Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Whither the Bible?

Feodor raised questions in a previous post that I wanted to explore today. The questions explode in this blog, which I've been engaging a little lately: De-Conversion. From what I've seen there, almost all of the decons lost their faith when they realized the Bible wasn't what they'd been taught it was.

Feodor wrote:

Here is the problem: how can a community be a Christian community while mistrusting its own sacred scriptures... especially the centrally pivotal group of the gospels, the very texts revealing the figure of our salvation. I am not saying there are no answers to this problem. But, so far, all the answers given by the historical approach are not satisfactorily complete as to erase the dilemma.

Do we open up the canon of the bible to add further diversifying witness? And which of the previously excluded texts do we include? Five? Ten? Twenty? Why not twenty-one? Which get in and which do not? We are back to the very same work as those who made decisions in council over two hundred or more years.

Or do we dissolve the notion of the canon, leaving all things open? Bring in to the worship and formation of the community gnostic ideas? Bring in Buddhist ideas, zoroastrian thought, shinto, confucian, sufi practices? This would be an historically unprecedented move and would constitute the disestablishment of the Christian tradition of understanding ourselves.

Such communities already exist: Ethical Culture, for one and a pretty good one for all that. And they could use the influx of money.

This option, perhaps the right one, would seem to be the logical conclusion - and the one of integrity - for where the historical approach leads. For who can stop the relativist bleeding? If a christian wants to remain a christian, how does he or she do it on the basis of the historical approach?

(The rest of Feodor's thoughts are in the first comment).

What say ye all?


Feodor continues ...

Professor Frei seems to think this option will not lead the church to a place that maintains what it claims to be. He seems to think that the historical problem is a temporal one brought on by constructs of the enlightenment notion of reason, reading, and science. This is a certain period of a paradigm already passing. It has term limit problems.

So he is focused on what will not pass away - unless jettisoned - from the christian community's perspective: sacred scripture, particularly that which is directly revelatory of the Lord. There is the narrative, as it has always been, textual or oral, the narrative of Jesus Christ. If the christian church is to remain the christian church, the narrative must have some performative authority in the worship activity of the church; worship being its primary self-identifying and self-creating activity.

But among the difficulties of Frei - somewhat present in DrLBJ's mention of the medieval cathedral – is how to put humpty dumpty back together again after the bible has had such a great fall? How can we ignore learning? While willed ignorance is an active choice in Christendom, Frei is far from a conservative. He focuses on how we read the narrative. Yes, Frei thinks there can be found a kind of continuity with all periods of Christian history in reading the text as narrative. This is, of a sort, an anthropological argument: human society has always communicated itself to itself in main part by certain chosen/elected/received stories/myth/epics/gospels. It is an absolute pathway always necessary to the existence of human community.

Frei believes this argument, as intellectual as it is, is more descriptively and structurally true of human life as it has always been lived; a claim that clearly cannot be true of the historical approach to biblical interpretation. But Frei’s difficulty is asking the Christian church, so hobbled for centuries now of historical bombardment, to thoroughly make it’s internal pedagogy spring from literary and anthropological theory. And that request will ultimately fail. A lot more people read popular revisionist history than literary theory. It has the advantages of numbers. And that is unlikely to change.

In the end, let’s grant for hypothesis sake, Frei’s efforts to restore the gospel narrative may very well restore the protestant faith in the bible, now as realist readers, indentifying and modeling themselves after and prostrating themselves in faithful obedience to, the character they read there.

So Frei restores faith in reading the bible. And Pagels constructs renewed faith for our times in loyal mistrust of the bible.

But of what kind of transcendence are these text bound, protestant needs?
I thought this might be a little chewy for a Tuesday! :-)
Standing behind this issue - what is to become of the Church if we can't read the Bible the way we used to? - is the question of authority. Upon what authority do we rest our conviction that, in Jesus of Nazareth, we have a, perhaps the, unique manifestation of God, God's Will and intention for humanity, the expression of Divine Love and Grace, for all creation? If the Bible is no longer understood as "authoritative" in the sense it was 200, or 500, or 1500 years ago (which it clearly is not, nor should it be), upon what do we rest our insistence that we are followers in an unbroken line that stretches back to Roman Judea and Galilee?

I would suggest a partial way to begin to answer this question as follows: The Bible is authoritative - for all its flaws - first of all because it has been the collective decision of Christians down the ages to affirm that authority. This may seem either empty, or tautological, or both, but in fact it represents our (individual) assent to the (collective) agreement that we Christians, for all our myriad differences, rely upon a certain set of testimonies, not as the foundation of our belief, but as the authoritative guide for why we believe what we do.

The second way to deal with this issue is, I suppose one could say, to sidestep it all together. Having said above that the Bible is a testimony to why we believe what we do, the question becomes, What is that? This is where confession in Jesus of Nazareth as the unique manifestation of God, etc. enters the picture. Now, obviously, there is something circular here - where else but in the Bible do we receive our information on who this Jesus was, what he did, and why we should believe? Yet, the Church has confessed since its earliest days that it exists not because of the Bible, but because of Divine action (think Pentecost, the Holy Spirit). The authority of the Bible, it seems then, rests not on any merits it might hold, but on the Spirit which enlivens the dead words on the page for believers.

The interplay between the individual and the community, between the text and the hearers/readers, the confessions of the ages and our own refusal to stand pat - or our acceptance of the wisdom of the ages (following Newman, in some sense) - is part of the ongoing struggle of defining "church" in each age and generation.

I believe this problem is far more acute for Protestants than for, say Roman Catholics or the Orthodox faiths. Along with Scripture, the latter have tradition, liturgy, and the divinely invested authority of the hierarchy as supplements. Particularly we American Protestants have a problem with authority (not necessarily a bad thing), and I'm not sure there are any a priori answers to the question of "on whose (or what) authority do you claim to believe?"

This is something with which we all struggle, in some way, all the time. For myself, I believe because of the interplay between my own life, the life and history of the community of believers of which I am a part, and the way each informs the other. It is an on-going process. Different texts - historical, Biblical, whatever - inform different times and phases of belief - and while it might seem attractive to incorporate non-traditional, non-Western, non-Christian texts in to one's own personal canon, this is a decision I, for one cannot make. Some can. I cannot. Mine is a wholly pragmatic, contingent decision, resting upon nothing more than my own conclusion. Others may reach different conclusions, and that's OK with me. I do not believe, at this late date, there is any way to arbitrate such differences (see how pragmatism works in my spiritual life?).
Tradition is of man, it is a cultural anthropological thing. The decent of the Apostles is a tradition. The forwarding of a "Canon" is a tradition. Scriptures are scriptures because someone somewhere once said these were and these were not. It is a tradition that those who chose the canon where told by God which was which.
History tells us otherwise. Archaeological discoveries tells us otherwise.

Communities do not enter the Kingdom of God. Churches are not saved. Congregations do not repent.
A people are not chosen.

The conglomerate behavior/law/guilt of Jehovah is no more.

Before there was a canon, the Apostolic tradition, any creed, and not much dogma, the individual Christian had to rely on what?

1st Corinthians 2:
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him"—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:
1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh.

Wisdom and grace are of the spirit.
What you can receive you receive. What you can impart you impart.

"From what I've seen there, almost all of the decons lost their faith when they realized the Bible wasn't what they'd been taught it was."

Then they had been fooled into a faith of half truth sponsored by the prince of this word. A faith he knew they could not sustain.

"Here is the problem: how can a community be a Christian community while mistrusting its own sacred scriptures..."

Seek the guidance of the spirit and then test the spirit. If the spirit is of grace, truth, and love, then you've got the right one.
erratta "Then they had been fooled into a faith of half truth sponsored by the prince of this world."

What a difference an "l" makes.
You know, before the fundamentalist sweep of the SBC, I remember hearing preaching and discussing in Sunday school the ideas expressed in the Bible, and even the questions raised, and how maybe they could be applied to a life in faith, in the gift of Christ, trusting God. We told the stories and left it at that -- I don't remember any talk of "infallibility" or "inerrancy" of Scripture until that became the first consideration.

That's kind of where I am today, although I do bring this notion to the Scriptures that I couldn't have thought of back then, and, actually, didn't come up with now (I got it from either Spong or Marcus Borg, I can't recall):

The Bible is sacred and authoritative because IT IS; that is, because of its place in Jewish, Jewish-Christian and Christian searching for God, as a record of some, but not all, of the earliest believers' interpretations of what they considered to be encounters with the Divine; and because of the writings' place in Christian history, not because of their supposed origins. Or something like that.

Which means the gist is what's important, not very many of the details.
Anglicans sit on the same three legged stool of authority that GKS describes for Roman and Eastern Orthodoxy: scripture, tradition (the ecumenical councils and the historic teaching of the church in all ages and places) and reason (rather more democratically defined in English catholicism and more restricted to hierarchs in Rome and Constantinople).

When ordained, an Anglican priest must declare "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation" and then something about behaving according to the laws of the Episcopal Church (which serves as the parochial representative for tradition).

And yet, as DrLBJ briefly touches on, Roman and Anglican and Eastern Orthodoxy centralize something else that is not only temporally prior to holy scripture and not just anthropologically prior, but also theologically more fundamental within which scripture takes its appropriate role: ritual.

We say lex orandi lex credendi. The rule of prayer (worship in the community) is the rule of belief. In other words, the worshipping community's experience in the worship of God shapes what we believe because we corporately meet Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. That shaping is rightly guided by scripture, rests on the inheritance of teaching, and follows the use of our own minds and hearts as we live together in community before God. But the opening for new thinking is available as our worship of God can break new things open for us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As witness to new things becomes common experience, we can change direction. If it is important enough and it is divisive... we pray and vote. Gender, liturgical language, sexuality, we prayed and voted and lost a few each time.

But each time our corporate experience in Jesus Christ before God brought us to new understandings of scripture, tradition, and ourselves.

Ritual, for me, is a more primary experience of life in faith than scripture. But, if it is practiced without scripture and tradition, it becomes dead movement. If ritual is practiced with the shaping of scripture and tradition, but without our God-created best selves and thinking and love, it becomes dead traditionalism.

But as for scripture under this format, I have to maintain that DrLBJ's advice to live under the spirit is exactly how the early church understood it's own life and the challenge of determining which writings constituted those that sufficed to carry the gospel in full, though others would could be of great help and others still were distracting or disturbing to faith.

I cannot agree with him that what they did was a power play but what we do is trust the Spirit. They prayed, they called to the Spirit to guide their best thoughts and decisions, and then they made those decisions in the context of the community's understanding of authority. How can I judge how they lived out their faith without applying an inappropriately modern scale of western, democratic, individual-rights laden privatization of the human conscience that DrLBJ claims is our birthright - but that has only existed for forty years (bureaucratically) and has never informed the christian notion of personhood until the last, what, two hundred years?

