January 30, 2010

What's Up with Scripture?

It is not that progressives such as I are teaching contrary to Scripture, but that we are interpreting Scripture contrary to a traditional teaching.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
more on this later


MadPriest said...

What is traditional for one is revisionism for another.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Amen, brother.

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

As I heard some time ago from a colleague: Heterodoxy is your doxy; orthodoxy is my doxy.

Erika Baker said...

I think this is a really important statement to make, because so much of the public conversation centres around "you're changing the bible" - "no, we're not".

If we can truly get people to see that we're only changing the teaching but that our desire to do so is based on what we find in the bible, prompted by our own experience of life, we might get a little further.

We still need to do so much to get to a place where people respect the integrity of what we're doing rather than slam it down as revisionism or liberal license! And your thought is a concise summary of just what is actually happening.

RENZ said...

You know, as I slog my way through some reading to learn more about philosophy, history, theology, etc. It's ALL revisionism of one form or another, isn't it? The "reasserters" would argue differently...or is that what MP's point is all about? I think perhaps I am too dependent on quotation marks.

MadPriest said...

And Marilyn Monroe was JFK's doxy - or so they say.

June Butler said...

It seems to me that if the Scriptures are living words, which I believe they are, then the words are to be read and pondered anew in every age - and, yes, perhaps interpreted in new ways. Or else, the words of the Scriptures are not alive.

Of course, I could be wrong. :-)

Sr. Heather said...

I've been wrestling with the ideas of doctrine and orthodoxy of late, part of coming to terms with a Dominican vocation.

My working thesis is that we do not need to label something as doctrine if it is externally verifiable as fact. The things that orthodoxy lays claim to are the matters of belief. This doesn't mean that there is no evidence pointing to these, but that ultimately, factual verification is impossible in THIS world.

We commit our faith and stake our souls on these matters of belief. And so heresy and heterodoxy are much more threatening, because we cannot show incontrovertible evidence in one direction or the other.

I'm somewhat troubled by this, but I also think it's important to live in and engage with the great mystery.

KJ said...

I don't think that any proper Christian, by which I mean all those across the faith spectrum sincere in their pursuit of truth, appreciate learning that their efforts are idolatrous.

Doorman-Priest said...

Me too...and it gets me into trouble!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. I will try to address some of them in the longer further post I promised. But briefly,

Erika, and Mimi Yes! The lack of a belief that there is more than one possible faithful reading of a given passage of Scripture actually robs Scripture of its ability to address multiple times and place.

Renz, same point applies. Change and development is a mark of living things.

Sr. H., orthodoxy is vibrant and living because it speaks from a changing world to an unchanging Truth. Faith is, as you note, precisely dependent upon that which cannot be proven conclusively. Otherwise it wouldn't be faith, but just fact.

KJ, which is why a degree of provisionality and humility is essential. I'll be preaching on Paul's "as in a mirror dimly" next week -- but I wish more people took him at his word, and were less "doctrinaire" when it came to "doctrine"!

D-P: careful now!

MadPriest said...

Erm? And Marilyn Monroe?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ah, yes, I neglected to mention the MM / JFK liaison. I think the greater scandal was the possibility that RFK may have been involved as well, and that MM was done in by the FBI, at the behest of JEH (or "Jedgar" as he was called), whose own past was less than pure as the driven slush-fund. Somehow all of this reminds me of source criticism, but also bears reference to the horror in which the rabbis held polyandry, which in a case involving two brothers having the same woman rises to the heights of levitical naughtiness, and in fact has to do with the provenance of this very thought, in relation to my debate with Ashley Null over Henry and Arthur Tudor's respective marriages to Catherine of Aragon! So this is not far from Scripture, or our main point, at all... ;-)

MadPriest said...

Okay, enough, I give in. I promise not to be silly on your serious posts anymore, Tobias :-)

rick allen said...

I think you are certainly right that there is a real difference between those who feel they can choose to believe any reading of scipture that it can bear and those who believe that any novel interpretation of scripture must be consistent with the tradition of the Church.

