Are you Biblical?

"The Bible says...."

"Are you a Bible-believing Christian?"

"But if you follow the Bible..."


This happens a lot. Try explaining '"The Bible says..." is problematic. Different approaches begin with different suppositions regarding the answers that they are going to find'. Try saying, 'Well, I practice a .... hermeneutic', or even 'together with the Church of England, it would appear that the Bible might ....' and it could be that you will lose people.

Stendhal, who foreshadows the New Perspective, describes biblical theology in terms of its meaning in the past which we excavate. But doesn't the theology come first in so much as we read with faith and come with presuppositions. Is the excavation polluted? I wonder about Stendhal, I need to read his work. Is he aware that as we excavate, we are adding our own ingredients to this earth that we are digging through; we are pulling out a precious treasure that has had its hue changed by what else has fallen down the archaeologist's hole?

We consider Kelsey's overview of the way that the Bible is used in theological argumentation. Propositional truths are revelation for someone like BB Warfield. For GE Wright the archaeology is important for meaning. For Tillich, the symbolism of the Bible is revelatory. Barth's is an emphasis that examines the narrative disclosure of God's ascendancy in the text: his agency. All would agree that God speaks through scripture. In community the church decides its meaning so that living in the light of scripture is transformative. There is more besides, meriting a separate entry and probably developing ideas in-keeping with Barth.

Perhaps we need to hold numerous approaches in tension. There are numerous approaches.

Key to all of this is a self-consciousness: what do we mean when we say we are biblical? We need to actually articulate our starting points and admit that we are flawed and influenced; that we are not neutral; that our starting point is not clean. This is not post-modern nonsense.  Interpretation is inescapable. The Bible itself interprets the Bible.

DA Carson is dedicated to exploring Biblical inerrancy. It is interesting that the footage we watch of Carson presents him as open to the variety and the complexity, hinting at the superintendence of the Spirit, in presenting everything that should be there as it is and the final picture of the Bible culminating in what it is, exactly as God would have it be. But I know that within that, he practises a particular hermeneutic, particularly of the problem texts for women. Unfortunately, when I hear Carson, I am coloured in my appreciation of what he has to say, however valid, by the hermeneutic he practises with which I disagree. I try to listen. If I were freer of my presuppositions, I would hear more clearly. It is not easy. Is my awareness of the difficulty at least something? I am not sure.

This blog has investigated before the 'plain reading fallacy' that I feel can so infect us all. I understand now that 'plain reading' is an approach all in itself and what is often plain about it is often only its predictable trajectory. But then I come to make that statement because of my presuppositions!


Lucy said...

I always think we come with our own pair of glasses - we see everything through them. The key is knowing they are there and what they are doing - and even if we can't take them off entirely, at least tone down the prescription sometimes!

Tony said...

Sorry Rachel I'm not following all of this, it seems to refer to some things without fully letting the reader in on what they are. I'm guessing at the things you allude to.

I think on the argument of interpretation, you kind of hit the nail on the head with what you say: this is not postmodern nonsense. Interpretation is important and we need to recognise that there are different ways of doing this, But most of the time I hear it, it is so that someone of a particular view point can dismiss texts, even those that are completely obvious in meaning and numerous throughout scripture and be utterly incredulous as to what the bible says. Too often theologians are just looking for a convenient Christianity and academia is a great threat to our theology as often as it is a great help. There are many in the academic theological world who fall back too heavily on their own intelligence and therefore arguments like - its a matter of interpretations or its down to a particular hermeneutic and masks for a humanist and hard heart that places to much reliance on our own understanding and too little on the Word of God.

I don't know what Carson's "hermeneutic" is on women's ministry, so I don't know where you come from on that. I'm not sure if my point is therefore in line with his or your understanding. Though there are some language here that evangelicals are used to hearing. I fear that for many people these have simply become self-serving. I will explain further:

I never cease to be amazed by the incredulity of people to passages of scripture when they do not suit. Of course the homosexual for example wants to ignore passages on homosexuality, but can he or she not see that their sexual orientation has made them biased? Can the person who loses their temper too easily not see that in Timothy it says that he or she should not be a deacon in the church? There are many examples of these things, some about what we are and always will be others are changeable things. FOr example, I was totally and remain totally shocked at the κεφαλη (Not sure how that transliterates into English letters: 'kephela') argument. Not only was it delivered with shocking prejudice and hatred of certain (large and largest) groups of Christians (genuine evangelicals, traditional evangelicals, traditional anglo-catholics and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches to name but a few), but it has to be the most incredibly academically light-weight explanation for anything that I have come across. Its strange that someone so intelligent would simply fail to see that it does not add up on numerous levels and how its incompatible with the whole of scripture, crucial parts like the creation story and so on.... then, when this is pointed out, which is so easy to do, then people simply 'wimp out' with comments like its 'a matter of hermeneutics' or 'its all a matter of interpretation'; others simply say: oh well its not that important, as if seeking our own way and ignoring God's will and command is a way that will benefit women or the church. THe truth is that if women are to truly be valued, to be blessed, to live life to the full and be most happy, then this is found, not in the feminists skew of obvious scripture, but in God's will. What God wants for us is always best. When we make our hearts hardened to the Word we move from the 'straight and narrow' and into the darkness of self-seeking. Unfortunately, in this context it damages the lives of others too (and as it says in timothy we are judged by that in leadership) and is damaging the church. Take the massive reduction in church numbers in the C of E over the last 17 years as pretty clear evidence of that. Whilst the Roman Catholic Church, which does not deny these clear teachings, grows in this country. Funny that.

continued below

Tony N said...


