The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us... John 1:14
If you haven't checked out the comments on Wednesday's Jesus Creed post, The End of Evangelicalism 4, you are missing out! Scot McKnight is reviewing David Fitch's The End of Evangelicalism, and this latest installment dealt with moving away from an "inerrant" view of Scripture, which entails defending its correctness.
Earlier this week, I explored Timothy Beal's deconstruction in The Rise and Fall of the Bible of the verses that allegedly establish the Bible's inerrancy and God-breathed-ness, as well as the context that brought us the Bible we know today. In light of Beal's book, the below comment from John Frye caught my eye:
What about all those souls living on orality alone before the Scriptures were written? The Old Testament saints and New Testament believers lived under the authority of God–the Person of God. Think of all the believers who faithfully stayed true to God before the printing press and did not have personal access to the written Word of God. They, too, lived under the authority of the present God. That we have the Bible, a written revelation of God’s Person and Will, is fantastic, but we must not make the Bible something that it does not say it is– a substitute for God or His authority. We are ‘authorized’ by a Person not a Book.
So true. I have wondered what a strong emphasis on individually studying the written Word in our "quiet times" has done to our faith. Also, bordering on biblio-atry, evangelicals hold up the Bible (the Ten Commandments part, not the more-challenging Beatitudes!) as the ultimate instruction manual for living, with propositions that create binaries of right-and-wrong, errant-and-inerrant. Whoever controls the interpretation of this text is the arbiter of right and wrong. This is our idea of authority, and to be faithful to Scripture, one cannot stray from this definition of inerrancy/authority.
Similarly, a link in the Jesus Creed comments led me to N.T. Wright's discussion of Scripture's authority, in which Wright remarked, "evangelicals do not have any tradition. We simply open the scripture, read what it says, and take it as applying to ourselves: there the matter ends, and we do not have any ‘tradition.’"
Wright's comment may seem contradictory to the idea that evangelicals relish their definition of "authority" of the Bible, because tradition is usually linked to authority. But I take it as a keen observation of the idea that there is nothing standing between the Christian and her Bible, which at times can devolve into an unhealthy individualism. The Reformation critiqued the fact that intermediaries were coming between a Christian and God/the Bible, but perhaps we have taken this critique too far.
I would imagine it would be more difficult to have Scripture play the role of an individual, tradition-less, instruction book in an ancient Near East, oral-based, mostly illiterate, tradition-rich culture - with bulky, communal scrolls.
As perhaps a link between the ancient Near Eastern and the modern Western views of Scripture, Wright shifts the notion of authority from defending correctness to instead rooting authority in the people (church) living out and re-creating God's redemptive story. He feels that this is one of the reasons that Scripture has so much story and narrative. When you think about it, the Bible's a pretty sorry rule book - Deuteronomy advises to stone obedient children! Wright explains:
Story authority, as Jesus knew only too well, is the authority that really works. Throw a rule book at people’s head, or offer them a list of doctrines, and they can duck or avoid it, or simply disagree and go away. Tell them a story, though, and you invite them to come into a different world; you invite them to share a world-view or better still a ‘God-view’. That, actually, is what the parables are all about. They offer, as all genuine Christian story-telling the does, a world-view which, as someone comes into it and finds how compelling it is, quietly shatters the world-view that they were in already. Stories determine how people see themselves and how they see the world. Stories determine how they experience God, and the world, and themselves, and others.
I recommend reading Wright's entire lecture - it's lengthy but completely worth it. Here's my takeaway: when the Bible is simply a written word, with black and white text that provides instructions and a moral code, we're missing out on the embodied story we could really be showing the world. For example, the parable of the prodigal son can in one sense be a lesson (read by myself during my quiet time) that God forgives, and a warning against envy when God forgives a particularly horrible sinner.
However, isn't the parable so much more powerful when, as witness to the world, God's people live it out over and over again? I mean in a really scandalous, offensive way, like showing mercy in the most repugnant of situations. Living out this story powerfully demonstrates the truth or "correctness" of the Gospel, and thus its authority, as opposed to throwing a rule book at people's heads...