Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Inspiration of Scripture: Images over words

After I posted my sarcastic "First Church of Binitarian Biblioaters", I found that Len has helpfully cataloged some excerpts from Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt
that will provoke us to further clarify the role of Scripture in these amazing days..

I will post some excerpts below to get started.

But first, confession.

I need to have compassion on folks who think we (whoever "we" are) are wimping out on Scripture...I can understand that accusation. I likely would have made it about myself ten years ago. (As Bono said after speaking at the Prayer Breakfast, "The me of ten years ago can't imagine that I am here now.")

Yet, if we are read correctly, we actually esteem and value the Scripture more than ever.

And the "me" that's "here now" is even more hungry for the Word; not less...as a result of what to some is mere semantisizing; but in actuality is a "super-sizing"
(and cirumcision) of the heart..

Years ago, (at a respected "Bible-believing" scholar's suggestion), I stared using the term "accurate" to qualify Scripture..
partly because it seemed a better microcosm; and partly to avoid the unnecessary missiles and missives of the "inerrant vs. infallible" wars that were raging in my evangelical circles at the time.

But perhaps what we need is not just a better word, but a bigger picture.

I heard a pastor at a wedding make sure he got in the "proper" view of Scripture, especilaly for the backsliders he was told were present. With each adjective his voice, volume and velocity (and hair!) raised: "Any Christian marriage must be based on the inspired, INFALLIBLE, INERRANT Word of God!"

Funny that those three qualifiers of bibical authority, from first to last, have been used in that order on the spectrum ("inspired" often meaning a very generic"liberal" inpsiration, like Shakespeare is inspired; "Infallible" being the moderate evangelical term of choice--meaning "without error", then "inerrant" cranks up the stakes, as the term implies "so without error that it's not even capable of erring." This of course being the litmus test term for conservative conservatives" or fundamentalists.

Of course we can use all three of these words about the Word, and still not live it out. (ironic: I heard that the very scholar who suggested the word "accurate" fell into an extra-marital affair and was defrocked.)

Or get the point: the picture.

E. Stanley Jones rightly discerns the "dividing line" between Christianity and other religions:

"But in them, the word became word, a set of teachings, a morality, a religious framework. Only within Christianity does the word become flesh. It's the word that became flesh, that offers human hope for mankind."

Jones was obviously speaking about the other "Word": Jesus. But Scripture also calls another entity "the Word": itself.

Fascinating that both Jesus and Scripture are called the word. And that Jesus is also called "The Image" of God (Colossians 1:15). Question: Why isn't Scripture explicitly called in Scripture that which it in a sense must be: the Image of God??

Or the "photo album" of God.

Somehow, the Word (Scripture) must also "become flesh."

Which inevitably means it must incarnate image.

Perhaps the portal to this enfleshing; this "imaging" of Scripture...is the primacy of image over word in our current culture; and to grasp that such is not "evil postmodernism" and enemny, but an embedded-in-culture God-watermark that can work in our favor:

In "The Rise of Image and the Fall of the Word," Mitchell Stevens proffers that we are living in a “communications transformation as fundamental as the introduction of writing 3,500 years ago.” Thus, the mileu of the future will increasingly be hallmarked by "the communication of meaning through moving images."

Hmmm, "meaning through moving images." Besides the obvious (movies, etc), this can also imply a new (old) view of Scripture.


Because we have by today so deeply interiorized writing, made it so much a part of ourselves, as Plato's age had not yet made it fully a part of itself, we find it difficult to consider writing to be a technology as we commonly assume printing and the computer to be. Yet writing (and especially alphabetic writing) is a technology, calling for the use of tools and other equipment: styli or brushes or pens, carefully prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood, as well as inks or paints, and much more. … Writing is in a way the most drastic of the three technologies. It initiated what print and computers only continue, the reduction of dynamic sound to quiescent space, the separation of the word from the living present, where alone spoken words can exist.
-Walter Ong, "Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word.

And file this:

...the invention of the printing press was akin to the invention of todays internet. Except in the reformation most people still could not read. This gave the preachers a practical authoirity over the dissemination of the word as they could read and they controlled the technology of the printing press.
The post-modern conundrum, often expressed as there not being a reverence for absolute truths needs to be refined in light of this technology. Its not that we do not have a belief in absolutes, it is that in the leveling of access in the technology almost all voices can speek with authority and get their word out resonably well. How then does one discern what is an absolute truth and what is somebody's well constructed paradigm?
But this belies our own initial prejudice formed by our westrern ideology, in that we have taken the Word, or Truth, whom God revealed as a person, and abstracted him into men's words Propositonal or absolute truths) to be known through men's words. The rise of preaching may well be understood as a triumph over the intended role of the Holy Spirit as the revealer of Christ to us.
(Mark Deraud, in posted comments on the 6th post down on this page

Of course, we preacher types seem to enjoy filling in for the Holy Spirit. And one of the most subtle yet sinister ways we do it, is calling in the Holy Bible to substitute/pinch-hit for the Holy Spirit....thinking that coaching maneuver will win the game...or argument.

