Saturday, 31 October 2015

The authority of the Bible - where on Earth can we say it comes from?

I have started to interact a little with blogger and doctoral student Barnabus Aspray, who contributes to two theological blogs. On the less academic one (Every-day theology), Barney posts pretty clearly some of the different options for ascribing authority to the Bible, with some good visual illustrations.

Barney kindly sent me a few of the source articles that informed his post and thinking on this issue, especially by Robert Jenson. Any of you who have gone through my paper Trinitarian Interpretations will know that we have already seen in short Jenson's offerings to contemporary discussions of Trinitarian theology (and that I actually succeeded in misspelling his name there! Whoops).

Here is my response to Barney on the first paper, entitled On the Problems of Scriptural Authority, Sage, 1977:

Good in pointing out the inadequacy of attempts at legitimising the authority of the Bible (in-errancy, inspiration, ...), although for me your blog post was probably more at my level and a little clearer for that reason!

I can say this:
Despite his acknowledgement of the diversity of definitions of "the gospel", Jenson likes to boil down to a common denominator of what the gospel might in fact be: Jesus is risen. I probably did not fully grasp his point he developed around page 242 on this, but he seems to make quite a point of this particular formulation throughout the essay, linking it even to liturgy. I really enjoyed the " standing in the corner " argument and am still pondering its applicability in other areas; it certainly has a lot of appeal. [see later post on the corner standing argument]

Here though, I believe Jenson overlooks the NT emphasis, which is not that Jesus is simply risen, but that Jesus was in fact raised by God, which is difficult to account for given "We cannot get behind the apostles to the gospel...they are our last resort" (p238). Based on the Scriptural account, I believe early liturgical (and even earlier story) forms would have centred around "raised by God" more than "is risen". But because I have not fully understood Jenson's point, this may not challenge what he is communicating too greatly. On p243, he hints at this a little when he states "The theology of the church has always been plural and presumably always will be". I got the sense though that some of that plurality is under-emphasized or lost in the closing pages of the article at the (usual, and for me somewhat frustratingly) expense of Father and Spirit. Mediation theology seems at a very low ebb (see also liberation on p250).

The most meaningful sentence for the authority of the Bible came on p249:
the Bible is essential to the church's life of proclamation and prayer in several very different ways which together are its authority.
I see here the most important point of collective identity. Since the Bible is a key contributor - through much interpretation - to the very identity of the group to which believers belong (as local church and global Church and historical Church members), then we source the authority indeed in the church to which the believers belong.
P245 Brilliant quote: " what I hear the text is saying is indeed all I have to work with ; but recognition of the text's authority is recognition that the text may be saying something other than I hear and that it is my job to keep listening. "

P246, what a great saying: conceptual slippage! Historical critical method seems both essential but also makes the texts "fall silent". [...]

As I have openly acknowledged, let me say again, I didn't get it all. These are just some comments on what I thought I grasped :)

Here ends the response to Barney, although we are now a couple more emails into the exchange. I am challenging him a little on my low level perspective to reconsider (although he has already considered at quite some depth it would appear) this great and desertic chasm that he perceives between the goals of critical historical methods and biblical application of those discoveries today.

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