The church (the community of believers) is the body of Christ ministering to the world. How does DrLBJ split this up without destroying all received tradition of christianity? If we must go ahead and do so because of where we have come in our understanding of self and other, then let us stop calling ourselves a christian and members of the church. If there is no salvation in the body of Christ, there certainly is no salvation in the words describing it.

If we keep our christian identity (and, therefore, necessarily christian tradition) we nonetheless have moral blinders of which we are not aware. What are the implications for our life under the Spirit? Will we be disallowed to be seen as having one because we have moral blinders that we can only negatively hypothesize at this time. Will a future church, or a future professor damn all the time we live and work in community because we grossly missed something? Are we to be that Calvinistically modern in our treatment of the early church?

As for GKS and Frei, I think Frei's position is that what we are losing in our authoritative sense of scripture is what was formed by historical-grammatical thinking - in other words, an artifact of the enlightenment approach. Therefore, he would want to see his proposal as a return to the style of scripture reading that has largely served the greater bulk of christian history. We may see different things in scripture than a twelfth-century person but Frei thinks we can read in more or less the same way. The Illiad is still read as the Illiad, even though giving new lessons for every generation.

My problem with the protestant idolizers of Frei is that reading scripture should serve another, higher, deeper, more fundamental conduit in our living with the Trinity. Enthroned in words it may be, but enthroned like the host in a thick rhetoric of a monstrance.
I'm digging yer graf that begins "I cannot agree with him ..." but: your last point is the very basis of Western society: the sovreignty of the people, which rrides on the sovereingty of the individual, which, historically, flies in the face, of course, of the sovereignty of the crown, which was understood as a represetnative of the sovereignty of God. More or less. No wonder the Western church is so screwed up.
I am perfectly fine with the modern foundations of western society -- within certain specific and one dangerously abstract limits: misogyny, the color line, greed and technologizing stimulation, etc., but especially our increasing privatization from community which wears away at civil society, the very ground and guarantor of the modern foundations of western society.

My suggestion is that DrLBJ is off to the wrong foot when he lines up scripture to follow this sentence:

"Before there was a canon, the Apostolic tradition, any creed, and not much dogma, the individual Christian had to rely on what?"

I doubt very seriously the Christian of antiquity understood or operated in self-understanding by what we mean when we say, "the individual Christian."

In the same way, I am ambivalent about GKSs inference, intentionally or unintentionally, that we can't read gospel narrative like the twelfth century or the sixth, that is, when we read it like a narrative rather than a text from history.

But then this is at the base of my problem with Frei: how do we -- post-modern readers in modern western society, increasingly plastic in our identity construction, increasingly multi-cultural and privatized at one and the same time -- bracket out where we come from in order to read the gospel as sheer narrative? How do we willfully, even the miniscule few fortified by literary theory, read "as if" we are not fully who we are?

For me, these questions about trusting or mistrusting scripture have, subconsciously within them, a painful experience with theodicy. In the spirit of DrLBJ, we read Paul's "no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free" and have very clear ideas about what this verse means. Whether Paul could see it, and compared to other areas of his writing he could not, we see this a prophecy of western modern society.

But isn't there inferred the anguished question, why did it take so long? If scripture had so much right, despite what it seemed to have wrong, why did it not have quicker effect? Indeed, it really seems to have had no effect on the improvement of human nature. Two thousand years of human history surely did not revolve around anything except the slow ability of humankind to awaken itself, and that is still only partial and incomplete and entirely missing in some regions.

Is there anything ultimately good, i.e. morally useful, about scripture at all? And since scripture has rarely - rarely - advanced the cause of rights and peace by itself, since it always seems to be of rearguard support, what good is it?

Perhaps this is at the bottom of DrLBJs encouragement to loosen our attention to the canon and live by the Spirit, for the text is dead. Is he suggesting that we are now socio-culturally structured in a way that the notion of a biblical canon is no longer useful? Are we anthropologically incapable of accessing truth and goodness in that way?

I confess that I certainly struggle with these questions on scripture.

So does post-modernism, unless GKS can talk me out of this view.

Post-modernism says, in part, that we are fractured selves who use language like gum and wire to put ourselves together as well as our civil societies. In one Christian perspective, in other words, we are thoroughly fallen, singly and together. Moral systems are, therefore, a problem for post-modern theorists. In short, most of the best they do is put a rose on the end of our fracturedness and call it kaleidoscopic beauty. So, now our problem with scripture's total lack of power (and the suspicions about God resulting), we are also left with our own moral problem of being made up of desire, fear, and hope. Scripture could not change this, and did not. Even yet.

So is this scripture's problem for modernity... or is it ours and scripture availeth nothing till after we get our shit right?

Scripture is a problem for us. But which end of that broken stick should we be focused on?

* I’ll desist from writing any more to let others have space and hopefully add their thoughts and criticize mine. I could use the help. *
Re, "our increasing privatization from community which wears away at civil society, the very ground and guarantor of the modern foundations of western society."

I agree. And I above, I should have talked about sovereignty of the individual, as individuals come together in extended family, community, association, etc., with out is anarchy.

Re, Before there was a canon ... (etc.), the individual Christian had to rely on what?" I doubt very seriously the Christian of antiquity understood or operated in self-understanding by what we mean when we say, "the individual Christian."

I agree. The examples we have are groups of people, if not crowds, around Jesus.

On the gospel as narrative. What else do we read as narrative, even if we also struggle over, if not choke, on the details -- details of origin as well as expression as well as fluidity of meaning over time? The Constitution comes immediately to mind as a positive. Great pieces of fiction, recognized by all as fiction, come to mind, such as "Uncle Tom's Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly." So do early example of American history, such as that of George Bancroft, which still have value and meaning. What else?

Re, "trusting or mistrusting scripture."

I don't think of it like that. Maybe I do, but I don't mean to, or don't think I do. But it's not that I mistrust or trust "Scripture," but I accept or reject this or that piece fo writing within the Scriptures as either immediately relative to me, right now, right here, or not.

Re, "we read Paul's 'no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free' and have very clear ideas about what this verse means. Whether Paul could see it, and compared to other areas of his writing he could not, we see this a prophecy of western modern society."

I've always seen that, itself, as a statement of theology, an interpretation of the state of those "in ChristJesus," not as a description of the world at large vis-a-vis God or Christ per se, and not as a prophecy, or even representing a natural extension of the relationship the Body of Christ has with Christ out into "the world"; we extend such thinking into the world, those few fo us who try to, because it seems fairer to us than not for a lot of reason, only some having to do with our relationship with ChristJesus.

Which mutes this question somewhat, or at least redirects it, in my mind: "But isn't there inferred the anguished question, why did it take so long?"

Because it extends with the reach of the Body of Christ, and only a small part of it at that. And the church has not yet extended into most of the hearts of man.
Seminarian RW friend sends this via e-mail:

I just finished a reading by William C. Placher that strikes me as responsive to the questions (of this post). It is from Placher's book "Narratives of a Vulnerable God: Christ, Theology and Scripture." The reading I did, and that you may appreciate, is Chapter 4: "Gopsels' Ends: The Vulnerability of Biblical Narratives."

I think you may appreciate Placher (who, like Frei, represents the postliberal, narrative school). In fact, I believe Frei was Placher's teacher/mentor. (Placher, however, may be much more reader-friendly.)
Well, this'n kind of Petered out. Or maybe it Pauled out. Wocka-wocka.
here's a lentan reflection for ya: isn't it interesting that many followers of Christianity have a hard time with atheists and some even want a "Christian nation" with a government filled with the most pious people. but Jesus wasn't killed by atheists and skeptics but by religious and governmental authorities. priorities?

protecting a book is really dumb. we should be protecting and helping PEOPLE!!! it's not Father, Son and HOLY SCRIPTURE! it's Holy Spirit which indwells all of us, connecting us and binding us together (whether we acknowledge it or not). love your holy spirited neighbor as yourself. on this all of the law and prophets hang.
That's good stuff, Luke.
Alas, we have made our piece with a broken and dissolved Holy Scripture.

Even you, ER. It seems to me that what you've written at De-Conversion and here does not necessitate a New testament. Everything you go looking for can be found in endlessly fruitful cycles of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David. Lessons on blind faith, stubborn arguing with God, the long arc of moral history, loss, inconsistent ear for God's voice, sin, human frailty, death, God's mercy, redemption, new life, paradise.

It's all there. Even the really bad barbecue Daniel feeds to the dragon.

What do we need the New Testament for?

We've replaced the revelation of Christ with a profound, intangible and baseless trust in a post-modern (w)holy Spirit, for which we find ellusive (and secretly personal) testimony in our feelings about movies, music, commercials, and, only recently, electoral pride.

We are now truly gnostics.
Or we are reformed Jews who have been on an excruciatingly long, wild goose chase.

Either way, much of modern christendom seems to be ready to feel a kind of liberation from the prison of the new testament and is eager for Kabbalah or Harold Bloom.
Case in point:

Uh, OK.

You might have to show me where I have SO dissed the N.T., as a whole. Or are you now making the same argument my fundie detractors make, that if I hold any of the Scriptures to be "less than" in terms of present relevance to me here and now, then it's a scandal that I dare hold any to a "more than"?
On the defrocking of the Episcopal gal: I knew this was pending, but didn't know it had come to a resolution. I hear what she's saying, but I agree that, for the sake of the institutios of both Christianity and Islam, she can't wear both hats. If she can't pick one perspective on God, that's between her and her bifocaled perspective of God. Since she couldn't pick one religion, of course, one had to make the decision for her for practical reasons if not for spiritual ones.
No, no. I'm just saying that your arguments uphold a for scripture really well. But none of them justify the need for the whole new set that came along in somewhat contradictory or at least revolutionary fashion:

"The Bible is sacred and authoritative because IT IS; that is, because of its place... as a record of some, but not all, of the earliest believers' interpretations of what they considered to be encounters with the Divine....

Which means the gist is what's important, not very many of the details."

This seems in line with GKS take, as well.

"As I’ve said, what Jesus is said to have said about God is more important to me than what people have said, and say, about Jesus."

This last would be very much how Islam sees Jesus, if not exactly how Islam sees Jesus.

And one whirlingly dervish of an anglican priest.
Also, benevolent Jews see Jesus the same way. Like I see Buddha, as a matter of fact. Great stuff, that Buddha/ Jesus. Sure does preach. I'll blend it in in the sermon.

But first I gotta blow the shofar.
But I don't feel the need to make the Dhammapada part of my holy scripture. It's damn useful to me, vital, as is much more of ancient and contemporary buddhist writings. But I don't need them to be Holy Scripture. In fact, canonicity is an open issue in Buddhism for all but southern Buddhists who claim the Pali canon as canon.

So, why does the New Testament have to be Holy Scripture? Why can't it be valuable in just the ways you've described?

Jesus was a great prophet. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Buddha.

Why can't the New Testament simply be a newer testament?

Newer than some and older than others?

