Sunday, September 02, 2012

Grudem: Authority of Scripture 2

... continued from yesterday
So what is the authority of Scripture? It is, first of all, the authority of God.  Any authority the Bible has, it has because God stands behind it as the speaker/transformer.  When I read Grudem, I begin to fear that he has made the Bible into an idol, as if the Bible were now detached from God and could be worshiped as an end-in-itself.  But the Bible is a means to an end, to bring us to God and Christ. The Bible does not exhaust God and God can speak to us/change us in other ways too.

The Bible is thus the mediated authority of God, and it was mediated through people who lived in other times and places in "many and various ways," but chiefly through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2). One of the greatest ironies of Grudem's approach, a fundamentalist approach to Scripture, is that it has a hidden agenda for how Scripture can speak. It does not come to the Bible with a blank sheet of paper but with its own questions for the Bible to answer, not letting the Bible say what questions it wants to answer.  How you pose a question has everything to do with the answer you get.

So while Grudem quotes many verses, he has already decided what it means for the Bible to be truthful or what a "writing" is without realizing how deeply these sorts of categories lie in our cultural assumptions. For example, it is true that the word "scripture" means "writing," but Grudem just assumes that this means a writing in the ancient world had the basic functions and characteristics of writing for him today, a literate, post-printing press, educated individual.

But those who actually try to come to the ancient world would say that the ancient world was an oral culture such that even writings were read aloud and with an oral mindset.  This is probably why the early copyists of both the OT and NT documents seemed free to paraphrase the wording.  This is probably why the NT authors felt free to adjust the wording of OT texts. As a typical unreflective pre-modern, Grudem reads his own assumptions into the biblical text thinking and calls it the timeless meaning.

God can indeed speak directly to us through the words of Scripture, but the original revelations were written to people who have been dead for 2000 years and more.  That's what the texts actually say.  You and I are not the initial audience of the "thus saith LORD" of the prophets.  Not only are we not the audience but the genres are not uniform. Grudem acts like the primary purpose of a psalm or a narrative is to give us truth--thus a narrative's primary purpose would be to tell us what happened. This is an impoverished approach to such genres.

So apart from when the Spirit speaks to us directly through the words of the Bible, the books themselves want to be read as indirect revelation--words we can learn about God from by the way he spoke to and through others in various ways. God can certainly transform us through Scripture directly as well, but this is less of a matter of understanding as a matter of changing who we are. The more direct the change in understanding, the less we are reading the words for what they originally meant.

Third, the authority of Scripture is an incarnated authority.  This follows directly from the fact that it is a mediated authority. Once you have a deep understanding of how meaning works, you will recognize how wide the gulf is at times between us and the original audiences.  Our default sense of meaning (and Grudem's) is that words point to this timeless bank of meanings that all humans share in common. Not so.

Meaning is always local. The bank from which the meaning of words is drawn on any occasion is the local bank, and universal meaning only takes place when all locations have the same meaning in their banks. The deep sense of "sacrifice" in the ancient socio-cultural environment, for example, is not in the North American dictionary. We can read about what they did when they offered sacrifices but truly understanding how sacrifices worked in the psyche of an ancient, that's going to take a lot of doing for you and me.

In good pre-modern fashion, Grudem doesn't seem to realize how variable the meaning of words can be or, rather, he is overconfident that people with the Spirit will see the same meaning.  This is why I have described his understanding of the Bible as two-dimensional. It is superficial because he has no idea how differently he sees the world than the biblical writers did.

Because the authority of Scripture is mediated and incarnated, the authority of Scripture is the all-time of Scripture, and the "all time" of Scripture is the import of the whole of Scripture.  A "one-time" command of Scripture can teach me something, but it is not directly demanding something of me ("go and sell everything to the poor," spoken to one person). A "that time" command of Scripture ("cover your head because of the angels") is not directly demanding something of me. The ultimately authority of Scripture over me is the authority of the timeless take-away of the Bible, which is a function of the Bible taken as a whole, its varied pieces directed to different audiences integrated into a singular theology and ethic. This takes place more on the level of principle than of individual precept.

All of that is looking under the hood.  In practice, when it happens right, I love when Grudem says that, "the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of our Creator speaking to us" (77).  When the Bible is functioning as Scripture, we don't need to know all the "below the surface" talk above.  God speaks to us.  God transforms us.

So why do I find fault with Grudem?  Because I do not believe he rightly hears the Spirit at many points.  So if his spiritual engine isn't working right, then it makes sense to get under the hood and get clarity on where his machine isn't working right. Ultimately, the fundamentalist approach to Scripture inadvertently makes the Bible into a barrier between us and God.  It results in a Bible that, rather than pointing beyond itself to the real God, creates a skewed picture of God, flattened by its false rules for what the Bible can and cannot say. It makes the Bible an end-in-itself rather than a sacrament of God's speaking and transformation.

1 comment:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Blood covenants" were the ancient way of satisfying the "Gods" in pre-modern religious traditions. "Covenant theology" was the Church's use of the ancient paradigm and use of Jesus' life to re-mythlogize ancient religious understanding.

Grudem uses fundamentalist understanding of the Text apart from understanding the Tradition that it comes from, as even the Tradition (Christian) has various understandings of "faith".

Both proof-texting the text upon "experience" and conforming "experience" to Tradition have very narrow and defining views of "faith". Both text and tradition are man's attempt at understanding and resolving the questions about life and all that is.

It is much better to understand things from a fact based reality, than a faith based one, because agreement (consensus) can be formed, and humans can live with certain expectations in society with liberty of conscience toward faith...Guess what I'm gonna say; a Constitutional government grants the right to that liberty....