But arguing died with modernism. And manipulating should have died in our baptismal waters.

Yes, we pastors...sometimes accidentally; sometimes intentionally..actually make too much of the Bible.


Jesus was inistent: "You search and quote the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; but that's found not in a book--no matter how inspired it is-- but in me. The whole point of the Scriptrures are to floodlight me." (John 5:39).

We are to be a Christ-centered, not Bible-centered, tribe.

What is about to follow must not be seen as a judgement on the congregations involved; but merely a hope that we live more Christ-centered way than our lives (and website mottos) often suggest.

Googling is a helpful (but fallible!) tool for catching a pulse on the world/church..a quick search shows "Bible-centered" calls up 95,400 listings; while <"a href="http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=%22christ-centered%22&btnG=Search">"Christ-centered" yields 1,720,000
results. That's the right direction. Also good news is that
"Holy_Spirit-centered" yielded only 170 results, several of which were statements critcal of such a phrase.

I love J.I. Packer's image of the Spirit in relation to Jesus, traced in
"Keep In Step with the Spirit":

The Spirit's 'floodlight' ministry. Have you ever looked at a properly floodlit building, perhaps a castle or a cathedral? If the lights are correctly placed they illuminate the building and don't dazzle the watcher, who should hardly be conscious of them. The secret of good lighting is that you so not see the lights but what they are lighting up. In a similar way the Holy Spirit has a special role in drawing attention to Jesus, without drawing attention to himself (Jn. 16.14) 'The Spirit's message to us is never "look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me," but always, "Look at him and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace."

A more heady theological concept for this is ontological subrdination, which is not exactlt what happens among members of the Trinty. Better yet, as
Moltmann and others coin it, the "economic trinity", affords us seeing the
mutual submision of husband and wife as parabolic for mutualal submission/ flooodlighting of members of the Godhead by other members.

Some futher resources? i was delighted to learn of

N. T. Wright's "The Last Word : Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scriptture". .

One review
is helpful here:

Wright observes that most churches make strong statements about the centrality of scripture and its authority in the mission, life, discipline and doctrine of the community. However, there is no agreement on what this might mean or how it might be practiced. He describes how both evangelicals and liberals misread scripture, and he tries to restore the Bible to its rightful role as a guide for the church.

Wright believes we are asking some of the questions regarding authority in the wrong way. “How can what is mostly a narrative text be ‘authoritative’?” (xi) Authority, for Wright, belongs to God alone, and is now embodied in Jesus Christ. So, the question becomes, “What might it mean to think that the authority of Jesus is somehow exercised through the Bible?”

The authority of scripture must be understood as part of a larger divine authority.

And the "larger divine authority"? Musn't it begin with, if not end with The Holy Spirit, who is, by Christ's own admisson "the Source of All Truth".

Michael J. Chrisstensen summarizes C. S. Lewis's view of Scripture below. It will be shocking to any evangelical-trained types, adn I myself may not even buy all of it. But I think the last line is crucial to consider.

Scripture, to Lewis, is:

“human literature, divinely inspired and authoritative, but not verbally inspired or without error... He viewed some parts as 'more Inspired' than others. “The kind of truth we demand of Scripture, Lewis remarks in conclusion to this letter, ‘was, in my opinion, never even envisaged by the ancients.’” (11, 19)

Anyway,to the quotes promised at the top of the hour, with thanks to Len:

Excerpt from "A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren: He replied, "The Bible never speaks of itself this way. You're the pastor; you should know-there are only two places I know of where the New Testament speaks of foundations-no three. In one case, the church is the foundation of the truth, and in the second, Jesus is the foundation of the church, and then there's a third, when Jesus told Peter he was the foundation. But unless I'm mistaken, the Bible never calls itself the foundation."

Well, you've got me there," I said.

He looked at me, perturbed, and said, "I'm not trying to 'get you,' man! Just a minute." Then, with no explanation of where he was going, he adjusted his faded red baseball cap and stepped off the path and in a second vanished into the forest undergrowth. I walked over to the edge of the path and strained my eyes to try to see him. A minute passed. Then two. I could hear the snap of breaking twigs moving toward the river but still couldn't see him. What was going on? I called his name once, twice, three times. No answer.

After the fourth time I called his name, he called mine: "Dan, over here, come here!"