Neither position precludes new understandings and developments, and neither demands a single kind of interpretation (it is tradition, after all, which recognizes the different kinds of interpretion of scripture, i.e., literal, allegorical, typological, etc.).

But one takes tradition as normative, the other doesn't. It is in that sense a classic Catholic/Protestant distinction.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Rick. The Anglican position (and if we are to be honest, the Roman Catholic) is somewhere between the two. (The Eastern Orthodox have the highest place accorded to Tradition -- it is obvious that Rome, via the Magisterium, feels itself competent to make changes to traditional teachings; so while tradition may be normative, it is not unassailable. I think in particular of teachings regarding the relative merits of celibacy and marriage, as well as other moral questions too many to number, and a few doctrinal concerns as well,)

Anglicans, of course, place tradition as a somewhat distant third in a hierarchy of authority, with reason coming first, as a necessary implement without which no teaching could take place; Scripture as the source of all particular revelation unto salvation through Christ (which could not be obtained by reason alone); and tradition as a kind of "stay" or pattern, only to be departed from when either reason or Scripture show it to be necessary.

Thus, for Anglicans, novel interpretations of Scripture explicitly do not need to be in conformity with tradition, as it is within the authority of the Church to overturn traditions based merely on past interpretations, deemed by reason no longer to be valid. (As I say, this is also in fact the modus operandi in the Roman Catholic magisterium, but usually not put so bluntly, or acted upon so swiftly, in most cases.)

MarkBrunson said...

Jesus seems to have made quite a few novel interpretations without waiting for the Sanhedrin to catch up. We're in good company.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Excellent point, Mark. It was precisely on matters of interpretation that Jesus ran into trouble. And the irony, then as now, was that he was persecuted by those who thought they knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, but had entirely missed the point of what they were about. (John 5:39, 7:52)

Jan said...

Yes, yes, yes.

Phil said...

Of course, Mark, the small problem with your analysis is, you're not Jesus.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

But then, Phil, neither are you. It is to the church that Christ committed the authority to make such decisions, and make them the church has -- and before you suggest that it is only the "whole church" hat has that competency, that has not stopped any of the various traditions from making their own interpretations, including on such a subject even of what books constitute the Bible itself!

Grant said...

In Judaism there is a tradition (PaRDeS) of 4 primary ways of interpreting scripture. There's also a mystical (i.e. early Kabbalah/Chassidic, etc.) tradition that suggest that there are 600,000 different possible (and legitimate) interpretations of of each of those interpretations of scripture. That means that there are 600,000 to the 4th Power different interpretations of scripture. I couldn't even write down all the zeros in that number. With that i mind, I suppose we can being to let go of any certainty of having it right. And once we do that, we can stop asking whether or not we're right, and start asking WHY we interpret the way we do. Maybe then we'll learn something. Maybe then we can actually let scripture live and be somehow "authoritative" for us.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Grant. The vibrancy of the Jewish interpretations of Scripture should shame the Christian fundamentalist claim that there is only one correct reading of a given text.

rick allen said...

The problem, of course, is that too large a number of possible interpretations leaves us completely free to interpret however we will. At that point the interpreted text becomes superfluous; what is determinative is what we want.

However limited the interpretive approach of many fundamentalists, they do understand that two contradictory statements cannot both be true, and that two conflicting imperatives cannot both bind.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, this, at least we agree upon. However, and this is where the divisions in the church -- or many of them -- come up, contradictory interpretations can both be binding but not at the same time or on the same people. A given interpretation may hold sway over a subset of believers, or over the bulk of believers for a time, but may over others or at another time, as Hooker says, "be clean otherwise."! As I think I noted above, the circumcision debate, the decision of the Council of Apostles in Acts, and the varying responses to both by Paul and the congregations he led, bear Scriptural witness to this very problem.

Erika Baker said...

"what is determinative is what we want."

Ah, that old canard again so consistently thrown at liberals.
How about we agree that determinative is what we genuinely believe to be true and deductable from the evidence available to us? Can we not accord each other at least that level of respect and integrity?

Of course it is tempting for me to believe that extreme conservatives ignore the truth and just believe what they want. But I'd rather take them more seriously than that and accept that they, at least, genuinely believe their interpretations to be true.