Aren't you fine with this? You pick Jesus (and Bocephus). She picks both Jesus and Muhammad. I pick Jesus and Buddha. He picks Moses and Rumi.

It's all good.
By the way, I've got to page one of my own blog. I doubt, though, it will get to a page two.

You are the first to be honored.
Feodor takes the plunge!
On the first quote of me: May I add, for what it's worth, that that doesn't mean that I don't think the Bible, in general, isn't "inspired by God."

On the second quote of me: I mean that as a way to regulate, for lack of a better word, out-of-control christology that ignores the humanity of Jesus totally in favor of the Super Hero Jesus from Outer Space. Plus, note the relativity: one thing being "more important" doesn't mean the other thing is irrelevant, just "less important." ... Especially if one tends to see Jesus's very Godness in the fact of his perfect Humanity.
Good enough.

But what makes the New Testament to be Holy Scripture?

Why don't we keep to the Hebrew Bible (the original God inspired- IT IS - Holy Scripture) and say, "but this good 'ol boy also came along and had some great additional things to say"?

ESPECIALLY if, as GKS says, we don't read it like that original community that did find it to be Holy Scripture: the very community that he says we lay claim to legacy membership and so inherit this book as scripture even though we don't read it like they did who put it together and called it holy.
Are we the accidents of the history of conciliar myopia and parochial power grabbing? Isn't his DrLBJs view?

Is christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity -- sola scriptura -- an accident of history, only now burning out like a nebula?

Defend yourself, oh seminarian!

These become the questions of the middler year. And senior year. And post-graduate year. Year after year until you bleed out or find an answer.
As I understand it, church fathers decided, whether by acclamation or ballot (which was it??), to "bless" and define most of the writings in general use by most of the groups of Christians as official in whatever year that was (325). Did James VI add the particular flourish of "Holy"?

As for why we don't adhere to the O.T. as closely, I'd say it's because 1., we're not Jews; 2, even they've long quit the animal sacrifice and Temple worship at the center of the O.T. (for now; ask a knowledgable end-timeser about the future restoration of both); and 3., I'd say we lay claim to a connection with Judaism because a., Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew; b., our faith was born in Judaism; and c., we believe that thing about Abraham being the father of many nations.
1. We are grafted onto the trunk of Judaism, according to Paul. What happens to Jews after hearing the revelation of Christ and denying it, according to Paul, may be something like being cut off from the trunk, the remnant, of Judaism. What remains in covenant with God are organic Jewish christians and grafted on gentile christians.

2. This recognized in the work of councils on the canon, which was work on the whole canon: the Christian Bible has two equally authoritative parts, the Old Testament (now theologically and formally not the same as the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament, and a third, less authoritative part, the Apocrypha.

So christian clergy usually affirm the authority of both, the christian old testament and the chrstian new testament.

3. We don't keep women silent anymore. We don't keep slaves anymore. Elders can be married, not married, childless, having children who are unbelievers, etc. We, too, have departed from NT laws. Does this departure disqualify the NT like rabbinical Judaism's departure from Temple Judaism disqualifies the OT?

4. By whatever names we want to give to what was done, and whatever timeline we describe, what they were doing was debating, praying, arguing, writing extensively on which scriptures should operate authoritatively in the worship and faith of christians and others were merely beneficial or objectionable on various grounds. They lived by a canon, increasing to 27 by a long process, but keeping a core of two handfuls or so that were most authoritative from early on, an expanding ring of slightly less authoritative books as time went, and a definite boundary marker outside of which stood all others.

Holy may be Elizabethan, but sacred and canonical was the working concept.

Is there anything or anyhow that still justifies the NT as sacred scripture?

Is the NT sacred in a way that should necessitate the divisive energy to reform the Hebrew Bible when many Jews already add the figure and teachings of Jesus as a fantastic Jewish model of morality?

Is the NT sacred in a way that denies its partial incorporation as a prophetic witness of Allah by Islam?

How can a community be a Christian community while mistrusting? dissolving? relativizing? the boundary of the NT, its historically and theologically proclaimed sacred scriptures?
1. Need to ponder what I think about that.

2. No argument. But -- and this is something for which I don't have an answer: What does "authoritative" mean? Leviticus, sure, an authoritative part of the history of Jewish priesthood -- with no specific application to me here and now.

3. Never saw any of that as "law" or "laws."

4. No argument.

Re, "Is there anything or anyhow that still justifies the NT as sacred scripture?"

That it exists, and the place, time and intention of its origins.

Re, "Is the NT sacred in a way that should necessitate the divisive energy to reform the Hebrew Bible when many Jews already add the figure and teachings of Jesus as a fantastic Jewish model of morality?"

I don't understand "reform the Hebrew Bible" or what you mean that the O.T. as we know is not "the Hebrew Bible." As to the fine point: Trusting God as encountered in Jesus, and following Jesus, is Christianity, isn't it?

Re, "Is the NT sacred in a way that denies its partial incorporation as a prophetic witness of Allah by Islam?"

Not sure. Having not read the Koran, nor anything meaningful about it, I don't know, actually, whether "God" and "Allah" are the same, but I think they probably are, seeing through a dark glass and all.

Re, "How can a community be a Christian community while mistrusting? dissolving? relativizing? the boundary of the NT, its historically and theologically proclaimed sacred scriptures?"

The boundary is set. I do talk about adding to it sometimes, but I can't, so it's a mind-faith exercise. But then that raises the question: Which N.T.?

(Must do work now! But carry on; I'll catch up.)
And by "boundary" I mean not only the notion of canonicity, but the boundary that describes the general truthfulness of the NT -- outside of which we may want to place some things found in the NT -- but nonetheless upholding its sacredness in as much as it is "necessary for salvation."

I realize that I'm still using OT in two different ways, but context makes clear whether I'm talking about Christian or Jewish scripture.


This is paperwork Thursday. Too easy to back and forth from desk to ER.
"That it exists, and the place, time and intention of its origins."

This is just historical accident. And it does not seem to me a necessary justification for cutting ourselves off from Judaism. The Koran also exists and has intentionality in time and place. So does the Bridges of Madison County. I'm not seeing what you see to be significant here. The historicality of texts are relative. I would shiver holding a Frost poem.

"Trusting God as encountered in Jesus, and following Jesus, is Christianity, isn't it?"

Would you and how would you disagree with someone who says that the Jesus encountered in the NT as we understand it today is far less nourishing/spiritual/moral than the encounter with Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, the Prophets, the Psalms, etc. that one gets in the Hebrew Bible?

In effect, that if the issue is which is the greatest narrative for life, for encountering God, then clearly the story cycles of the Patriarchs and the people who give us some of the earliest and best versions of how we experience God as angry, loving, blessing, commanding, calling are so rich in nuance and narrative power. And then being the first texts that exhibit social laws, moral outrage, speaking truth to power, exile, and the sturm und drang of spiritual life under God are the way to go. I mean, geez, look at the diversity of genre -- Creation stories AND Job and Ecclesiastes? Who else has that? Jesus has some very nice things, bring him along, sure, but the expense of the whole Christian thing with its Crusades and Jim Crow? Way too off base.

Islam would say, too, that the NT gets a lot of things wrong (Trinity, Incarnation - really the things that the Church defined from scripture rather than scripture defining for the Church). Best to think of Jesus as a superlative prophet and witness to God. An outstanding moral voice. But a greater one is Muhammad to whom God spoke directly. How is this different from Spong- except for the last sentence? Should Spong and christians be different from this position - except for the last sentence?

Is Spong, and are we, simply saying that we are Christian because it is just the case that WE ARE like IT IS? We are Christians because of the accident of our birth in a time and place as a result of some intentionality?

But, since this is certainly true of our birth, is that all there is to the reason that we are Christians? We were born in a home where the bible had two parts? Have we given this part of our identity no more thought?

Maybe that is our only viable reason. We were born nearest a Christian bible.

The problem with that, though, is that we may be losing the coherence of that book.

And thus we are losing the reason to continue to have it near our identity, much less near the birth of our children, or theirs.
Thoughtful thoughts anon. In the meantime, may I note the supreme irony of me simulataneous to this, I am arguing at De-Con that the Bible is useful as the source for what we know about what we say we believe. And may I note further that I don't aim to be arguing the opposite, or anything close to that, here.
Dang it, I have to answer this, and then it's back to work!

Re, " place, time and intention of its origins."

The place was Palestine! The time was the time, more or less, that Jesus walked the land. The intention of the originators wasa to give testement, and interpretations, to their experience with God, Jesus of Nazareth and one another.

Put the Koran, the Bridges of Madison County or Frost there, then, among those origins, and then they're comparable. It's the general fact of existence; it's the specifics of IT'S existence that makes its a-persistence -- aha! -- intimate -- aha! -- and-a not a-distant, aha! PraiseGodAmenThankyouJesus.

(Sorry. Gettin' my Pentecostal preacher on.) ;-)
Yes, indeed, I am only pushing you to build an "apologetic" defense for the authority of the NT. This is an exercise in theological reason, not an examination of faith, life, and honor.

I think we both assume that sacred scriptures, however explicit and boundaried the notion, have been helpful for human psychology, spirituality, and moral reasoning. And we are not addressing whether they still are since that is our common experience.

The question at hand is whether the NT, in its current status as an historically received, understood, and, most importantly, conditioned text, can still and in what manner be sacred scripture.

And I have been pushing us along the specifically protestant-like confines of sola scriptura, i.e., justifying the NT by its own scales.

You have tried to jump out of that once or twice with an appeal to history. But my take has been that the nature of the way you are appealing to history does not justify the NTs legitimacy against competing claims or against the dissolution of relativizing moves toward them all.

Does the NT have authority on its own in a competing or dissolving world (and not just your own heart) or not, and, if so, how does it continue to stand?

This is not to ask if the NT is more authoritative than anything else. We are only asking about its own integrity. So this is a christian theological question and not an ecumenical or philosophical or literary one.
Sorry, I am not answering your last which I didn't see till now.

Take that up soon.
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But the documents in the NT were written later, more than half, at the least, not in Israel, and 75% to 90% by those who never met the earthly JC.

And the NT qua NT was constructed centuries later.

You've gone to ur-texts which we don't have much of other than Paul, and Paul didn't know the earthly Jesus. And LBJ would say you left out many early texts that were pushed away.

Intimacy cannot be the criterion, to my mind. Not a feasible possibility given what we think we know about the canon.
Not, at least, that kind of intimacy (restricted to Palestine and his owning sandals).
GKS, where art thou?

Sing to us of the impossible dream of the historical Jesus and recent whispers of resurrecting that hope from Mr. (W)right from across the pond!

Sing the man, muse.
Re, "We are only asking about its own integrity."

Why would the Bible have any integrity, aside from that of a historical artifact or historical literature, to anyone not a Christian? ... I don't think it does. ??? It's not accepting the Bible, at whatever level, that makes one a Christian.
Re, "But the documents in the NT were written later, more than half, at the least, not in Israel, and 75% to 90% by those who never met the earthly JC."

