Thursday, June 25, 2015

How the Bible and Theology Connect

The Bible and theology connect in two ways, in terms of their content.

1. First, they connect historically. The community of faith from which the books of the OT emerged (Israel) was in continuity with the community from which the books of the NT emerged (Jesus movement), which was in continuity with the community that recognized these books as Scriptural canon (the early church). The central beliefs and core ethics of Christianity reached a kind of stability in the community of the early church, and these beliefs and ethics have a continuity historically with the communities that preceded.

Thus the theology of the Church grew historically out of the theology of the earliest church, which grew out of the theology of Israel diachronically.

2. Synchronically, we can say that the historically particular materials of the Bible provide the raw content of Christian theology, while Christian theology provides the organization of that content. Pre-reflectively, we do not see this distinction. We see them as one as the same. We think the Bible is theology. We might read the text as a collection of individual universal truths and our theology as something like knowing which verse to quote on which topic.

But this perspective is usually unreflective. It does not understand the historical particularity of each text (or a "hyper-reflective" reader may choose to look past it). As reflective readers, we recognize that the organization of the biblical content is an act that, de re, must take place from outside the text. The texts themselves, to a large degree, do not tell us how to integrate their content with one another. It is something our minds (or preferably communities) do of necessity, whether we realize it or not.

This implies that theology is primary in terms of cognitive meaning in the sense that the organization of content is far more determinative of meaning than the content itself. To the extent that we do not realize that we are the ones organizing the content, to that extent we mistake ourselves for the Bible, to that extent we lift ourselves to have the authority of the Bible. This unreflective approach to the Bible is also why there are tens of thousands of Christian interpretive groups who think they are just following the Bible when they are mostly following the coincidences of their own interpretations.

3. In the same sense that we always live in the present, and we only understand the past in the present (and it is hard to meet the past apart from traditions that bring it to us), Christian belief and practice is understood and taught most clearly in its organized, theological form. There is a drive to connect this theology to specific biblical texts and there is a perceived power in doing so, but this primarily has to do with the affective dimensions of our thinking and practice. In terms of cognitive content, it complicates and can obfuscate.

Yet Scripture is arguably about much more than the cognitive. Arguably its function in the Christian community is primarily sacramental. In that sense, while theology can stand alone cognitively, it loses a good deal of its power when it is not connected to biblical materials.

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