Would that we could all do that for each other, our debate would be a lot further on.

David O'Rourke said...

I have been a member of a Lutheran congregation since leaving my last Episcopal parish. The Lutheran take is that the Word of God is normative, and that the Word is experienced and known not just through the written scriptures. I am sure Martin Luther is rolling in his grave over my poor presentation of this, but I think this captures the gist of it.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

As I heard some time ago from a colleague: Heterodoxy is your doxy; orthodoxy is my doxy.

And I'm Wormwood's Doxy. ;-)

How about we agree that determinative is what we genuinely believe to be true and deductable from the evidence available to us? Can we not accord each other at least that level of respect and integrity?

Erika--that is the one thing that the Stand Still bunch can never do...grant us the sincerity of our commitment to Christ. To do that would mean that there MIGHT be more than one way of interpreting scripture...and that they might be wrong about something. Can't have that!


Erika Baker said...

I'm not so sure.
I certainly believe they are genuinely serious in their interpretation of faith, but that doesn't mean I agree with a single word they say. I believe them to be totally misguided. But I don't believe that they only hold their views because they simply want to.

There's no reason they couldn't do the same. And that doesn't just go for the Stand Firm crowd. If I'm not mistaken, Rick Allen who made this comment on this thread, is Catholic, not a fundagelical.

It's a matter of principle - do we take those we disagree with seriously, or do we consistently have to try to diminish and ridicule them to elevate ourselves.
We do have a choice here.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika. The key, I think, is to avoid in so far as possible the ad hominem -- to focus on the thesis rather than the theorist, the thought rather than the thinker. This works both ways -- we should not automatically accept something as true simply because we like the one saying it, nor reject simply because we don't like or respect the speaker. I laid out this principle in Reasonable and Holy based on a good citation from Hooker: that we are to respect truth regardless from whom it comes.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Erika--I'm not sure what gave you the impression that my opinion of conservatives is different than yours? I, too, believe that most of them are sincerely trying to hold to their understanding of the faith.

But they will not---and apparently CANNOT--do the same for us. That was my only point.


Erika Baker said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest that you thought conservatives don't hold their faith with conviction.

I had thought you were saying that the reason they could not/would not allow our views any integrity was that they would then have to consider the possibility that theirs are wrong.

And that's where I don't agree, because you can be 100% certain of your views without having to misrepresent the "opposition" at every turn.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


See my comment at the other thread. I wish I could agree with you, but my experience is that we are dealing precisely with people who cannot see alternatives, do not want to give real consideration to alternatives, and resort to misrepresentation of the opposing views. See Ephraim's review of Reasonable and Holy in the 2/21 Living Church for a stunning example!

I do think it possible to argue reasonably, and without misrepresenting a counter-arguments: this is, I hope, my own mode of work -- but I think an objective reading of the "other side" does reveal a good deal of misrepresentation or misunderstanding. I am sure that conservatives hold their faith with conviction -- that is not the issue. The problem is that they tend to deny the same of those with whom they disagree. We are always advancing an "agenda" rather than dealing with the pure word of Scripture (as they see it).

Erika Baker said...

Quite, Tobias, that's what I'd been saying.

And maybe I should just let Rick's comment go unchallenged, but occasionally, my "I'm so fed up with this" button gets activated:-)

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I had thought you were saying that the reason they could not/would not allow our views any integrity was that they would then have to consider the possibility that theirs are wrong.

Actually, that IS what I'm saying--but I'm not sure what your real problem with me is?

In my experience, people who insist that there is only ONE way of reading scripture (e.g., people who talk about the "plain meaning of scripture") do so because they need certainty. They want to be sure that they understand EXACTLY what God is and what God requires of them. They believe their salvation depends on knowing those things.

For so many of the people I've known who took that line, the inerrancy of the Bible is the foundation of their faith. If you call it into question, the whole edifice begins to rock. And this is why they cannot grant that a progressive MIGHT be correct about LGBTs. (Never mind that they've been able to do it with divorce, etc.) Latitude in reading the Bible puts more responsibility on the individual to discern the will of God--and I certainly understand why that is a scary proposition!!