True, but I do give some weight to oral tradition.

Re, "And the NT qua NT was constructed centuries later."

The what?

Re, "You've gone to ur-texts which we don't have much of other than Paul, and Paul didn't know the earthly Jesus."

The what? And I don't see the point about Paul; he never claimed to have met Jesus, only to have encountered Christ in some kind of ecstatic experience.

Re, "LBJ would say you left out many early texts that were pushed away."

Well, I don't reject them.
Exactly so; its own integrity, that's why "this is a christian theological question and not an ecumenical or philosophical or literary one."

As for the rest, my interest is in trying to articulate an understanding of the authority of the NT in its role as Holy Scripture for the church, not so much for myself. My personal experience of its authority will probably be like and unlike the community's experience of its authority. Just like there is a vast set of principles and laws we all follow in society and a less vast but comprehensive set of laws and principles I hold for myself without judgment on those others hold for themselves (unless theirs is destructive to society).

How do we argue for a view of the authority of the NT that serves the church. In the end, this is the only use for a canon: to help shape or guide the community and, in turn, be somewhat shaped by the community over time.

I myself do not need a canon much anymore, having, by now, internalized it. I construct my own. But I would not be able to do so if I had not grown up in the community of faith which modeled (even poorly) corporate faith shaped by the canon.

How do we care for the community by giving some thought to renewing the authority of the NT? As pastors, or mothers, in the faith.

Or is the game up?
And how do we do so referring to the NT as itself, as it exists in its use.

While we also understand what went into making it, how various genres are used that communicate in different ways, the missing antagonists it addresses, the embedded nature of jewish theology and graeco-roman philosophy, even some sprinkles of gnosticism, while we understand all the features, we must still deal with how the body, the canon, is authoritative for the church in its worship life.

This is what we have as practicing christians. All the other stuff informs us and aids teaching the faith, but Bible in the church has a somewhat different set of phenomenological acts in the community than it does for the academy.
I heard I was summoned, saw I was summoned, and will offer a preface before I rush off to work. In the morn, should my mind be so inclined, I shall elaborate.

All of Feodor's questions seem to revolve around finding some extraneous source for the authority of Scripture, some thing at which we can point and say, "See? See? It isn't just us crazy Christians who think the Bible means more than it says."

My question is - why bother? Why is this necessary at all? So what if the early Church insisted there was such a thing. We aren't Greco-Roman Christians of late antiquity, and we shouldn't act like such. It seems to me my point - the Bible is authoritative because we Christians have made that choice - is more than enough. All the discussion of ecclesiastical and imperial politics and questions of Divine intervention - this is all well and good, and, yes, quite honestly the shape of the canon could have looked quite different than it does today.

So what? It doesn't and while there is a virtue in studying non-canonical texts, I and the community of which I am a part have made the choice not to open up the canon to these texts. I think that's a fine idea, and yet I see no reason in the world why the opposite decision is bad, evil, heretical or what not.

What difference would or could it possibly make to find that Archimedean point of authority upon which the Christian Churches could move the world? Why pretend that these are something more than the contingent decisions of flawed human beings that could have been otherwise? Why worry about the question of authority at all?

If you believe that the undermining of Biblical authority is important, please go ahead and worry about it. I do not; I do not even think such a thing has happened, so I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.
GKS: "the Bible is authoritative because we Christians have made that choice..." and "I and the community of which I am a part have made the choice not to open up the canon to these texts."

On what basis are these choices made?

Just because?

If it is "just because," I don't think your community will last much longer.

But I don't think it is just because.

I think you've not given the reasons for the choices. You've given the things that are not the reasons.
I think we're back to the same questions, and I have to say that I'm not sure what it is your asking now.

The disconnect between the Christian academy and the pew is about the same as the disconnect between the bar and the jury box, the Freud and the average person's understanding of nocturnal images, the study of medicine and folk remedies. But of those, it seems to me that the N.T.'s authority is dimished only in the Christian academy, not in the pew for the most part; but I don't really even think that.

Maybe authority isn't what you're wondering about. Maybe authenticity, or even basic broad truthfulness.

Beyond all that, all I can say at this point is: "the hell if I know."
Ah Ha! I missed the seminar.

ER: "I don't understand "reform the Hebrew Bible" or what you mean that the O.T. as we know is not "the Hebrew Bible.""

"The Hebrew Bible(HB)" is definitely not the same as the "Old Testament(OT)".
First all of the HB is not included in the OT.

Secondly the books of the HB are re-ordered in the OT to make the OT conform to the concept that it is prelude or prequel to the NT and that together they tell a linear story about the prophecy of Christ and the actual coming of Christ.

Thirdly there are different versions of the HB depending on your Jewishness.

Fourthly, even the way it is read varies from literal to mid-rash and a bunch in between.

As for Book versus Spirit, the guiding spirit was promised in many of the NT books canonized and not. No Where (?) was there a book promised as a guiding set of principles. So which has primacy?
Now, having read the Quran, I can assure you that Allah did indeed, hundreds of times, declare that his Book delivered without error to his prophet was the ultimate source of truth. Thus Islam is of the Book and Christianity is of the Spirit.
But every Muslim knows that almost all Christians think they too are of the Book and that the Spirit is quite these days.

As for the "Church", yes I believe that the "Church" is an apostate institution whose existence is 99%in the service of man and of the power over men. The apostolic traditions and the very traditional concept of "One God" (eg. merging the trinity into One God) was to serve the Roman Emperors and later the kings who succeeded them.

I would however state that congregations of believers do not mean the same as "the Church". The SBC once was composed of individual believers in congregations, and congregations in a group called the SBC. That is the way I was taught to be a Christian, so in my way I am following my traditions as well.

GKS ask:"Standing behind this issue - what is to become of the Church if we can't read the Bible the way we used to? - is the question of authority. Upon what authority do we rest our conviction that, in Jesus of Nazareth, we have a, perhaps the, unique manifestation of God, God's Will and intention for humanity, the expression of Divine Love and Grace, for all creation? "

I would answer we don't have such an assurance. Indeed, even Jesus himself stated that was so, Did he not have "other" sheep?

Gimme that ole tyme religion...

I would also suggest that we stop worrying about the "Church" and pay attention the the Kingdom of God on earth and in heaven.

As for individuality in faith and religion being something new, I don't think so. We don't go to hell as a group do we? Or do we?

Why do we have to accept the historical Jesus as Christ? Accepting Christ is an act of Spirit and Faith. Why then the need for the absolute literal necessity of a historical Jesus?
Because it is in the "Creeds"? Why are there creeds? To separate them from us? To control Us? Who wrote the Creeds? Who made them Roman Law?

Once again to the Book.
From about 500 to 1000 A.D. there were no readers of the book outside of "some of" the clergy. How about we re-establish that early tradition? While at the same historical time, EVERY believer of Allah could read and recite his Book.

We enter a new age. Everyone in the world has now some degree of free access to all of the books, all of the versions, all of the interpretations, of all of the religions. All those differences descreprencies frauds etc. are freely available to everybody who wants to dig them up. As God chooses to bring forth from the musty shelves or buried amphorae old and more complete text with old understandings and new truths we either open ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit or cloister our minds and bind our souls to what we can tolerate.
A usuful bit of knowledge for a young seminarian to include in his sermons. We have now scientific evidence for the age of the Garden of Eden:

"Molecular Evolution of Pediculus humanus and the Origin of Clothing
Ralf Kittler1,Manfred KayserandMark Stoneking

The human head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) and body louse (P. humanus corporis or P. h. humanus) are strict, obligate human ectoparasites that differ mainly in their habitat on the host: the head louse lives and feeds exclusively on the scalp, whereas the body louse feeds on the body but lives in clothing. This ecological differentiation probably arose when humans adopted frequent use of clothing, an important event in human evolution for which there is no direct archaeological evidence. We therefore used a molecular clock approach to date the origin of body lice, assuming that this should correspond with the frequent use of clothing. Sequences were obtained from two mtDNA and two nuclear DNA segments from a global sample of 40 head and body lice, and from a chimpanzee louse to use as an outgroup. The results indicate greater diversity in African than non-African lice, suggesting an African origin of human lice. A molecular clock analysis indicates that body lice originated not more than about 72,000 to 42,000 years ago; the mtDNA sequences also indicate a demographic expansion of body lice that correlates with the spread of modern humans out of Africa. These results suggest that clothing was a surprisingly recent innovation in human evolution."

Oh yes and don't forget that the supposed "marine" element of our evolution also dates to about that same time.
I hope it is OK for me to comment three days later and with the open admission that I have not read every word of each of the 50 comments preceding this one.

The reason this post inspired so much response is clear. The question ER and Feodor pose is not a minor point. Arguably, this is the biggie of all philosophy and theology... What is the nature of truth?

After three years of seminary, I decided I had to abandon my plans for ordination because of the exact issues raised here. I knew that the Bible wasn't a historically factual collection of writings before I ever went to seminary in the first place, but I thought it had enough metaphorical/theological truth to justify its position at the center of the Christian tradition.

This began to make less and less sense to me as I continued in my studies. The Bible contains wisdom, but so do most books. I couldn't discern why we should see it as having a unique claim. The Bible also proves itself at times to be highly immoral by contemporary standards as when its writers advocate the keeping of slaves (in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures). I couldn't see any reason to view it as our central or exclusive authority. It wasn't even written for us. These writings are - like all writings - contextual. They were written for their own times and their own cultures. These writers could never have conceived of our democratic, high-tech, urbanized, globalized post-modern world.

Apologies to my liberal Christian brothers and sisters, but I came to conclude that the fundamentalists had a point about one thing... Once you start to ask questions about the Bible and traditional church dogma, things do start to unravel.

I now belong to a Unitarian Universalist church. In our tradition, the Bible has lost its place of privelege. We do draw from the Bible sparingly, but we also draw from science, philosophy, poetry, fiction, etc., together with the writings of other religious traditions. This admittedly creates some chaos. We as a community agree on little because we lack a central authority from which to discern what is true. And yet, I no longer see an alternative. The Bible is simply not large enough to contain "the Truth." Besides, looking at Christianity - from Pat Robertson to Desmond Tutu - it doesn't look like epistemological chaos is a uniquely UU dilemma.
From Feodor: "Just because?

If it is "just because," I don't think your community will last much longer.

But I don't think it is just because."

First of all, it does boil down, in the end, to "just because". Because of politics. Because of class and gender relations and the desire for power and the Emperor's ear and a whole host of other perfectly normal, human reasons.

The "community" of which I consider myself a part is the large, huge, ecumenical community call the communion of saints which stretches back from the days before there was a Bible to this very second. It is doing about as well as it always has, thank you very much.

