Thursday, September 29, 2005

Text and Story

The Bible constitutes the text of our faith community. In being such, it is essential to our understanding of who we are for it tells our Story. We are in the nasty habit of using the Bible to prove our views and refute those views that threaten our own instead of letting the Bible speak anew for itself. We have been doing this ever since the church bowed its head to science, thereby hardening theology into a series of propositional “truths.” The biblical narrative (our family Story) became the dispensable "chaff" out of which doctrinal “nuggets” were lifted and then exported around the world. “A theology which has as its point of reference only ‘truths’ which have been established ‘once in for all’- and not the Truth which is also the Way- can only be static and in the long run, sterile” (Gustavo Gutierrez). Why must we subjugate the Text to scientific, objective empiricism? Can we release the Bible to be what it claims to be, free from the rule of modernity and our own agenda? How can we read the Living Word of God and let it speak into our context?


Kistenichs said...

Hi Phil,
your words have helped me tonight. I am preparing a message on malachi 1, which contains a verse that leads to the doctrine of election and reprobation (v.3). This truth is so heavy, it literally hammered me down with its weightiness. How can one do justice to this doctrine in one sermon? But now that you've reminded me of the value of the story I will instead emphasize our great God who continues to love his people even after centuries of outright rebellion. Isn't his love amazing!
His loving election is irreversible. It shows itself in Israel's history and is a source of great comfort for the believer.
How can we read the Living Word of God and let it speak into our context? Only with the help of the Spirit who guides us into all truth. And only with the help of a faith community that stirs up one another to passionately walk the Way.
Thank you my friend. Tonight you have just been that.

Kistenichs said...

My English :) Of course it should say:
Tonight you have been just that.
Sometimes the word order makes a world of difference :)

elnellis said...

daniel, thanks for stoping by. i love your deep love for Scripture and miss hearing you talk about it and lead others deeper into it.
it must be nice to finally be doing all that in german!

Josh said...

Phil, whats up bro my names Josh, friends of bryan, and was really enjoying you blog bro. You and bry are like the siskel/ebert of postmodern cyber digging it. You both should keep writning...anyways...about what you wrote...

your wrote: "letting the Bible speak anew for itself."

I was wondering what it is exactly you think the bible is speaking anew about. About all things...or is it not really it jsut revealing the multiple sides of truth possibly. Is it that truth is never black and white...just more and more revealable or knowable. Maybe its like were never supposed to say we "know" anything but that we are "learning" more about something.

you wrote:Why must we subjugate the Text to scientific, objective empiricism?

I really like this question. However, I didn't know what empiricism it turns out it means the view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge. I would agree that this is the Hugest problem today. People wanting to experience each other, God, and his Word most of all. What we need today is for encounter to become the only source of knowledge....what do you think?

you wrote:Can we release the Bible to be what it claims to be, free from the rule of modernity and our own agenda? How can we read the Living Word of God and let it speak into our context?

I was wondering if you could clarify this thought for me...what exactly does the Bible claim to be? Like lately i say its the family story...but it never says that. It says its truth..and then what.

I think i read somewhere that we are to be not only hearers (or readers) but doers of the Word. I think its possible it will only speak to us then...because then it becomes real I least thats whats true in my encounters with the Lord.

elnellis said...

hey josh, welcome and thanks for stoping in. good questions! for some reason it always comes a shock to find out someone is acutally reading this stuff and takes the time to engage with it!

-with your question as to letting the bible speak anew... i was refering to the particularity of God's interraction with man. the bible tells us very little "data" about God, it does however, give us endless, selective accounts where God engages relationally with man. although all of life is spiritual and God is everywhere, he functions with you and i inside of time (ie: God never had the experience relating to me until i was born... wow!). and while there is "nothing new under the sun" God is at work making all things new... so truth out of context does not make sense. for the bible to speak anew today is for the word to become the living word for us now, which should look very different than what it looked like last week, especially 500 years ago.

-about objective empiricism... i was using the term in the sense of a scientific reliance on observable and quantifiable data, then objectifying (solidifying) the results to affirm a sense of "now i have finally figured God and faith out!" objective empiricism is what gives us famous christian formulas for spirituality: like the 7 steps to freedom, the 4 spiritual laws... and many more. you hinted towards a our hunger for experience as being a problem. i don't necessarily see it that way. such a desire is telling of a spiritual need that has gone unmet for many people in our country... and yes! i do believe that it will be encounter with the other that not only in-forms us but forms us each into what God desires for us.

