning, literary knowledge and the ethical treatment of texts. While I understand that misconceptions and caricature abound in portraying the true import of these theories (particularly that of Derrida), it seems to me that the fundamental failure to see texts as truly communicative in some meaningful way hamstrings the entire discussion.

Related to this is a second observation about method, and that is the issue of intuition. Doubtless, our perceptions of the world are often misguided and sometimes even downright mistaken - but any theory which utterly disregards our pre-critical impressions, especially of those features of the world with which we interact so often (like speech, writing and reading) is, in my view, a failure. Theory is an attempt to elucidate existing objects and practices, and one criteria of a theory's success should be the degree to which it explains phenomena adduced by pre-critical intuition. Please don't mistake this comment as an appeal to common sense - Aristotle spoke of how appearances prove to be much more complex and counter-intuitive upon investigation, and I agree with him - but these complexities have explanatory power only to the degree to which they elucidate our initial impressions. The more radical doubt a theory casts on our intuitions the more explanation and evidence we ought to demand from it - and it's here that I find the arguments of many poststructural strategies sorely lacking. In all of the claims to the author's death I haven't seen why I should believe this is so; I've yet to see an intelligible reconstruction of the crime scene much less the presentation of the body. But I'm not nearly as well-read as I ought to be on the subject - maybe some commenters can help.

Finally, I must say that the above observation has given me a gross distaste for the global claims made by literary critics about not only the nature of texts, reading and interpretation but with the nature of knowledge, ethics and (of course) God. Here, in my judgment, is where postmodern literary critics need some chastisment with no less fervor than they dish out to the modernist tradition of Western philosophy. The uneasy sense with which they never seem to "show me the money" (as mentioned above) grows into disgust when at the same time the claims made about metaphysics and epistemology are so sweeping and self-assured. I can't help but see them as "too big for their breeches". Even with my paltry knowledge of subjects philosophical (I have an undergraduate degree in history alongside my divinity degree), I can see that parallel observations about the limits and nature of language have grown alongside literary criticism in the analytic tradition. What's more, the subject of epistemology seem to have grown past many postmodern objections without the absurdly grandiose pronouncements, and with (instead) tightly reasoned attempts to answer objections, inconsistencies and explanatory failure. Postmodernism, not least postmodern literary theories, seems strangely immune to criticism by those who tout them. Does that make you suspicious? It should. With that said, here are some ways forward (note that the pictures are resource links):

1) Reformed epistemology: Knowing how to interpret a text depends upon how and how much you think a person can know. Reformed epistemology has, in my mind, has given the strongest account for what knowledge is and how it works without succumbing to the criticisms of postmodernist anxiety. The moderate correspondence theory of William P. Alston and the moderate foundationalism of Alvin Plantinga not only resonate philosophically, but theologically in that they promote a "faith seeking understanding" (i.e. a dependence upon Christian starting points). They are fundamentally presuppositional, eliminating the notion of "neutral common ground", which takes into account the most basic postmodern sensibility (there's a topic for discussion!). They imply the notion of covenant loyalty as a necessary part of what it means "to know", and know truly. Applied to Scripture this means that we should come to the text Christianly, without the apologetic pressure to prove our readings to be "objectively verifiable" to those who don't display a commitment to the Christian worldview. This requires seeing the text as not only the work of human hands, but as divine discourse (a phrase used by another Reformed philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff). The divine intention is made most clear when we see texts in their canonical setting, and divine discourse can only take place when the reader has personal knowledge of the Author.

2) Speech-act theory: While someone might want to debate the success of Vanhoozer's attempt to ground speech-act theory in theological conviction (cg. Is There a Meaning in This Text?) it seems to me that a theory of interpretation must take into account the author as a communicative agent, the text as an account of something the author did, and the distinction between the act of the author and the effects of the text. Seeing language primarily in terms of semiotics, encoded thoughts in need of contexts for decoding, is a classically Cartesian mistake upon which deconstruction depends. Moreover, the notion of a text without authorial intent is nonsense. There, I said it. The difference between noise and speech, tittles and texts, chaos and communication, is intention. Seeing texts as purposeful human actions (just as other human actions, like driving, sneezing and sex) requires the concept of intention. Speech-act theory seems to hold these things together well without reducing intention to some kind of psychologized Schleiermacherian "stepping inside the author's skin". Intention isn't about the mental state of the author, but what the author does in tending to his words with linguistic conventions appropriate to the speech-act.

3) Apostolic interpretation: The apostles (and the church fathers, for that matter) went further than a simple descriptive use of Scripture in its original context. They used it ironically, antithetically, and a number of other creative ways in order to show how God's actions in the present were an outgrowth of something He had done in the past. In his book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Richard Hays shows how Paul's use of the Old Testament was not only more sophisticated than proof-texting, but more careful as well. This involved something more than attending to the historical grammatical context but something less than arbitrary appropriation according to words or phrases which might help his argument. He instead proposes that the quotations display an intertextual melding which brings together the circumstances of his letters with the context of the quote to create new meaning. The constraints he mentions to this use of Scripture (namely 1. God's faithfulness to his promises, 2. the testimony of Jesus' death and resurrection - i.e. the Gospel - and 3. the goal of cruciform church) together with his seven guidelines listed for hearing "echoes" provide an understanding not only of how Paul used the Old Testament, but how Christians might (and in fact do) read Scripture today. Without regurgitating his argument here, I would point out that Paul's practice of reading Scripture not only emphasizes a sensitivity to the historical situation in which they were written, but with one eye to contemporary events in the church "upon whom the ends of the ages has come". This collapses the "what it meant" and "what it means" into a single category, much like Paul himself seems to do in his use of OT texts.

4) Critical realism: I'm not sure what it means to speak of "critical realism" as a full-blown epistemology, but the general attitude is one I think is key not only to doing history (as Wright deftly displays in The New Testament and the People of God) but to the interpretation of Scripture. This involves, firstly, a stance toward the text which sees it as adequately (though not exhaustively) knowable, though in a mediated sense. It also sees the role of explanatory power as an important criteria for faithfulness to the text; in other words, instead of exalting the detailed analysis of exegesis as the most important feature of interpretation it seeks to take into account the larger "narrative world", itself shaped by texts, within which the authors lived, moved and had their being (as do we!). Laying these larger paradigms over the Biblical text to see similarities and differences should be an interpretive priority of equal value as exegesis in getting at the author's intended meaning. More than that, though, critical realism is a disposition which sees that however obscured our vision may be, or however provisional our readings may be, adequate understanding is not only possible, but plausible.

Obviously more could be said. I would have liked to said more about Jewish exegesis in comparison (and contrast) with Paul's use of Scripture with an eye to the issue of "objectivity", but having mentioned these four suggestions, I'll just be content to move on!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Master's Seminary Takes On Emergent

A couple of their newest faculty lectures dealing with the Emerging Church are available on the The Master's Seminary website (click the picture above). John MacArthur introduces the topic in relationship to Biblical authority while Dr. Larry Pettegrew addresses the philosophical "paradigm" of the emerging church. Soon to follow are messages by Trevor Craigen on emergent views on man, sin and salvation, Dick Mayhue on emergent ecclesiology and Rick Holland on emergent worship and preaching. Check it out and please post your comments!