Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Truth in the Bible - Part 1

In his book, “A Generous Orthodoxy,” Brian McClaren seems to simply take a little taste of what he likes from each dish of the Christian smorgasbord, and leave the other stuff behind. I guess that’s okay, if you are a fan of smorgasbords, but if you prefer to order from the menu, you probably won’t like his theology. His is the potluck supper of theology, where if you don’t like something that someone brings to the table, you just leave it off your plate.

I am most fascinated by his honesty about how he got to where he is, and how he continues to be formed by God. I love his answer in the final chapter to the question of whether his Christianity is orthodox: “A little, but not yet” (p. 333). Being orthodox doesn’t mean having everything “right,” says McClaren, but living in a mode of seeking and seeing that opens up the possibilities that God has put out there.

And so I have been thinking lately about the Bible, specifically thinking about how the Bible forms and informs orthodoxy as McClaren sees it, as a mode of living out one’s relationship with God. Along with McClaren, I believe that the Bible is “a gift from God, inspired by God, to benefit us in the most important way possible: equipping us so that we can benefit others, so that we can play our part in the ongoing mission of God” (p. 177). I consider the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and I’ll admit that I bristle a bit when those who differ with me accuse me of not honoring it as they do, simply because our interpretations differ. I believe the Bible contains truth, and discovering the truth draws one closer to God. This is not the same as being “right,” by the way, but rather seeking to know the truth, so that the truth might set one free – not per se in the knowing of it, but in the seeking. The great adventure is in the quest, not in the discovery.

And thus, my question du jour about the Bible is: “Is a thing true because the Bible says it is, or does the Bible say a thing because it is true?” This is a profoundly important theological and epistemological question with which people of faith must wrestle. And I don’t think it is adequate to answer this with a both/and answer, as in, “Yes, the Bible says things because they are true and also things are true simply because the Bible says they are.” I think maturing in faith requires an either/or answer to this question.

So either a) things are true because the Bible says they are; or b) things are true and so the Bible says they are.

Example: The Bible says “God is love.” Is God love because the Bible says so, or was God love already, so the Bible reflects that truth? If it is the former, end of discussion. But if the latter, the discussion has only just begun. That goes to the question of epistemology – how do I know that God is love? Is it because Bible says so? Or maybe I learned it first from reading the Bible, and other experiences in my life have confirmed it? Or maybe somebody taught it to me at some point in my youth, and upon reading it later in the Bible, it clicked into place?

I have a few more posts on this topic that are percolating right now, but are not fully brewed yet. I’ll be sure to pour out a cup when that happens. In the meantime, I welcome any responses, reactions, thoughts, musings that my meager ramblings may elicit.


Elizabeth said...

Excellent post, and you ask great questions. I think you are right in your question, and I think how we answer it says or shapes a lot about our theology (and world view) as a whole.

David said...

If things are true because the Bible says them, what do we do with developments in scholarship (or simple differences in opinion) that cause discrepancies?

We Christians have lost touch with the concept of midrash, much to our detriment. Our Jewish sisters and brothers are much better at looking at "holy" texts and saying, "NO! That CAN'T be what that means!"

For me, the Bible is a conduit for truth. In my belief system, at least, to view it as anything more is a powerful and dangerous form of idolatry.

(Not to be incendiary, of course....) ; )

Larry B said...

Glad you're back Andy.

“Is a thing true because the Bible says it is, or does the Bible say a thing because it is true?” This is a profoundly important theological and epistemological question with which people of faith must wrestle.

For me the question really gets at anything I could know. However I don't necessarily see it as either/or. Take math as another example. Is 1+1=2 because we say it does, or does 1+1=2 because it reflects an underlying truth? At one time it was believed that fundamental axioms like this could be found to undergird our entire knowledgebase in mathematics. However, recent studies in mathematics, like those used to describe weather, seem to identify areas where deterministic rules can't be found. But, approaching these complex mathematical situations as though there was a determinancy to it, has led us to discover a lot more about it than if we had not approached it with a deterministic view. What's seems important is that we take what we know (or think we know) to be truth about a particular situation and use it and test it to see if it holds true in a given situation.

Getting back to the question at hand, whether you believe that if the Bible says something that makes it true or if you believe that the Bible contains things that are truth - if you approach the Bible with the expectancy that it is a deterministic truth (no matter how it got there), the chances are you'll learn far more than if you approach it as though it may not contain the truth.

Testing it's truths against your daily experience and observations ultimately leads to the deep conviction of whether it is truth for an individual or not.

So just as deterministic mathematics can't fully explain weather phenomenon, that doesn't negate the truth of the mathematics itself, nor does it alter the nature of the weather that we can clearly observe.

So in my Christian walk, if I find an obvious truth that isn't so clearly defined in the Bible, or vice versa, it doesn't threaten either the truth before me or the validity of what is found in the Bible - it merely reflects my own limits of understanding.

And even in the seemingly well defined world of math, there are questions, arguments and debates that continue to rage. So I wouldn't expect anything less in our spiritual quests either.

Andy B. said...

I'm telling you, Larry B., you need a blog of your own! Thanks again for your thoughtful remarks.

Bill Arnold said...

I'm not one to settle on either/or answers, but I don't have a problem with this one: if the Bible says anything that is true, it's because it was already true. (imho)

Brett said...

I believe the scripture contains special revelation. Going off of this presumption, it reveals truth that already exists.