The Nazarenes met last week at NNU to clarify the words we so often use in talking about the Bible and to do so from a Wesleyan position informed by the lead of Wesley himself. Below are five statements they came up with. I've included a few comments in red interspersed.
1. The Bible has its origin in the heart of God. God inspired the authors and inspires readers of Scripture across the ages. God uses the Bible to call us to faithful response.
I like the fact that the Nazarenes recognize the importance of inspiration for readers along with the original inspiration. From a pragmatic perspective, unless a reader or group of readers can experience God in the words, then the text does no good whatsoever for that reader. For precision, something might also have been said about the contextual nature of the original inspiration.
2. The Bible consistently witnesses to, reveals, and teaches the Church regarding God's purpose of salvation and holy life. It is consistently confirmed by the Christian community, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The role of the Church in the first five centuries was incredibly important in establishing the core interpretations Christians make of Scripture in relation to Christology and the Trinity. This statement begins to get at how crucial a role the Church has played in God's gift of Scripture to us, but is much weaker than it might be.
3. The Bible is inerrant in what it does: the Spirit is at work revealing through human words the character and purposes of God to redeem, in Christ, all creation.
Perhaps this statement is an attempt to re-steer language of inerrancy from the past. A more precise wording might say that the Bible is infallible in what it does. Nevertheless, this statement reflects some of the brilliant understanding speech-act theory has brought to such things. Words do things, and stating ideological truth is only one thing that words can do. This statement indicates that the primary thing that the Bible "does" is reveal the character and purposes of God. Perhaps we might more accurately say that the primary thing God does through Scripture is to transform us into his likeness (or Keith Drury would say, "to form a holy people").
4. We interpret the Bible in a dynamic process. This requires that Christians interpret in community, in prayerful humility, and relying upon the Holy Spirit. Good interpretation is informed by the tradition, anchored by essential Christian beliefs, and informed by the best contributions of saints and scholars today.
This statement strikes me as "theological interpretation" speak. I agree with what this language "does." I have recently used the analogy of a good golf swing. This statement gives key elements in a good golf swing, in the proper appropriation of Scripture. I just don't think the scholars who crafted this language fully understand their own swing.
This statement blurs two quite different activities. There is original meaning interpretation, which is squarely a function of the range of meanings words had at the time the books were written. An atheist historian could interpret the original meaning soundly, although it is certainly appropriate for us to pray for the illumination of our minds and to be informed by the best contributions of saints today.
But it is theological interpretation and theological appropriation that appropriately bring along extra-biblical elements like tradition and humility. And the Holy Spirit is essential if we are to appropriate Scripture properly today, the essential ingredient that an atheist does not bring to the text. This statement blurs together appropriate, but distinct interpretations of biblical language.
5. Christians have always engaged and interacted with the cultures in which they live. Yet the essential message of the Bible remains consistent. Christians in humility endeavor to engage the postmodern world by listening to, speaking with, living among, and embodying Christ-like love to this generation.
This is about the importance of contextualization of the message. Jesus and Paul modeled an approach to Scripture that took into account the context into which it spoke.
So those are some of my takes. Does anyone know if Maddox's talk on Wesley's use of Scripture is available? Of course Wesley was not the founder of the Nazarene Church any more than he founded the Free Methodists or the Wesleyans. We are free to be more profound than Wesley was.
In any case, here is the website about the conclusion of the conference.