You believe it isn't "just because"? OK, knock yourself out trying to find that out. Let me know if you do. A warning, though. Even if you find such a creature, I might wonder why it is necessary. Why is it necessary for us to pretend there is something magical about the Bible that makes us revere it? Why is it necessary for us to have some thing other than the general consensus of Christians that, "the stuff in these ancient writings is pretty good stuff." Elaine Pagels thinks we need to include the Gnostic texts. I don't. She has some interesting, but mostly ahistorical, arguments on her side (as well as factually inaccurate; from what we know of non-Christian gnostic and other mystery traditions, it wasn't that women had a certain power that made them unattractive, because women didn't have power; she was just making that kind of thing up out of whole cloth), and I disagree with them. If one studies the history of the councils of the Church, whether Nicaea, or Trent, or even Vatican I or II - the end result is the same. Same with the United Methodist General Conference. It bases its arguments on Scripture, with the simple assertion that it has a certain authority. Why does it have that authority? Because we say it does.

Seems fine to me.

I'll be addressing the issue of authority, I hope, if I can stay awake long enough to do so, at my own blog, but I just wanted to say that much. I want to address an earlier comment of Feodor's, however, so please bear with me.

Here's the quote, again from Feodor: "Moral systems are, therefore, a problem for post-modern theorists. In short, most of the best they do is put a rose on the end of our fracturedness and call it kaleidoscopic beauty."

First, it isn't that "moral systems" are "a problem". It's simply that such a gangly, unwieldy creature is really not much on our minds. Why should it be? To put the matter a certain way: Is my act of selflessness toward another human being made somehow better because it is justified by a moral system? Does my act of lovingkindness toward others somehow become even MORE loving and kind because it somehow, mysteriously, partakes of some transcendental property called "The Good"? Is it at all necessary for us actually to have to create an entire meta-narrative about goodness and badness before we can ascribe those two words to certain actions? I will be blunt. Only if we are children.

I am no child.

I see no "problem" with "moral systems" because, quite frankly, I don't worry about them much either, anymore than I do about finding some transcendental justification for Biblical authority. If something I do benefits another human being (and if you've been following even a little bit of my discussion with my sister and read some of what my cousin has recently written, you should know this very question is on my mind) it is not made somehow better because it "fits" with something some great thinker from the past said, reflecting some I-know-not-what called The Good. If something I do harms another human being, causes pain, anguish, and suffering, does it make it more egregious because it can be definitively shown not to do those very things?

Nah. Most "moral systems" boil down to - treat other human beings well. Why? Because they're human beings, just like you ("Remember the stranger in the land, because you were once aliens in the land of Egypt, and I, the LORD your God delivered you from slavery in that land.")

That's just God's way of saying, "Just because."
• Stop signs and street lights
• Representative Democracy
• Women first through the door
• Taxation only with representation
• Constitutional government
• Responsible for the traction of the sidewalk in front of one’s home
• Assault on an intruder justified only within the boundaries of ones’ home
• Marriage age restrictions
• Liquor and tobacco purchase restrictions

All these are results of moral reasoning and the more abstract the more they came out of a system of thought.

Are human beings moral children – or, to put it more pejoratively – are human beings problematic? Here’s evidence for one side of the argument:

Civil Rights law. How many times will it take for us to get it right?


One may choose to trust GKS implicitly; but one cannot choose to trust all of society implicitly. Powers exist, within the human person. Even GKS, I hazard to suggest, has violated his intuitive, sense of good. I’ll bet that GKS violates his own, rather worrisomely non-specific law of “treat other human beings well” with regularity.

Not that a system will necessarily help him to be more consistent, although that is possible. A system cannot enslave his free will. But then, that is the point. His free will is a promise and a problem. Which will win out?

And thus, by zooming over lots of stuff that GKS doesn’t want to acknowledge anymore, we get to a nation of laws. It used to be said, by conservatives holding power, that you cannot legislate morality. Well… all legislation is an effort by nation of laws an attempt to protect social interaction for everyone. If things were as clear as GKSs Pollyanna, we would not need to have government.

And since this is so obvious on the face of it, and remedial, it tires in having to fend off the apathy that won over the strength of learning he could bring, if he weren’t seemingly dealing with post-traumatic shock from too many and too long a morass of German words.

God has no way of saying “just because.” The book of Job itself is an extended examination of just such nihilism. And even in the passage GKS quotes (did he take off his glasses mid-sentence?), God says, “BECAUSE you were once aliens in the land of Egypt, and I, the LORD your God delivered you from slavery in that land.” Which looks to me like moral reasoning, a building block toward a system, which, in fact, the Bible keeps presenting in sidebars like this one.

I still find this to be pretty empty, “the Bible is authoritative because we Christians have made that choice.”

When did we make this choice and HOW did we make it?

On the basis of what reasoning?


DrLBJ must be ready to jettison the Constitution as well. Since it has been failing on some eternally important things from the very start.

Surely we can no longer reasonably find it to have authority. Look who wrote it. It wasn’t written for us. It was written for white, propertied men who were players in a mercantile economy.

So lets start living according to the Spirit of America only.

As this is clearly not feasible since a spirit does not give any community enough to organize itself (except for those that exist within a larger society that does the organizing for them).

So is DrLBJs pitting some particularistic notion of “book” against idiosyncratic notions of “the Spirit.” He implies that it is simply a natural failing of an ancient text that we cannot agree on what it means. What makes him think that we could ever agree on what “the Spirit” means?

But I don’t need to argue with DrLBJ about the authority of scripture. He seems to me to be something like a modern representative of traditional docetic Gnosticism. If he doesn’t find authority in the NT, that’s fine with me.

I want to have a discussion with someone who does believe the NT has authority about how it does.

Or at least someone who is willing to toss around possible approaches.

"Believing" is not necessary. Questioning is what I am after - but not outright dismissal or GKSs avoidance.
Come on. We're bringing what we have to this discussion table. Maybe we don't have much. Your questions seem to indicate that you don't have much either.

In the meantime, the fact that Scripture IS, is enough to get me by. The only way I see that it has ever had authority is because someone GAVE it authority. That someone(s) have been some of those who've come before us in the faith. The hardest thing is that those who, in modern times, who have questioned-prodded-deconstructed that authority also, for the most part, were others who came before us in the faith.

Yet it remains -- in print, in use, in study, in dispute. And I remain among the crowds around the center of the story so poorly communicated IN the N.T. The new testament persists, and I -- and you and GKS and DrLobo and even the3rddegree -- persist in it. It is. We are. What else do we need? I don't know.
No, ER, GKS is saying he thinks the question is silly. That's not bringing anything to the table about the authority of the NT - which he has loads of information about but which he dismisses as a language game without saying on what grounds he dismisses it.

He both claims its authority for himself and empties his claiming action of any reasoning. He burps his assent, in other words, because he also claims to disbelieve the activity of intentionality.

DrLBJ is putting his denial of authority on the table. Which is fine, and we've engaged a little on his points of deniability. Much more can be said about his docetism, and has been said by reams in the first two centuries of christian thought, but that would be a long and much different set of questions. His point about the one god seems to be the very reverse of history. Christians inherited the one God concept and made a Trinity out of it. Now if he wants to say that Augustine got the scale out of balance and, in doing so, gave too much authority to temporal sovereigns, I have to agree. But that would be Augustine getting the doctrine wrong, not the doctrine getting it wrong. In fact the doctrine of the Trinity goes somewhat in the other direction.

Otherwise, I a glad that DrLBJ is out there criticizing us and keeping us honest.

But the first step is understanding what we are saying before we say it to DrLBJ.

I am not sure what your continuing point about IT IS really accomplishes. Judaism has sacred scriptures that have far fewer problems than the Christian scriptures. (Barring literalist readings which is hard to find in Judaism outside Hasidism.)

So the Hebrew Bible IS in a better way, along the lines I've mentioned before. And Jewish philosophy, culture, etc. has a glorious history, too. In fact, the numbers of Jewish adolescent and adult criminality is impossibly low when compared to the rest of the population. And this is true in reformed and even secular jewish neighborhoods.

So... why be a Christian for any other reason that accident? Appeals so pop songs, movies, novels, C.S. Lewis aside, if Christian scripture cannot provide an authoritative answer, I'd rather be Buddhist.

My answer comes from a sacramental faith. As such it will be built using Christian experience and language fairly foreign here. I'm willing to put it out on the table, but I'd prefer to have something akin to the best of contemporary protestant proposals first. So as to make better sense.

GKS could do this from Barth, Frei, Hauerwas, etc. But he thinks he has to sit at the kiddy table to do so. He'd rather play with his really cool XBox.

Alan could probably give a reasonable Calvinist repsonse.

I think you were close when to Frei's argument when you brought up intimacy, but it would have to be done from the approach of literary theory about how we can read character and draw near to identity -- not necessarily historical facticity -- in the narrative, rather than how your first went about an historical proximity.
And before GKSs umbrage returns, let's be clear: my sarcasm results from his inference that the explorations in this thread is a child's pursuit.

How his initial disparagements, veiled though the first one always is and which continually get us off in diversionary tit for tat, are never seen and I become the inflationary culprit has been a persistent mystery to me.
Since being "blunt" was his appeal, while at the same time calling our intentions - or was it just me - childish in veiled fashion. Pretty tortured.
Lastly, the reason I am so concerned about the church is because it is the church that always needs fixing. He came for the sick not the healthy. The kingdom of God is in good hands. This, by the way, is how I trust the Spirit.

I'd like the church to be in better hands. And since ER is a deacon and unlicensed pastor, I'd like to put in my request that there be less relativism in the contemporary liberal christian church. I'm not for draconian orthodox doctrine, obviously.

But I am against how relativism is, in fact, the draconian orthodox doctrine of contemporary liberal christianity. The church and the world does not need any more of it. We need far less.

But what is the way?
Yous guys are too prolific for me.

F:"But I don’t need to argue with DrLBJ about the authority of scripture. He seems to me to be something like a modern representative of traditional docetic Gnosticism. If he doesn’t find authority in the NT, that’s fine with me."

Gnostic to some degree perhaps, I'll admit to being an agnostic gnostic. If I were to the Docetic side of the system I would be bringing up Abraxas and the Demiurge and the reformed whoredom/bride that is Sophia.

The NT authority is still intact, but evolved as far as I'm personally concerned. I just can't let religious bureaucrats tell me what that level of authority that is and means. Thus I confer with my Advisor which I have access to because of my gnosis and faith in Christ, to help me understand things.

My son's, one being an avowed atheist and the other a searching agnostic, both would call this my personal self delusion.

F, as for the authority of women in the early church, on the Gnostic side of the equation they were absolute equals. It took the Orthodox Church some great effort to change that. Indeed before about 1500 to 2000 B.C. the most powerful religious structures were based on a female deity or deities.

In fact the very term favored by the Orthodox Church to totally discredit something: "Anathama" is from the goddess Anath (to offer up to god) who was the wife, consort,and sister of Ba-El (Bel or Baal)who can be traces back to Isis and further.

F: "But I am against how relativism is, in fact, the draconian orthodox doctrine of contemporary liberal Christianity. The church and the world does not need any more of it. We need far less.
But what is the way?"