I often ask myself, "What if the conservatives are correct? What if God really DOES hate homosexuality?" And I come up with the same answer Louie Crew does: At the resurrection, I will fall on my knees in front of the One who made me and say "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." And based on my experiences of the Jesus I met in Bible, I believe God--whose property is always to have mercy--will.


P.S. Word thingie is "Unskert." And that's me! Or as Margaret said in her blog post today, "concerned, but unafraid." :-)

Jim said...

Jesus and Paul were revisionist Jews.


Erika Baker said...

Thing is, Doxy, I am just as militant as they are, just as sure of my views. There is, in my mind, not the slightest possibility that the conservatives are right on homosexuality.

So my problem is that it IS possible to be 100% sure of the correctness of your view, but that this does not automatically mean that you have to lie about your opponents or diminish them or ridicule them.

In practice, the two go hand in hand to such an extent that we genuinely forget that they are not necessarily linked.

Their views HAS integrity, although it is 100% absolutely, totally and completely wrong.

I'm (foolishly!) expecting the same kind of treatment from them, and although I know I won't get it, I shall not stop demanding it.

JCF said...

The Lutheran take is that the Word of God is normative

Well, this Episcopalian's take is that the Word of God is JESUS! ;-)

However limited the interpretive approach of many fundamentalists, they do understand that two contradictory statements cannot both be true

But said fundamentalists (of any religion), rick, usually demand the right to FRAME any given subject in an "x does not equal not ex" way.

Too often religious liberals are put on the defensive, because they are presented these sort of frames, and expected to respond (when really, BOTH sides of the "x/not x" frame are either totally false, or reductio ad absurdum).

Example: "Show me same-sex marriage in the Bible". Are you kidding me? I can't prove acceptable opposite-sex marriage from the Bible! [Brides as chattel? No thanks.]


The Subject of Frames brings up a deeper question, though: sometimes I think that our political discourse (a generous way to put it!) is rapidly descending into Babel.

The saying goes (attributable to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, maybe? It may be older than that), "You're entitled to your own opinion. You're not entitled to your own facts."


In this era when BOTH Fox News and MSNBC are counted as "news channels", what we see ARE two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT sets of "facts", w/ two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT groups of (U.S.) Americans getting their worldviews shaped, and reinforced by them.

What we see in the political media world, is bleeding into our religious conflicts: two (or more) different sets of "facts": Creationism, or (Divinely Inspired and Underwritten) Scientific Hypotheses, or Natural Law (ConEv, Mainline/TEC, and Popoid, respectively). All mutually unintelligible (well, perhaps not the First and Third).

I keep looking for some "Big Neutral Referee" to yank "Faux News" off the air . . . but that's not gonna happen [Even an administration 100 times more Lefty-Lib than Obama's would never even dream of demanding they remove the word "News" (Henceforth compulsorily rebranded "Fox Right-Wing Indoctrination Channel": well, I like it! ;-/)].

And so the Babel of Competing Facts multiplies...

Tim said...

Put it all on a historical axis. (That's what traditionalists and conservatives fail to do, after all!)

Rabbis, such as Jesus, used to play fast & loose with the scriptures available to them, in search of the most charitable reading. So much so, in fact, that they called it "binding and loosing". As in, Jesus telling his disciples, "whatever you bind.. whatever you loose.." etc. That's a form of graduation ceremony: "hey, you're interpreting it right, now".

And they used to *enjoy* Torah; that being Torah as a verb, the study of the scripture. Let's not forget these things.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Tim. Spot on! One of my favorite scenes in Talmud is Moses asking God for the final correct interpretation for any given legal problem, and God telling him it's all a process, not a "thing" -- and that there is no final an immutable form, only the dialectical working out in the context of changed situations. Kind of thing that gives those bound by tradition the willies!

MadPriest said...

The dialectical working out in the context of changed situations once given unto the saints :-)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ah, MP -- now you've made it into a verse from a hymn in the "Songs of the Collective in Praise of the Glory of Our Corporate Sodality" ;-)