Equally there are too many so-called evangelicals who have their doctrine right, but have forgotten that the most important doctrine of the bible is that of love and apply it with hard and unloving hearts. As Lucy points outs, we need to be aware of our own biases. Be aware and then do something about it, not simply be aware and then ignore and be incredulous. If we find something that is inconsistent with other scriptures, we know we have it wrong in our theology.

A lot of the time I find academic squirming out of the Word and the truth as akin to toddler-tantrums, its like, if I'm not winning, I'm not playing and I'm taking my ball with me... because as soon as its pointed out their view is completely opposite to scripture they just use hermeneutics or interpretation or liberalism to get out of it. On the headship argument, those who call themselves evangelicals yet deny scripture make themselves and God out to be a liar. I find far more credible the approach of liberals who say that they do not regard scripture to be inerrant, that those who say it is, then dismiss it when it does not suit their own agenda or personal ambitions. Too often people are pushed into ministry to forward someone elses agenda (liberalism, feminism, pro-homosexuality groups etc) and the ego and ambition do the rest. Lets simply ignore inconvenient truth.

continued below

The great tragedy is that, in any of the aforementioned examples, that it does exactly the opposite of what it aims to achieve. Those who put themselves in positions in ministry that are against God's Word will be judged by it. It will damage their churches and their own ministry (and they can have a fulfilling ministry of course without denying the passages we talk of). Women will not be blessed by the human understanding of church, but by God's. So we should all be seeking the same thing, that the best for all of us will be done. Those men who have used passages on headship in the bible to bully and oppress are also to blame on this because they misuse scripture. I have never heard anyone complain about a good and godly male leader, male head. Yet the bible says they should love women as Christ loves the church (when it says that women should submit to me). If he loves as Christ loved he would never bully, oppress, mistreat or undervalue women, but would afirm them and encourage them into ministry in roles that the bible does not forbid and try his hardest to see all in his church be blessed.

I want to point out though that we are all equal. Women are just as important as men and visa versa (as there is a huge amount of sexism against men in the church too these days). But we can be equal and be different. For example, we need different teaching for someone with severe learning disability than someone who does not have such impairment... does this make the former of any less worth or value than the latter? of course not - the two are equal and yet different. Equality for women should not be sought in trying to make women like men, but in celebrating the differences the Lord made us with and seeking to serve him with humble hearts, submitted to true meaning of scripture and loving one-another.

But in the meantime, the more who ignore scripture damage the church further.

I know these things need ‘approval’ before posting and I do not know who needs to do that. But I wonder if me opposing view will be approved of? Because much of the time at St John’s the theological approach is and encourages simply ignoring the inconvenient truth. But I write in love, because I love the Church of Christ and want what is best for it – that is God’s Will, revealed in the Bible

Rachel said...

Hi Tony

Many interesting points here and one can not deny your very clear desire to submit to Holy Scripture and love the Lord your God.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you say 'What God wants for us is always best.' That is what we are in the Christian life to discern and put into practice.

I do disagree with your synopsis of the St John's approach. On the contrary, I find that its approach encourages us to wrestle with the text like Bereans, to see the word fulfilled in Christ and to have us work together as a community within a larger community: the Anglican Church, within a larger community again: the global Anglican communion so that together we might discern how we are faithful to Christ in our life and doctrine. Perhaps even beyond the boundaries of our communion's life, it asks us bigger questions about God's Kingdom and what that might look like. I think that the St John's approach is a humble approach, an openness to other and a seeking for a self-consciousness that enables us to say, 'you know, I might not have this altogether, but I am learning a lot on the meantime and please share your view with me so that we can grow together.' There are not many answers here and that takes a while to get used to but I think, on balance, this has to be a good thing.

Nobody is denying that God's will is revealed in the Bible. Perhaps it is nuanced by a Barthian approach in that we see that in actual fact God's will is revealed in the particularity of the Christ event - his death and resurrection. What we might do in response is work out where we bring life and where we bring death and seek to bring life and light on every occasion as we are guided by the Spirit into truth.

covnitkepr1 said...

I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.

Rachel said...

Thank you Covenant keeper - I will take a look.

Rachel said...

Thank you for your contribution. I have read it carefully and will refrain from posting. Thank you for your best wishes. I think we all pray for discernment and wisdom and you are right to encourage such an approach. Because your comments were highly particularised they do not fit the ethos of 'Revising Reform' which seeks to look at more general theological issues impacting the communion. At times too the blog is a place where I share personal opinion and reflection, but highly personal testimony of other people's experiences like your own needs to be shared on a forum over which you have control rather than I. I hope you understand. Thank you anyway. All the best in your ventures to bring in the Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

You may find Webb's Slaves, Women and Homosexuals which explores the hermeneutics of cultural analysis and looks at 'what is meant by the plain meaning of Scripture", useful to read.

What is the plain meaning of scripture often turns out to be not so plain as you thought it was...


Rachel said...

How interesting and somewhat prophetic of you, if prophecy works backwards. This is the text I kept raising as an example in class in two streams of study this week on the OT and the NT as we looked at issues of 'the authority of scripture' and how to 'faithfully read' scripture.

Thanks - good to know many of us are referencing the same contributions to the field of thinking.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions