Monday, August 28, 2006
Gospel Debate (4) Written Verses Living Word
In the Gospel Debate (2) John stated the following that is similar to his response to my email. Here is post #12 as well as his response to my email. It seems that the we are starting to see that how one views the Bible radically shapes how one understands the good news.
JOHN (from previous post):
For me, and officially for the ELCA, the bible is the norm and standard for faith and life. How we understand, interpret and use the standard of the Bible is informed by an awareness that there are many apparent inconsistencies and many sides to issues as presented in the Bible—often even within the same book. Applying literary, historical and sociological analysis can often help us to see this. Also, the tools of lower textual criticism—paying attention to the variances among extant manuscripts, lead us to exercise caution, since we can see that the texts as we have them have changed in transmission—sometimes in very significant ways (as with the ending to Mark’s gospel). What this boils down to for me is that the question of what you call “sufficiency” is muddled by the need to use extra-biblical resources to gain what amounts to a seldom 100% certain standard. But then, to me that’s fine, since it’s not the Written Word in the Bible that’s the ultimate Revelation-Word, but the Living Revelation-Word in Jesus Christ. Also above the written Word (for me) is the Proclaimed Word that’s inspired by this Christ. It’s these forms of the Word that produced the Word of the Bible. In other words, I see the Bible as sort of “frozen slices” of Living and Proclaimed Word, passed down to us across a chasm of time from ancient people of faith. This passing down was, of course, mediated along the way by people like medieval monks, renaissance scholars, and eventually more modern people of faith who used (and still use) use scholarly methods to aid them in transmission. And thank God for this—since these frozen slices provide the meat for countless sermons and a major vehicle for the Spirit of Christ to teach and guide the church. Have you ever stopped to think, though: what would it be like if we didn’t have the Bible? Would God’s Revelation continue to be available? My answer is yes! The Bible isn’t the source of that Revelation...it’s the Living Christ himself!
JOHN (Response to email):
"It seems to me that you want to accept the truth claim of eternal life with Christ without the truth-claim of the death He saves us from. If the Bible points us to the truth-claim of the Living Christ---what does this Christ save us from? What is that truth claim?"
I think it's not a matter of not accepting the truth claim, it's a matter of a different understanding of the nature of that truth claim, and of how it should be used.
Certainly the promise of eternal life saves us from the fear of what might happen to us after we die--whether that be eternal suffering in the flames of hell or eternal nothingness or isolation.
To me, I have the experience of salvation from that fear in the present, and that enabel me to experience a different kind of salvation here and now--a salvation for--salvation for growing in love for God and neighbor and care of God's creation. I can talk about this kind of salvation with confidence...that because in Christ I have the hope and assurance of eternal life with God, I'm freed from a self-centered preoccupation with earning my way into heaven--free to spontaneously live out a response to God's love in Christ and to leanr to follow my Lord in a life of self-emptying love and service. These are present "realities" that I can confidently bear witness to based on my own experience. I don't have the experience--and neither does anyone else--that enables me to say with any certainty what the nature is of God's salvation after death. Death is like a great curtain of mystery; the Scriptures themselves are hardly homogeneous in their portrayal of what is to come on the other side of that curtain. All I can do is trust the fundamental promse that God will hold onto me in death even as God holds onto me in life...and that somehow there wil be some way of being in relationship wiht god and wiht others i ahve known in this world...that to me is what the "resurrection of the body" means; the body is our current means of living in relationship. For me, that's enough! and for me, to say more is to get into the speculative.
This brings me to a major assumption I am aware I operate out of--you can dig into this more if you want...maybe we'll both learn something. Before you continue reading at this point, I'll need to verbally give you the "goldfish illustration," so I don't have to write it out here......in the goldfish illustration, we have a metaphor for our human limitations when it comes to comprehending the reality of God. To me, theology is "faith seeking understanding," and what I'm aware of is that I operate out of the assumption that, even though God chooses reveals God's self to us in a variety of ways, our capacity to really grasp the nature of that revelation is still limited by the gulf of "scale of being" between us and God. That is, even though God has embodied himself in Christ and inspired the writers of Scripture and others to make known to us what's important in the face of our human condition, it's all still very fuzzy to us simply because what there is to know is so far beyond us. As Paul put it, "Now we see as in a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face." I love that, because there is the promise of a much clearer perception of the reality of God in the future...but we aren't there yet. Hence, the need for a great deal of humility when it comes to our truth claims. We can experience God through faith, but that is on a different order of knowing than, say, the claim that I am a 47 year old American male with hazel eyes and chronic rhinitis. Different orders of reality, I guess.
"I don't understand why we can take "Christ", and Savior, and Life, as truth claims and support them from the Bible, and see the same emphasis on hell, sin, wrath from the same Bible and call it "arrogant" to support those truth-claims. Is it humble to point to actual verses in the Bible that speak of Christ's saving love and arrogant to speak of what the Bible says He saves us from?"
To me, in my arrogant judgment, it's not the truth claim itself that makes it arrogant or not, but the way it's used and the impact it has on people. I can confess Christ and the salvation and life he offers--and I can even speak of his deliverence fro the powers of sin, death and the devil, and it need not oppress people if I am presenting this in a way taht folks experiecen as genuine good news for them. But if and when I start to wield Scripture, or any Biblical image, in a way that oppresses people by heaping guilt and shame on them by insisting that what i cam speaking of is objective reality that they must accept--even if my motive is to get them to the place where they can be delivered from guilt and shame through the gospel, then I think i am functioning in an arrogant and destructive way. the pharisees of jesus time appear to have been of such ilk; I know that at times my own preaching and witness has strayed into this territory.
We Lutherans like to talk about a Law/Gospel dialectic--about the need to make a clear distinction between Law and Gospel, and to use each properly. That is, the Law has a few uses, but its primary one is to show us our need and drive us to Christ. For most of us Lutherans, all good preaching has some element of both law and gospel. But our understanding of Law is that it's built into the fabric of creation, and therefore it's primarily experiential in nature. therefore, I think it's Paul who talks about the OT Law as being a "shadow of what was to come." Following Luther's lead, most Lutherans turn to the 10 commandments as a fundamental articulation of Law, and we hold them up like a mirror so that we can see ourselves in our need for god's saving help. but even the commandmetns, i think most of us would say, are subject to the transformations of time and experiecne...an example would be the commandment that prohibits coveting our neighbor's wife. We can see from it's context in the commandment that this prohibition understood woemn to be the property of men...not a view consistent with most people I know today--even the most conservative fundamentalists no longer try to justify treating women as chattel. The law is built inot the fabric of human existence, but it must be conhstantly articulated anew..and therefore handled wiht care. I do't know about baptists, but too often, we Lutheran preachers go about the task by haplessly throwing people down into the mud wiht the law so that we can hose them off with the gospel.
The point is, the gospel is not about hosing us off. We can be and are (if we feel the need and trust the promise) washed anew and cleansed of our guilt, but the real purpose of the gospel is to get us into a wholesome relationship with God, not to wash us off. If someone is already operating with a sense of being in a wholesome relationship with God, why would we want to throw themin the mud of guilt and fear of hell, just to hose them off again...unless we are simply needing to establish control? The historical context of the reformation (exsessive preaching of the Law, fear of hell or pergatory, sale of indulgences) gives me and many of my colleagues a lot of cause to be suspicious of any such leanings--in ourselves or in anyone else.
Have to get back to this later...