Indeed, "orthodox relativism" is the oxyest of oxymorons. Kind like Yang and Yin and other paradoxes of spirituality.

No explorer of any unknown realm ever knows the complete path to the goal. Otherwise they are just following an orthodox map. The way, The Way, is found one step at a time. Have a nice trip.
There are multiple ways to the summit of an unknown mountain which lies in a cloud of unknowing: a summit cannot, of course, belong to any one way. Thankfully there are many trails to get to the one step just below the summit where each trail no longer exists.

Picking one is the usual and easiest way up. Unless one puts in some effort to make it a lot better along the way and sometimes discovers great improvements.

Making a new one takes a lot more effort, bogs down in wrong turns, can be very trying, and usually crosses existing trails and cannot see how some of the existing ones fruitfully track alongside each other anyway. This choice ignores millennia of human wisdom

Pity those that cannot pick a place to start. Or that keep picking a different trail for fear of where the first or second or third leads. Pity those that foresee only cliffs.

They will never get to the cool air, much less near the top.
Whew. Not sure where we are now, so I'll go back to the beginning, from Feodor:

"Here is the problem: how can a community be a Christian community while mistrusting its own sacred scriptures... especially the centrally pivotal group of the gospels, the very texts revealing the figure of our salvation. I am not saying there are no answers to this problem. But, so far, all the answers given by the historical approach are not satisfactorily complete as to erase the dilemma."

I think: If we dismiss the bits we think unfactual, that doesn't mean we have to dismiss the interpretations attaching to those bits, because *that,* rather than the things that did or did not happen, seem to me to be the basis of everything in the first place -- not what happened, but how people thought about what they thought had happened, and then, more importantly, what they then DID.

Which leaves what? The most important parts of the narrative: Jesus of Nazareth, what he seems to have said about God and people, and what some, but not all, of his earliest peeps seem to have been saying about Jesus. Which, unless I'm mistaken, is this: There is God. Here are we. We, not being God, cannot "get to" God. Therefore, God must "get to" us. And Jesus of Nazareth, spawner of a billion angels dancing on a million pinheads, is The Way we "get to" God and God "gets to us." Jesus's Way is ... Jesus. His person. His thoughts and His actions, as far as we can determine them. His abiding presence. His audacity. His faith. His humility. His love for others and for God. His Jesusyness. ALL of which is in there. In the Gospels. With some other stuff that may or may not be that important to you or me, but is not critical to a life of faith. That is, Jesus, the Christ, as revealed to those who witness is found in the Bible -- which is a different thing than saying "as revealed in the Bible." People being living, and words on paper being static, agreeing with, trusting, hanging out with, the people in the Bible is messier than affirming "what the Bible says," which is, well, the easy way out, IMHO.

Which might require a little literary theory but not much. More than that, it requires imagination -- which, I think, is the very stuff of "faith" -- as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen!
Great! Succinct, concrete enough for being what it is, resting on inspiration even while taking into consideration what modern critical studies have done the text.

This does seem like the resting place of much of popular Christianity outside of fundamentalism.

GKS can correct me if I am wrong, but I worry over this phrase:

"That is, Jesus, the Christ, as revealed to those who[se] witness is found in the Bible."

What has been said in the last hundred years by and about Protestant theologians regarding this kind of summary is this:

This is a faith in scripture that is not because Jesus Christ is revealed there (historical studies have demonstrated that he is missing), but it is a faith in scripture because what is found there is only the faith of others in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not, therefore revealed. The faith of crazy first and second century writers is what is revealed. Historical studies proves they are there in the text.

is this what the Christian church should now understand Holy Scripture to be: a revelation of the faith of Paul, Peter, James, a Johannine community, and the ghost writers of the Gospels? But not of Jesus Christ.

Is this a problem?
Re, "(historical studies have demonstrated that he is missing), but it is a faith in scripture because what is found there is only the faith of others in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not, therefore revealed."

Please to explain. Do you mean that he gospel writers themselves cannot be giving witness to Jesus because they wrote so long after he walked the land? Or do you mean, the whole notion that there is anything at all factual about any of the story(ies) of Jesus's interacting with people, and there is no reason to believe that he actually said anything close to what the Bible says he said?
Clarify, then I'll answer whether I think faith in the faith of others is "enough."
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The Christian faith has never understood Holy Scripture to be other than the revelation of Jesus Christ.

[DrLBJ may object that it has always been thus, but his earlier point about the early church rearranging the Hebrew Bible makes my point.]

When historical studies began to rip away at the confidence that the NT reliably reveals Jesus Christ, efforts were made to find the historical person embedded in what was now seen to be texts meant to persuade faith rather than just picture Christ. The truth was covered within the argumentation.

But Albert Schweizer, after an exhaustive and comprehensive summary of the efforts to find the real Jesus within, came up only with a Jesus that was composed by the faith of the writers of the documents.

That faith could never serve the purpose of imaging the historical person as he was. Much of it was too late and, most significantly, it was too beside their point. The writers were not interested in what the post-Enlightenment, historical critical Chrsitan church was interested in: the factual revelation of Jesus.

The NT is a record of the faith of so many writers and the affirmation of this presentation by the church. Neither the real Jesus, nor some objectively reveled Jesus can be found. Only the Jesus they found for themselves can be found there. It is a diary of a life or lives, but not Life itself, and not the life of Jesus.
And by diary, I mean a diary that was meant to be found, and therefore, not totally open and honest.

There is always an agenda.

In the last fifty years, though, there have been attempts to slice away the agenda and lift out the the earliest beginning bits with little or not agenda.

Also, N.T. Wright, and Anglican bishop in England, has spent a great deal of blood and sweat to demonstrate that the passion narratives are very close to really real testimony.

In this way, the historical critical approach is still trying to shore up the NT, but now by closing in on an even narrower part of the Gospel than taking on the Gospel as a whole.

GKS and I have discussed whether Wright's attempts merit confidence in objectivity and method.
Listen, I don't want to steer you wrong on Schweitzer. The agenda he found in the NT writers he found to be largely appropriate for them. They understood themselves to be working under the Great Commission to take the good news of JC to all the known world, but under a time limit. The second coming was soon(ish). So they shot out to Pax Romana, and parts South in Africa and East (maybe Thomas got to India, but someone certainly did early on). James Major got to the northern coast of Spain - if only as a floating body covered in scallop shells.

This would be their eschatological default context for everything they wrote. One could reasonably guess they thought they had decades, but not centuries and certainly not thousands of years.

They were in a kind of rush.

But we are not. (Discounting EL and Bubba - does Neil expect the parousia? - so they can write off the hard work of loving the world since it may be in vain if Jesus comes on Tuesday next or when Obama's four years are up.)

So the NT, thoroughly saturated in this world view, is made very difficult sourcing for modern faith.

I am gone for the weekend and am in the middle of composing a mid-lengthy presentation of my stance. Which I will post on Monday. For what that's worth.
[Unfortunately, I am going away for the weekend and cannot finish my own following statement. But I did not want to refuse the table that has been reset. So I present the first part with this context condition: these are thoughts that understand themselves to be thinking within Christian faith. It is an internal dialogue dedicated to living within the internal world of Christian faith. This faith does not understand itself to be the only or truest path to God. But it is a faith that understands itself to be an historic one existing within a long company of experience and critical discourse which has developed in a diversity of directions. This is my view from a stopping point along one kind of direction only.]

Part 1 and the opening of part 2 of only 2

I believe that the Christian church teaches that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God and contain all things necessary for salvation. I believe that if the Christian church cannot affirm this teaching, it is no longer a Christian church per se.

I believe that Christians must reason within this teaching and not by ignoring the wealth of information that Biblical criticism brings to the table. I do believe that historical critical study of the Bible, in its various schools over the last two hundred years, serves the function of clarifying the text we have that delivers the Holy Scriptures. But these studies cannot define Holy Scripture, since such a definition is one that is determined within Christian faith through reading with reason and by practice. Actually, I think it is most happily defined by the reverse experience and recycling continuously around: Christian practice, reading Scripture, practice, reading, etc.

The problem for much of the church is that historical critical studies seem to determine the nature of what the Christian Bible is because these churches are protestant in theology and so inherit a legacy of sola scriptura and the four hundred plus years of developed Protestant theology that has brought us to today.

The principle of sola scriptura was developed in a context of European rationalism which concomitantly denied the conduit of the corporate and parochial body of the church as a pathway for revealing Jesus Christ and the pathway of sacramental worship to do the same. The first was spiritualized into an invisible concept – the kingdom of believers – and the second was seen as medieval alchemy and watered down to the bare essentials of a table memorial, like a VFW meeting.

What has then been tried was to take what remained, the text, and theologize its role of revelation into an ill-fitting belief that words can reify the divine. Read the gospels and meet your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Reading the words is, for all intents and purposes, the experience of meeting the Son of God. And that is all one should need.

There have been protestant eruptions that tried to find what was lost: the Great Awakenings and the pietist movements springing from romanticism of the emotional and intuitive life (a revolt against rationalist words replacing them with emotional ones); others sacramentalized silence (still based on a word centered religion but letting words appear in free association to aid revelation revealing itself) or a certain pastoral epoch.

And the history of some continental and much British and American philosophy has been the exercise of helping rationalist sola scripture constrain itself with empiricism or pragmatism or let it all ride in positivism: the word really can make the real actual. Lately, however, the word no longer makes the divine real but the human fragments real, which is put forward as all that is appropriate and sufficient.

So, we come to the present state of a thinking person’s protestant theology of the word, or at least the NT: 1) Historical document that are the conscious preaching and unconscious prejudices of a few leaders of the early church intentionally geared toward persuasion not only to faith but to faith in the way they wanted people to believe. 2) The inspiring quotient - especially treasured in teaching our children - not found in the historical approach but found in a corner left to it by the historical approach – i.e., some of the moving parts about Jesus and Paul’s stuff on grace and love. Hopefully these parts are not like the other coercive bits of the bible. And, in this way, scripture can be a tame and loving partner with other faiths 3). Holy Scripture has been largely superseded by words of reflection upon the scriptures from contemporary writers and songsters and, preeminently, preachers and politics.

The Jesus in sandals, a Jewish prophet in a desert colonial backwater, followed by erratic but typical religious fanatics of the time, was buried in but now excavated from an ancient and quizzical kind of writing to serve as a comparable figurine to Ghandi, Buddha, Chief Seattle, Zarathustra, Artemis and Mani.

The baby that was thrown out with the bath water is my answer to the authority of the New Testament. And the baby is a preeminently and is the preeminent sacramental approach to truth.

My understanding of the Christian faith regarding the Bible is that the Holy Scriptures of the Christian Old and New Testaments have authority only if they show us Jesus, the living Jesus, who is the one who shows us God.

But how does anything textual show any divine reality?
Er I have a copy of the Swietzer book if you want to borrow. But an easier read would be "Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?"