i'm not sure what you mean by saying that the bible claims to be truth. my next question would be "what parts? all of it? the principles behind it? the doctrines embeded in the story?" when we say the bible is truth (and is therfore inerrant/infallible) we are indanger of biblidolotry. i would say the bible is our sacred text which indeed leads to the Truth, who is also the Way- the bible leads us to a relational encounter with Jesus. and it does so in our specific contexts. one author called the Incarnation the "scandal of particularity"... for it is in the "mud, the blood and the beer" (johnny cash) that encounter takes place.

and yes josh, i agree with your last statment that our theology must propel us to act on behalf of the other. and this is the tricky part... do i live the gospel with assumption that i have it all figured out? that i know what the "good news" is and how to "give it" (or force it) upon the other? or do i live as a sojourner, on the road with many other half-way-believers, not yet-believers? that sounds more incarnational to me...

wow! long comment, let's keep talking, it helps me to process too!- thanks josh

Josh said...

Hey Phil, thanks for the thought out response. ( I think i'm on learning overload right now, but its all sweet)

I really like what you had to say about how God relates to us. From the Bible we discern its through relationships. He tells us what he's like....he's like a King, He's like a rock, like a shepherd, like a mighty warrior, he's like a Father, he's like a husband, he's also a good son, he's merciful, he's wrathful, he's mighty, etc. Yet never along the whole journey does he tell us what it means for Him to be all those things at once. So in all reality we have more idea about what he isn't like than what he actually is like.

I agree that truth out of context doesn't make sense. My dad taught me that when i was real little by making me turn to "judas hung himself" and then making me turn to "go out and do thee likewise". So yes and amen to that.

You said that God functions with us in the context of time. Yes, of course, but technically thats not the entire truth is it? It says before the foundations of the earth, he chose us. So it was before our actual "time" on earth that the relationship started then, right?. The Word also mentions that we have been crucified with Christ, and then goes on to say that we shared in that crucifixion, baptism, and resurrection, and glorification. So we are also in Heaven right now, right? You must forgive, I know its bad to explain mysteries with mysteries, but its sorta all we have isn't it?

you know i have always hated the 4 spiritual laws, i take that back, I mean i hate the way they are used. and I have never been sure why. Part of me thinks its sad that someone would need a guide to explain a faith/relationship that should be unique.

I like what you said about scientific empiricism, and I think its that line of thinking that I have always had a real bad sense about.

you wrote: i'm not sure what you mean by saying that the bible claims to be truth

The problem is this... Jesus said, Thy Word is Truth. So, then what do we do with that...I mean how else is it taken, in context out of context whatever. what are our options with that? I mean its not like O.T. Poetry, ya know?

About being a sojourner, I think that agrees with scripture. We are aliens in this world. So we are just passing by. In watching our forefathers in the faith, it seems they didn't have it all figured out. They walked by faith, and they made mistakes...i mean look at Peter right? I don't think you can force this with success. In fact, all you ever do is meet failure after failure of that methodology at work. The Crusades and alot more. My friend, we have no choce but to be on this road with half-way believers, none-believers, lukewarm believers, and the like. were surrounded by the lost...or should be.

Sorry so long, thanks for inviting further discussion phil. peace

chris and angela howe said...


I think it's important that we take a good hard look at the doctrines that we consider 'irrefutable and abosolute.'the funny thing is that depending upon which church's doors you choose to darken the list of essential doctrines will vary greatly.

For example, I grew up going to churches that taught calvanistic doctrine regarding salvation. On the other hand my wife grew up going to a church that taught you can lose your salvation of your own volition. Believe me, we've gone round and round about this and finally I had to ask myself, 'Why am I holding onto this doctrine so tightly? Theologians on both sides of the fence can argue using scripture and be quite convincing. Do I really know this for sure? Can I really know for sure? No, I cannot. I really can't.'

I only use this as an example to show that as human beings we cannot know many things about God. My hunch is that our minds are too small to wrap around who God is in His entirety.

Phil, you had it right when you said that we are sojourners in this life. We can know God, but we are also always going to be learning about who He is as He reveals Himself through our life experiences, our delving into scripture and through other people!

I've found that the longer I live the less I actually do have figured out. As for my list of 'absolutes,' it get smaller all the time. Like Bono said, "the more you learn the less you know...the less you find out as you go..."

As to how we apply God's Word in the day and age we find ourselves I honestly don't think that we are that far removed from anyone we find in scripture. Some aspects of culture were different, but many in their essence are the same. And people are people.There's nothing new inder the sun.

Perhaps I'm completely naive but I think we've made things more complicated than they need to be. But perhaps we use the whole cultural context thing as an excuse to disobey God because it's hard. It goes against everything in our fallen human nature...

elnellis said...

right on chrinisticles!