The latest theater in the Methodist proxy war over homosexuality has involved attacks here and here on the “so-called” Wesleyan quadrilateral. It’s really painful to me to see the “so-called” adjective being added to it.To me, the quadrilateral is one of the jewels of Wesleyan theology regardless of its derivative status. I don’t see it as a method of Biblical interpretation per se, but rather open honesty about what everyone really does when they interpret the Bible using the plain meaning of the text itself, the church’s interpretive tradition, our deductive reason, and the meta-rational intuitions of our experience. The conservatives don’t like “experience” because it’s not something they can pin down and adjudicate decisively. But to drop-kick “experience” from Biblical interpretation is really to say that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to speak to us outside of the Biblical text. It’s very apropos for us to be having this conversation on the eve of Pentecost.
The 2nd century Gnostic heretics were very good at constructing airtight, scripture-based arguments for their beliefs. In response to this, church father Ireneaus wrote that the verses in the Bible are like a mosaic of painted tiles that can be arranged in any order. He said that the same set of tiles that ordered correctly create the mosaic of a beautiful lamb had been reordered by the Gnostics to make a fox. This is a very important point about the problem of proof-texting Bible verses out of context and the naivete of assuming that we can or should give perfectly equally weight to each verse. In Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible, he takes this metaphor a step further. Continue reading
This is a post where I’m raising a question that I flat-out don’t know the answer to. I watched a conversation yesterday between Derek Rishmawy who represents what I call the “Calvinist you can talk to” perspective and Stephanie Drury who is a “post-evangelical feminist.” Derek had written a post about the importance of not dissing King Solomon and the sacredness of scripture just because Mark Driscoll has misused Solomon’s words in Proverbs and the Song of Songs. Stephanie’s response was that for people who have been spiritually abused, some words in the Bible are permanently toxic as a result.
When I was in seminary, one of the things that impressed me about Augustine was the way that his language was haunted by the words of the psalms, in particular my favorite one, Psalm 42. Books 11-13 of his Confessions break into one of the most beautiful hermeneutical dances I have ever encountered. I wrote a term paper on his stream-of-conscious, allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1 in which the “dry land” which is eternal life has at its center the spring of living water which that deer in Psalm 42 was longing for. Throughout Augustine’s letters and other books, he keeps on returning to Psalm 42′s articulation of the infinite mystery in human nature: “Deep calls unto deep.” When you live inside the Biblical text like Augustine did, your relationship to its language is poetic and intuitive; it becomes how you narrate your journey of discipleship. This is very different than an ideological appropriation of the Bible in which it becomes an encyclopedia of potential proof-texts to be word-searched and scrutinized with a scalpel in order to develop a defensible argument. Continue reading
I had a very uncanny experience today with the Daily Office. In a blog post this morning, I wrote, “My role is less to bring truth down to them from Mt. Sinai and more to name the truth that the Spirit is already breathing in their midst.” Well, what did God put into the Daily Office Old Testament reading today but Exodus 34:29-35 when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and has to put a veil over his face because he’s glowing too brightly? It made me tremble to read it because I thought God was directly confronting and contradicting what I had just blogged about. I wrote in my journal: “Teach me how to understand when I need to go to Sinai and when I need to seek Your word from my people.” But then I read the Daily Office epistle, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, in which Paul uses Moses’ veil as a foil for the way in which God’s truth should be sought under Christ. And that pretty well sent me into orbit. Continue reading
I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s The Ascent to Truth while on retreat here at Richmond Hill. It’s an attempt to explain Christian mysticism largely looking at the writings of St. John of the Cross. I just started reading a chapter about the university environment in Salamanca, Spain in the 1560’s when St. John attended school there. Merton describes a battle over scripture in Catholicism resulting from the Reformation crisis between the conservative “scholastic” faction and the progressive “scriptural” faction. Continue reading
I just read a chapter in Adam Kotsko’s Politics of Redemption which engages feminist critiques of the cross. One aspect of the feminist theology I have encountered that makes me squirm as an evangelical is its willingness to toss out pieces of the Biblical canon if they seem to promote misogyny. I am willing to read the Bible with the same liberationist agenda that Jesus and Paul both had, but I consider myself bound to the epistemic foundation of canonical fidelity, meaning that I don’t throw anything out, even when God tells Joshua to slaughter all the women and children of some Canaanite city or when the Levite in Judges 19 pulls a Jeffrey Dahmer on his concubine. Biblical authority is a line in the sand for me, but given that, to what degree am I accountable to what I would call empirical integrity? Do I owe any responsibility to the reality that I share with people who aren’t interpreting it through my canonical filter? Continue reading
I’m not sure how long the manilla package sat in the bin beside my desk. It was postmarked September 14th. I noticed the package yesterday a few days after I had written a blog post speculating about the postmodern language barrier that may have caused Al Mohler’s misunderstanding of Rachel Held Evans’ new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Inside the package was the book that had served as the excuse for my tangential theorizing. I opened it and dove in yesterday, heart-sick about all the online gloating I had encountered over Kathy Keller’s “hard-hitting” review of Rachel’s book (Kathy is the wife of famous reformed pastor and author Tim Keller who has been a huge theological influence on me). What is clear from the way that Keller framed her critique is that she decided ahead of time to interpret everything about the book as an attack on her own beliefs. She must have kept her arms folded pretty tightly to defend herself against the disarming self-deprecating genuineness that oozed out of the story of a year that a Southern Christian woman took to learn about Judaism, the Amish, contemplative prayer, babies, Martha Stewart-style homemaking, and a whole lot of Bible. Perhaps Keller was using Rachel’s book as a point of departure for building her own brand like I did with my silly theorizing. Having read the book, I realize how ridiculous my speculation was. Rachel is not a postmodern hipster like me; she’s way too earnest. The main problem with what Kathy Keller and I both tried to do is this: Biblical Womanhood is too much of a story to be treated like an argument. Continue reading
This summer I started listening to the podcast of Greg Boyd, a Minnesota pastor who ruffles a lot of feathers in the reformed tradition from which he comes. Boyd has spent most of the last two months in the second chapter of Colossians. He just started a new sermon series called “the shadow of the cross” based on Colossians 2:17-18: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” In a sermon a couple of weeks ago, Boyd uses this basic paradigm of contrasting the shadow with the reality of Christ to tackle one of the most difficult problems in Christian theology: reconciling the nationalist warrior God of the Old Testament with the revelation of God through Christ in the New Testament. Boyd offers a way of reading the Old Testament through the lens of the cross in which God’s depiction as a warrior god is a shadow of the reality that is to come in Christ. Continue reading
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This is one of the most radical statements that Jesus ever made. Within it is the revelation of not only Christian but also Jewish morality. I read something similar from Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, who said Torah was always meant to be a gift for the sake of humanity’s flourishing rather than a burden for the sake of entertaining God’s capricious fancy. But in evangelical Christian culture today, it’s as if Jesus never said these words. Because we measure our spiritual credibility according to how toughly we talk about sin, we are invested in making morality burdensome. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the same way in their zeal for the self-justification they gained through the burden of the homage they paid God. What made Jesus’ Sabbath healing so offensive to the Pharisees was not merely His violation of Jewish law but the way that He called out their morality based on conspicuous gestures of “honoring” God by exuding a morality that really did honor God through its compassion for human need. Continue reading