First sentence of the book:
"As Paul Tillich has said, when anything is placed on a pedestal beyond criticism, it becomes an idol."

"The Bible has become a paper Idol." -- Jim Jones

By the way, 100% of the Canon's writers NEVER met or saw the historical Jesus. None, zilch, nada! That is basically the conclusion of every non-apologists student who has sought the historical Jesus.

Did Jesus ever even live?
If he lived was he the Christ?
Did Jesus die for our sins?
Was he resurrected in the flesh?
Do you have to "believe on the name of Jesus" to obtain salvation.
Who made up the name Jesus in the first place? Why?
Why did they not call him Joshua like he was called in the OT?
Is Jesus by any other name still Christ?

By the way the early Christian Missionaries, who were not "orthodox" made it all the way through China and on to Japan. Thus we begin to see early after the first century AD Christ like attributes appearing in the gods of Tibet, Kashmir, lower India, China and even Japan. Then when the Hun swept back to Europe those ideas came with him and his cohort of Christian monks to re-infect their original source.

A complete and even somewhat definitive history of the diffusion and assimilation of Christ's good news has never been written. Want a task to set yourself to ER?

Seminarians have long held a horror that the Christian in the pew would discover what they have learned and that would cause them to lose faith. It is too late now to rectify the mistake of not sharing knowledge with the "little ones" in the pew.

What the pew sitters will now reject is the hypocracy of those tasked to lead and teach them. If I can't believe my preacher, then I can't believe God.

"Some would as soon throw a it all, as throw a part away."
--Robert Frost

That's the "Church's" delima, how does it confess its own hypocracy and still keep the faith?
Oof. Thanks for your last, Feodor, which I'll have to digest later.

On whether faith in those who had faith is enough: What I was going to say is that when the tattered remnants of the historically orthodox understanding of the gospels leave me scratching my head, grasping for straws and beating my breast, sometimes to get through, I grab onto Paul, crazy, prone-to-hyperbole, passionate Paul, and in agreement with him, hold on tight to Romans 8: 38-39.

"Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly," it said on the front of one of the Bibles I had as a kid. Those words of Paul, whose encounter with the pneuma of ChristJesus I accept, have dwelt in me richly. Sometimes, but thankfully not often, that's all I think I have. If that's faith in Paul and his faith in Christ, and not faith in Christ per se, so be it. I drag it and every other bit and piece of before God and cry "Mercy!"
The authorship of James and Jude - ostensibly brothers of Jesus - is an open question. The poor Greek and the early, very un-firm theology resting on Judaistic approaches to Christian faith argue the possibility that they are genuine.

There are no presumptive arguments that categorically rule out early authorship.

So "100%" is overstated confidence, and only likely true. But "every non-apologist student" is wrong.

I find it striking that LBJ strains at every biblical conjecture but swallows whole historical ones. It's like a 1970s seminar on religions.

There are, indeed, intriguing conjectures in both directions: authentic appearances of original apostolic material and personages and very early influence beyond Eusebian history. Like this bon mot: the Galatians, who sent Paul into a white-hot rage by their behavior and lack of obedience, were Celts.

They are fun. And they make some writers a lot of money. Now if they can just sell the movie rights.
Dang y'all are prolific!! OK, I thought this interview with Bart Ehrman was persuasive from an agnostic perspective, while still sympathetic to Christians. It might add something to the conversation. Check it out... http://www.salon.com/env/atoms_eden/2009/04/03/jesus_interrupted/
Feodor , why do you strain to find even two books of the NT that Might have been authored by people who might have known Jesus personally. The Gospel of Thomas would fit much closer on that category than any Book in the Canon but it was rejected.

The authorship of the Gospels by those who personally knew Jesus was a construct of the early Orthodox Fathers. (See Irenaeus) Their purpose was simple they wanted to establish an Apostolic line to legitimise their "Church".

The Gospel of John for example, has its whole authority as an Apostolic Gospel resting on Irenaeus' recollection that when he was six years old he was told that that book was written by John.

Yet John, dissected, has a much more direct Gnostic viewpoint than Orthodox and indeed is the only "Gospel" where Jesus reveal himself to be the son of god, which in gnostic terms means something very different than it does in our current orthodox terms.

Indeed, strip of the weight of tradition, it is much more probable that a disciple of Mary Magdalene who was holding forth in her own congregations wrote "John" from her viewpoint.

Of course stepping into the fray with your flank exposed you will cast such a tale off as witty reposte ..."There are, indeed, intriguing conjectures in both directions: authentic appearances of original apostolic material and personages and very early influence beyond Eusebian history. Like this bon mot: the Galatians, who sent Paul into a white-hot rage by their behavior and lack of obedience, were Celts."
While at the same time ready to swallow Irenaeus' memory of what he knew as a six year old.

Is it that there are problems with the concept that Christianity swept Asia all the way to Japan, or is it just that limiting the conjectures to those supporting orthodox tradition are the more comforting ones to your psyche. Now if I were truly a Gnostic I would point out that you serve up you understandings of Paul and the Gospels on a Pysche's platter. That being at the corporal lowest level of spiritual understanding.
I of course would then claim the higher knowledge of the initiate who wallows in the pleroma of God.

But alas, I am just a poor boy off the Red River who had a conversion experience at six years old. That I subject it to the crucible so very often has only taken away the dross of 20 centuries. There is still that very small but very bright center, and for that I am grateful.

And 3-D, don't stop looking for such in yourself.

By the way ER, when you are up to it maybe we could kick some these other "conjectures" around a bit. Some are really mind blowing.
An interesting, to me at least, piece of background to much of the debate over Biblical authority is the search for the "real", "authentic" meaning for the original community who heard the Bible. This quest for "authenticity" is diverse (see Charles Taylor) in modern thought. A Nazi like Heidegger could insist that it lies behind much of desire for metaphysical understanding, but also undermines that very understanding, because authentic authenticity is overcoming - leaping back behind the tradition - this desire. Taylor, a Canadian liberal Catholic, sees in the quest for authenticity the liberal desire to allow human beings of diverse backgrounds the freedom to be parts of their communities without extraneous influence (as much as this is possible).

Even in discussions on the issue of music, the issue of authenticity becomes central - consider the phrase "keeping it real" in regards to whether or nor a particular artist is or is not "authentic" or not.

For our purposes here in this discussion, I would only say this is an old Protestant quest. From the time Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the Cathedral door, various types of Protestants have insisted they are either searching for, or have found, the authentic beliefs of the earliest church. What else could lie behind the historical-critical method of Scriptural exegesis but the desire to find the "authentic" text, from which a reader could derive the "original" meaning?

All of this is by way of background. The quest for authenticity, in this historical sense, is certainly a legitimate exercise, and I do not disparage it. My question is this - Is it possible to overcome the sheer weight of 2000 years of history, tradition, exegesis, practice, controversy and be like those earliest Judaean and Galileean Christians? Would one want to do so?

As I have repeated many times, and will continue to repeat (most likely), the challenge is to be faithful here and now, to live the tension between the Bible and our lives. Karl Barth was correct when he said we need to read with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper (or news website, today) in the other. Feodor once asked what Gregory Nazianzus had to say to the folks living in Bed-Sty, and I replied, "probably not much". I would go further and insist that even if someone found something in one of our greatest 4th century Greek Fathers that might be pertinent, what is the point? Far more important, far more interesting, is what Feodor has to say to the folks living in Bedford-Stuyvesant. What does Lisa Kruse-Safford have to say to people living in northern Boone County, Illinois is far more important, far more interesting, far more relevant than what John Wesley might or might not have to say to them (which is not to deny that reading Wesley, or Nazianzus, or whomever, can be enlightening; it is the beginning, however, not the end of the process).

At some point we have to make a choice. The search for meaning can be endless. The quest for authenticity can lead down some seriously dry and dusty roads (try reading Rudolf Bultmann's commentary on the Johannine Epistle's in the old Hermeneia series and you'll know what I mean). We Christians are called, in the end, to put the books down, set our feet upon the road, and walk with Jesus, first to Jerusalem, then from Jerusalem thence to Galilee and the whole world. We can certainly take some reading material along for those long stretches of the journey that seem boring. Let us not get so lost in them that we forget why we are on this journey.

This is not anti-intellectualism, as Feodor has repeatedly asserted. It is not a casual setting aside of "deep thinkers" for some other purpose. Rather, it is the recognition of the limitations of our ability to ever get behind the text as we have it, and to focus more on the call to discipleship as it exists for us Christians. We can get so caught up in trying to answer "Who is calling us?", "How do we know we are being called?", "Does the text you reference to insist you are being called really say what you say it says?" that we end up like Jonah - deep in the belly of a very large fish, because questioning the call became far more important than setting our feet upon the road to Nineveh.
GKS: "We Christians are called, in the end, to put the books down, set our feet upon the road, and walk with Jesus, first to Jerusalem, then from Jerusalem thence to Galilee and the whole world. We can certainly take some reading material along for those long stretches of the journey that seem boring. Let us not get so lost in them that we forget why we are on this journey."

You make it sound as though there is but "one" calling and "one" journey. Some may be called to wander those dry dusty roads you disparage. Others may be called just to sit beside them and offer water to the rare traveler there on.

As for Jerusalem, I am reminded of the opening line from the Seven Sermons of Dead by Karl Jung:
"The dead came back from Jerusalem, where they found not what they sought. They prayed me let them in and besought my word, and thus I began my teaching. Harken."
I disparage no calling. Feodor was asking for my take on the whole issue of authority, and I gave it, including the background as to why I so believe. This includes my belief that we can overwork all these questions, and get lost down those endless paths. Indeed, we get lost all the time on the way to, and from, Jerusalem.

I have nothing but admiration for someone who is willing to invest the tremendous intellectual energies Feodor certainly seems to have done in order to understand a wide range of thinkers. That is not the same thing, however, as believing that this particular bit of intellectual legerdemain means something more than that. Feodor says that my own position merely avoids the issue. On the contrary - it recognizes the question, it just denies its relevance. He insists my answer is incorrect because he "believes" there is more.

Fine. He can so believe. I will neither do nor say anything to stop him in his search. All I can do is what I can do.

You mistake disagreement on certain practical matters of meaning and relevance with whether or not this might not be Feodor's role, or call. Part of my frustration with Feodor has been, and continues to be, his insistence that his way is better . . . for everyone. You seem to be saying that I am doing the same thing merely by asserting my own beliefs, when I have said just the opposite.
Auugh. Haste creates bad comments. Let me try again.

I do not disparage the obvious intellectual effort Feodor continues to engage in coming to terms with the myriad strains of our common traditions. I am only asserting my own position - what else would anyone do? The two are not mutually exclusive.
GKS: "You seem to be saying that I am doing the same thing merely by asserting my own beliefs, when I have said just the opposite."