I'm a bit nervous about poison ivy and snakes, but I gingerly pushed through the bushes toward his voice. When I saw him, my first thought was that he was relieving himself. He was standing perfectly erect, with his back toward me. Then he turned and motioned me to come closer. When I came up beside him, he pulled a branch aside to reveal a perfect web made by a huge yellow and black spider. "That's exactly what I was looking for, a common garden spider, Argiope aurantia," he said, always the science teacher. "But in spite of the "common" in their name, they aren't all that common. Beautiful, isn't she?" That wasn't the word that had leapt to my mind. "Let me ask you a question, Daniel. Where is the foundation for the home of this spider?" I replied, "Well, I guess it doesn't exactly have one. But it does have anchor points-like where the web attaches to that leaf and that branch and that branch there.

"OK," Neo said, "I think you can see where I'm going. What if faith isn't best compared to a building, but rather to a spiderweb? Instead of one foundation, it has several anchor points. Those points might be spiritual experiences, exemplary people and institutions whom one has come to trust, that sort of thing."

"But where does the Bible fit in?" I asked.
"Well," Neo replied, "it could be seen as one of the anchor points. Or perhaps every passage in the Bible that has affected your life could be seen as an anchor point. Or perhaps the Bible isn't only in the anchor points. Perhaps it is part of every thread of the web."

I wasn't satisfied. "But I think you're stretching things, Neo. I mean, why just pick a spiderweb as your model for faith? That seems kind of arbitrary, doesn't it?"

"No more than a building with a foundation, really. When you think about it, a spiderweb has some real advantages over a building It's flexible. It can be repaired when it is damaged. It functions as both a home and a tool for catching food. But if you don t like spiderwebs let's use a different model altogether. Let's take the earth. What's the foundation of the earth? What keeps the earth stable?"

"Well, it's not that simple," I said. "The earth seems to get its stability from a combination of things-its own momentum, the gravity of the sun; maybe even the moon and other planets play some role, I'm not sure."

"What if faith were more like the earth than a building? What if faith could never be stable in the way God intends it to be if it didn't have forward momentum and if that momentum weren't in the field of the gravity of God himself? And if you don't like that metaphor, think of a bird in flight or a bicycle or a ship on the sea. In each case, there's movement in relation to some larger forces and realities. Stability comes through an interplay of those factors. Stability is not always as simple as a static building sitting on a solid foundation. John Wesley-he was an Anglican, you know-understood this very well: he talked about the church deriving its stability from a dynamic interplay of four forces-what were they? Scripture, tradition, reason, and . . . what was the fourth? Oh yes, spiritual experience. Maybe," - and here he backed away from the spiderweb, knelt down again, and drew his line on the ground - "maybe both liberals and conservatives are working from a static model of authority and both need to be called to a higher point of view to see that our situation is much more dynamic, much more predicamental, moving up here instead of down in the dust."

Finally Neo stopped and said, "Maybe neither the liberals nor the conservatives take the bible seriously enough."

I almost laughed, "That's a good one."

"No, I'm serious," he said. One thing that both liberals and conservatives have in common is that they read the bible in...

Read it allhere

In the following chapter McLaren talks about Scripture, opening with the story of a friend who shared his disappointment that Brian had abandoned his high regard for the Bible. A shocked and hurt McLaren later received an apology. Standing where I stand today, I understand that story very well. I too believe that my regard for Scripture is perhaps higher than it has ever been, but it is very much different from the regard I had ten years ago when I was uncomfortable with, but still using, extra-biblical terms like "inerrant, infallible, objective, absolute, and literal." McLaren writes,

"Perhaps the best way to use Scripture is not to concentrate on it at all but rather to focus on our pursuit of mission. Then we will need Scripture to do what it was intended to do. This is exactly where Paul goes in his letter to Timothy..

"When Scripture talks about itself, it doesn't use the language we use... Hardly anyone realizes why these words are important. Hardly anyone knows the stories of Sir Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, the Enlightenment, David Hume and Foundationalism-- which provide the context in which these words are so important. Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extrabiblical words and concepts to justify one's belief in the Bible's ultimate authority.

Oddly, I've never heard of a denomination or church that asked people to affirm a doctrinal statement like this: The purpose of Scripture is to equip God's people for good works."

Read it all

1 comment:

  1. A long aheady post to be sure. Funny, my girlfriend just remarked that my posts on both The Grand Book (How to read the Bible) and SPOKE (Christology) can be too long for the average internet reader to hang with. Thus in a way proving your point in an ironic way and cautioning me to be patient and do smaller bite-sized chunks at a time (less is more). In exactly the same transition from words to image, the ability to hang with longer arguments or presentations is problematic.

    I don;t have to like it...but it is (my source is Ellul's The Humiliation of the Word).

    So I am gonna go shorter (I still use movies and graphics quite a bit.

    Kep up the good work bro.



Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!