Monday, March 1, 2010

One set of ambiguities for another.

My friend Mike points out that Christ did not die to prove the truth of certain facts within the Biblical canon.  I would agree with this and disagree with it, depending on how one takes the statement.  On the one hand, I think that Mike is correct that Christ's work of redemption is central and that conservative Protestants in general have a tendency to treat Biblical authority as an abstract proposition and then defend individual bits of the Bible to prove the gospel.  This is poor theology.  On the other hand, I think that Jesus as the Word of God inspired the prophets and authorized the apostles.  His death and resurrection prove him to be Lord and thereby we can rely infallibly on the message that he authorizes.  So, yes, he does authorize the truth of the "bits" of the Bible narrative.  Without that, as I noted in the earlier post, we are left with a redemption that makes no sense (since it only makes sense in the framework of the total Biblical narrative) and which is merely probable, not infallibly true.  If that is true, then the proclaimed Word is only probable and therefore we do not have absolute assurance.  If the events that make the promise possible are merely probable, so are the promises!

I sympathize with Mike's concerns though.  He goes on in his response to me that if one claims inerrancy as I so boldly do, that one must then be caught up trying to prove that a human being could literally stay alive in a whale or other things that he considers less than scientific.  In the end, he protests, these have basically nothing to do with the gospel and so what have you really gain?

Now, if I understand him correctly, this means that by accepting inerrancy I place myself within a set of intellectual ambiguities (the fact that I can't prove everything the Bible and that much in the Bible seems to conflict with modern scientific notions) that cannot be resolved.  Therefore sensible thing to do is say "hey, inerrancy isn't necessary, just the gospel."  Again, I must protest on the basis of my earlier response above.  Gospel reductionism and fact/value split don't work theologically.  Let me respond in some other ways as well.

First, we should not believe that our current knowledge of the world is entirely correct.  Therefore claiming that the scientifically determined "truth" can trump Scriptural truth is not valid.  Again, we will never reach a state this side of eternity where all the ambiguities are gone and where we can empirically prove everything.  Our knowledge of the text and of the scientific world is always limited.  

Furthermore, Scripture has often been thought to be in error when we just didn't have all the information.  Example:  Did Abraham have camels?  When I was in college we were all told that that was impossible because they weren't domesticated then.  Well, turns out that they weren't very widely used, but they were domesticated.  They were typically owned by kings and other very wealthy people at that time.  Genesis says he got his from the Egyptian king.  This also explains why Rebecca was eager to go to be with Isaac- even though Abraham's slave pretty much just randomly came out of the desert and asked her come with him.  If he has a bunch of camels he must be super rich.  So, it turns out on a fairly minor point that the Bible was right after all.  It also proves that when we perceived an error, it was in us and not the Word of God.

The second point I would make is that if you don't like the ambiguities of scriptural inerrancy, try the alternative set of ambiguities.  In other words, go to mainline Protestant land and endure diversity quotas , peace and justice commissions for whatever and whoever, absurd hymns like the new ELCA favorite "Mothering God."  In other words, what I've learned is that there is no middle ground.  Why can all this non-sense go on?  Because if the basis of the faith is not infallible then you can make up whatever you want.  There's no middle ground.  WordAlone thinks that there is, but they are badly mistaken.  Wait 20 years and they'll be right back arguing about gays all over again.  In the end, you can have either one or the other.  Take your pick.

So, my question, the question I finally asked myself when I came to accept the doctrine of the historic Lutheran Church regarding the Scripture was, which set of ambiguities will it be?  The ambiguity of not absolutely being able to account for every discrepancy in Scripture (but ultimately trusting in God's truthfulness!) or the ambiguity of not being able to know the truth at all- the ambiguity of having all truth be negotiable. 

I'll take the former over the later any day.  Being a creature I can accept that I don't know everything and I leave it up to God to show me.

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