Pardon me, GKS. It just seemed that, "We Christians are..." seemed somewhat all inclusive rather than "...my own beliefs" in nature. But then you and I have had difficulty accurately reading one another. Pax.
More clarification. Obviously, when I am talking about my beliefs, I am referencing what I believe Christians would believe and do if they thought like me :)

No harm, no foul, as the problem was all mine.

We all speak in the first person plural, when speaking of our own beliefs, I think. I do, too. I just use that "we" metaphorically, I suppose. More wishful thinking than either categorical imperative or description of reality.

No offense taken here, and certainly none intended.
Feodor wrote:

"I believe that the Christian church teaches that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God and contain all things necessary for salvation. I believe that if the Christian church cannot affirm this teaching, it is no longer a Christian church per se. ... My understanding of the Christian faith regarding the Bible is that the Holy Scriptures of the Christian Old and New Testaments have authority only if they show us Jesus, the living Jesus, who is the one who shows us God."

The Baptist Faith & Message says:

"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation."

Similar. I think I might quibble and say that the Bible contains the Word of God, rather than the Bible *is* the Word of God.

And this, "all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy," I accept as regards "all things necessary for salvation" and the Bible's "testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." And, "God for its author" is a poor way to describe something "written by men divinely inspired." And, rather than call the Bible "God's revelation of Himself to man," I'd say that the Bible gives witness to God's revelation of Himself to man in Christ.
Rest of Part 2

Mopping up a bit in accounting for recent comments, I have to say that I don’t think one can find the truth in the Bible. That is a protestant problem and one that I don’t think can be solved and one that led to 3rdDegree’s difficulty. “Containing all things necessary for salvation,” does not necessarily mean that the Bible has salvation within it.

A dictionary contains all words necessary to communicate. Every word I use to communicate is either found there or (when in Rome or Oklahoma) is a slang relative to a word found there. There are many, many more words found there that are of little or no use to me. Same as the Bible. There are many words that should be of use to me if I were smarter and could make finer distinctions in the world. Perhaps they will find their way into my life if I am disciplined and do not tire of the noble efforts to understand and make distinctions – not from a Platonic expectation of the arrival of truth (which is something of a distortion of Platonic descendants that has centuries of repeaters, including GKS) -- but from the motivation that deceivers and false prophets like Neil prey on both the weak in thought and the relativists in spirit (i.e. the modern Corinthians: liberal Christians who cut themselves off from the whole sweep of intellectual and spiritual tradition which encountered all these questions in their way.

But the dictionary is not communication. The Bible is not salvation. It is not, therefore and decidedly, “totally true and trustworthy,” and how much less, “the true center of Christian union…” That’s just woefully wrong, theologically speaking. Rather the Bible fulfills its role as Holy Scripture only as it functions within the church as the word of God wherein the Word of God is encountered. In fact, the only way it can be the word of God is in its relation to the Word of God; and only as it is read in that relation; and principally as it is read entirely in that relation in the context of the body of Christ worshipping Christ.

Holy Scripture is given authority and is defined by Jesus Christ in the context of the worshipping church.

It has no autonomous power for salvation apart from the living One who is alone, for Christians, the author of our salvation. This is not mumbo jumbo for the following, extended and networked web of reasons:

For me, the Bible is, therefore, a sacrament. And it takes its place within the sacramental worship of the church and the spiritual practice of Christians.

Sacraments are classically understood as outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. While tradition points preeminently to the Eucharist as the sacrament nonpareil of Christ’s presence and total communion with us, the spiritual reality extends from this central act of Christian faith into much more. Sacramental communication is how divine reality and created reality connect. And here it is helpful to say that this is not necessarily a Christian pathway. Religions and faith construct, consciously or not, their own sacramental communication with the True. For Christians, the promise of participating in such glory was won for humankind by the self-act of the Son of God choosing to “empty himself” (Phil. 2) and take on human life. The bridge that crosses the gulf of the Fall of the cosmos from perfection was crossed. The True and the Human can not only communicate, we can commune, we can become One. The Human Person can enter into a process of deification and act as co-participants in divine activity (2 Peter 1).

This communion lives principally in the Eucharist shared by the whole community. But it operates by the power of Christ in other sacraments:

• baptism and confirmation as initiation and acceptance of membership into this particular style of communion with the divine;
• ordination is way in which the body of Christ structures itself for the work of engaging in all aspects of being a community in communion with the True;
• marriage is a gift for some and an example for all since the dawn of human consciousness of experiencing and understanding how two can be one and transcend the pathos and brutality of earthly human life;
• repentance or reconciliation is a sacrament of return to the life of communion with the Truth – since human truth is that we often turn away from our destiny.
• prayers and anointing of each other in concern for illness, distress, burdens, the taking up of responsibilities is both the act and acknowledgement of how we are all co-implicated in life, co-participants, in communion with one another.

These are of tradition, but the spiritual power of Jesus Christ as the Logos, as the one who was before anything was, the one who is alive and present today, the one in whom we are destined to be perfectly joined, this truth exists in all things.

If human nature, therefore, being “part of God’s creation, made in the image and likeness of God,” can partake in communion with God through outward and visible signs, then what in all the world and heavens is NOT a sacramental witness to inward and spiritual grace? If marriage, so is true, spiritual friendship, so, too, parenthood, brother and sister-hood, childhood, uncle-hood, aunt-hood, and true neighborliness, kindness of strangers is a marriage in the moment, a joining between two people of however length of earthly time but of eternal existence – the act cannot die, it exists for all time; if the Eucharist, so is the family meal or the dinner with friend, neighbors, guests, unknowns; if prayers, so, too, letters; if ordination, so, too, commission, licensure, appointment, draft, firing, being let go; if baptism, so, too, sleep, naps, dreams, plane flights, train trips, vacations, any trip, interior or exterior, that takes oneself into a kind of death and rising into a new setting; if bread and wine, so, too, a leg of lamb, chocolate, coffee, Dickels, low-carbohydrate diets, etc.

In this way, texts can be conduit for spiritual truths. They can prepare a meeting place between created truth and the True. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the True and he meets us in Holy Scripture to the extent we intend in humble faith and heart to look for him there and are able to recognize his face.

Of course, there are problems. We all think we may know the “false prophets/superapostles” when we read 1Corinthians. We all can look up dildo in the dictionary. I, myself, feel I am right when I see Neil as the false prophet and I have a host of pretty perspicuously interpretive reasons as to why. But fundamentally, it is because of the authority, not of the text, but of the face of the living Jesus Christ I have found there as an inward and spiritual grace shining out in glory from within but beyond the outward and visible writings of Paul et al.

Now I may mistake what grace says there; I may be wrong in my understanding of Christ’s life. But that is the sacramental nature of Christian living. I seek God in all things and return to worship in humility at my limited capacity of vision. Seek and return. From Christ on the table and my brother and sister in the pew out to Christ in the world of my brother and sister on the street, whether walking or sleeping there.

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God and contain all things necessary for salvation because they – and principally the Gospels [and why Frei focuses on this point in his book, The Identity of Jesus Christ] – are the place where the true face of the living Jesus may be met . They are Holy in this way because the authority of the Christ present in the worshipping community continues to prove their ordination for this sacramental function. And as I read them, as we read them and live with the reading each week, each year, I grow better eyes to see Christ in the world and to see Christ on the table, and find them to be one.

In this way, the canon is not closed even though it is the canon. And it takes my faith to be effective for me. A sacrament does not overpower my will; it feeds my faith. Historical critical approaches have eroded the faith that Enlightenment Christianity placed in it. But that was a way of reading resting on Protestant sub-structures of thinking which narrowed the idea of human nature and communication with the divine Truth. The Bible is indeed a product of history and the actions of men and women, too, though limited. It is a product of preaching and reflection and the act of persuasion and cajoling and ranting and prophesying. This is the visible and outward sign that is all human and the starting point of every sacrament and truth. Here GKS has his hand on the way we construct selves and language and truth and belief. WE construct it. For our own interests and motivations, good and bad, for our needs and hopes, fears and communal dreams. But scripture is also inward and spiritual. And here, DrLBJ has his hand on the interpretive task, for “every age requires a view of Christ sufficient to its needs. The correct view of Christ will not be known with this equipment we currently have. So showing the "Psyche" of the world a better path would be a tough calling indeed.”
But the partiality, the fractured quality of the outward and visible sign (system, language, metaphysic, school) is necessary to the sacrament because it is the truth of human life, the truth of individual and specific human life that must chose and should chose much more often than privileged Americans want to choose. But the outward is also necessarily bound up with the inward and spiritual grace that can only be trusted in a healthy and thinking community or it risks being the demagoguery of self, of popular fad or mass mob or fear.

The outward and the invisible. The incarnation. The bible. The church. Moral action. Political action.
Poetry. Journalism. Cities. Farms. Land. Rivers. Creation.

Coffee with a dying friend.

It all becomes holy scripture. But it could easily not have been. It takes faith, and for me it takes Jesus and the church and the sacramental life of all things. And it takes being steeped in scripture. Coffee with a dying friend is scripture for me because the Trinity visited Abram and Sarai and told them they’d have children despite their age. Those twenty minutes were scripture because God called Amos from his fig trees. Because a teenage girl was called to bear divinity and obeyed. Because Paul, in blood and sweat, worried over what we would see as trifling issues, but for then, for them, were determinative. Coffee with a dying friend is revelation because Julian saw hazelnuts and knew that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Holy Scripture can show the face of love that moves people to love, sacrifice, to hope, to peace. And Holy Scripture, because it can show the face of love, can lead people to fight hate, violence, and the American privilege that breeds apathy. Buddha can, too. Just not with the same power and truth for me.

In an accident of birth and being taken to church, I found in the community of Christ’s body the narrative of Holy Scripture to be a sacrament for me and for us, an outward and visible (auditory, mental, reflective) of inward and spiritual grace, the vision and voice of the life of Jesus Christ. There, in such a place, known as the documents they are in the way we know them, they still prepare the best staring place for meeting Christ week after week, continually opened up and renewed by the Christ who is present in the sacrament of the whole world.
Good stuff, Feodor. Good, long, thoughtful stuff. Somewhere in there, I agree with you. :-)
I neglected to mention that your appeal to the early testimony of faith (blood and guts and preaching) is seen, from the catholic perspective, as included in the authority of tradition, the 2nd of the three legged stool (scripture, tradition, reason), and the first, scripture, derives its sacramental authority on the "outward and visible" side in part from the communal faith of the early church which construed scripture.

Construed? What are the semantic implications of that verb?

1. To adduce or explain the meaning of; interpret
2. Grammar
a. To analyze the structure of (a clause or sentence).
b. To use syntactically: The noun fish can be construed as singular or plural.
3. To translate, especially aloud.
The Bible can be seen as a kind of dictionary of faith. And Faith uses it like poetry uses the dictionary. Rules are broken when the True, the Good, or the Beautiful is recognized.

And Theology is a grammar of faith. And again, Faith uses Theology like a poet uses grammar.
I think my head is full.
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