Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Wesleyan: Critical Realism

We've now broadened the Dean's blog of the seminary to become the Seminary blog and as such we will be having a regular cycle of seminary professors and leaders posting on it. Lenny Luchetti has made the inaugural post of the new cycle today. I believe Wayne Schmidt, the seminary head, may post next Monday.

So I'll continue my series, A Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition here on Monday's, Lord willing.

Heart 8: The Bible and Critical Realism (this is a cross over from Heart 7)
Critical realism no doubt comes in more than one form, but the form that I advocate is one that affirms by faith that there is actually a world out there and that some interpretations of that world are better than others. If you would, we could consider it a subcategory of what is sometimes called "pragmatic realism." Pragmatic realism claims that while the actual existence of the world and knowledge is a matter of significant doubt, our affirmations of reality and of understanding are useful. That is to say, "reality works," and we get through life best if we act as if the world is real.

Critical realism then goes one step further and affirms not only that the idea of reality and truth is useful but that, by faith, it actually exists beyond ourselves. Where it differs from "naive realism" is that, at least as I mean it, it fully recognizes the level of faith such affirmations actually require. It recognizes how much of my view of the world is colored by cultural categories I have inherited and beyond which it is difficult for me to see. It recognizes that I am "stuck in my head" and cannot get a bird's eye view of things the way God can. It recognizes that my apprehension of reality, especially when I express it in words anc categories is finite and therefore almost certainly flawed from the very beginning in respects I will never be able to see or understand.

As it relates to the Bible, then, our ability to determine the original meaning of the Bible will always be flawed. The truth of the Bible does not stand outside my normal process of knowing. The Bible is an object of my understanding the same as the rest of the world. John Calvin and others spoke of the Spirit illuminating the meaning of the Bible, and such illumination might potentially solve our conundrum. But the tens of thousands of differing interpretations imply either that the Spirit often lets us continue on in our skew or perhaps that He only illuminates some very small group of elect.

Here we run into the same fundamental problem of full blown Calvinism in general. If God fully determines who will be saved and Christ has paid the price for sin, then presumably a God of love would save everyone. Presuming, then, that God does not save everyone, the god of this system seems to undermine the fundamental definition of what it means to say that God is love. In the end, we must surely conclude that God mostly allows the fallen processes of human understanding to stand even when it comes to the interpretation of the Bible...


Marc said...

I agree with your reasoning but I don't think we can rule out universalism so easily as popular as it seems to be. God surely can save all and God certainly wants to save all so the only thing "stopping" God are the limits we place in our religious schemes. Paul says in Eph 3:20 God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine and I for one can ask for and imagine that all are ultimately saved, even if it's "as through fire".

Is the following "fallen reasoning"? - Paul says in 1 Tim 2:4 that God desires all be saved and in Eph 1:11 that God's will always prevails. We must conclude that all are redeemed or, at worst, that some simply cease to exist.

If we want to use the Gospels to bolster hell schemes we need to at least admit that when Jesus divides up the damned and the saved it's not along mainline evangelical lines of faith/unbelief but along lines of works and social status. It is the poor and the faithful obedient who will stand and not the believers.

John c. Gardner said...

Are you maintaining that Scripture as consensually interpreted was not inspired by the Holy Spirit? Is there no illumination of the reader of Scripture by the Holy Spirit? Is all that we are left with is a critical realism which does not really permit us to know much about Scripture

Ken Schenck said...

What I am doing, more than anything else, is detaching original meaning from spiritual illumination. Perhaps my number one critique of so much evangelical scholarship derives from its inability to disconnect the two.