Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Word of God Redux

Here is the latest in Conversations with Bob!

John thanks for your response.

Anyway, more on the Word of God.

Hmmm . . . Prophets and Dickens? Interesting analogy! I agree that the prophets intended to speak to the people of their own times and the predictions they made about the future certainly took into account the political landscape of their times. But as one of our listeners has pointed out, most of the time the prophet’s predictions about the future were conditional and based on the change in behavior the particular prophet said God wanted from the people of Israel or Judah. True, in some cases like Amos and Jeremiah the predictions were absolute.

As to your comment about ecocide I agree that we have responsibility to God for how we take care of God’s good earth and I hope that we humans will stop our mad rush to destruction. I would point out, thou lover of the scientific theory of evolution, that the earth got along just fine without humans for several billion years, survived at least two near wipings out of life on earth and went on. While we humans may think we are so important, the earth did fine without us and could do so again. I wonder if our concern about ecocide is not really a concern about preserving an environment in which humans in our current state of evolution can live.

I do think we have come to our first fundamental disagreement. Tell me if you agree that we disagree! I call the whole Bible the Word of God but am concerned about how we interpret it. I believe that God speaks in the Bible, God reveals God’s self in the Bible although I would add that if one is going to hear God one must be guided by the Holy Spirit. You, and tell me if I get this right, find the term word of God unhelpful as we examine the Bible. I think the entire Bible is important and revelatory. You struggle with good and bad texts, sometimes wondering if you have said something is a bad text that you might later think is a good text and something is a good text that you might later think is a bad text. If I hear you correctly, and I really am afraid I have misunderstood you about this that God does not speak in the Bible. That is what I take your statement to mean when you say “God did not write the book. Humans wrote it.” Do you believe that God somehow reveals God’s self through the Bible or not? Is the Bible special revelation that is different from any other human text or not? Or would you use an entirely different way to talk about the question? Are my yes or no questions too restrictive?

You have at least suggested that you put the following interpretive grid on the Bible when you try to determine what in the Bible is a message from God:

I think what we find throughout the Bible in both Testaments is the tension between...
...shalom and the powers,

...peace through justice and peace through violence,
...authentic freedom and oppression,
...human dignity and all the forces of domination that divide us into category and deny our divine image,
...stewardship of Earth and the illusion of ownership,
...the kingdom of God and Empire (whether that Empire be Pharaoh's, Nebuchadnezzar's, or Caesar's).

The bad texts are those that conform to the ways of the powers and legitimate them.

On what basis do you make the decision that these should be the interpretive grids? That really is the vital question for all of us: what is our interpretive grid, how did we come to that decision and do we simply state this is my interpretive grid or this should be the interpretive grid for all interpreters and if that latter, how can we show or prove that this is the proper interpretive grid?

I believe that what you have said above is an important secondary interpretive grid. I believe the primary grids are creation, fall redemption and the person and work of Christ. These interpret what shalom, peace through justice, human dignity, stewardship of the Earth and the kingdom of God look like. Thus while I agree that all humans are created in the image of God, I believe that the fall damages that image and that it must be restored in Christ. Please note: I also believe no matter how damaged the image of God may be in individual humans, groups of humans and all humans collectively that individual humans and all humans are to be treated with the dignity that comes with being created in the image of God. The sociopathic serial killer, while he/she may need to be separated from the rest of society for safety, deserves humane treatment. And yes, being created in the image of God implies that we have responsibility to God for our use of creation individually and collectively.

Here is where things get circular for all of us. We choose a particular interpretive grid, argue that it is the true message of the Bible, and then use that grid to interpret the Bible. So I say the Bible is the story of creation, fall and redemption, that the redemption part is seen particularly in the person and work of Christ, and then interpret the Bible by that story. I’m not sure who coined the phrase but this is the hermeneutical circle. I’m guessing we have different hermeneutical circles.

So tell me, are we saying the same thing when I say there are no bad texts but only bad interpretations and you say there are bad texts but good and bad is determined by how we interpret them? Or not?

Maybe the next place to go, if we are done with the terms Word of God and word of God, is to the question of the authority of the Bible.

Grace and Peace



  1. Bob,

    Your Creation / Fall / Redemption* scheme is part of the Biblical tradition, and has been reiterated by luminaries of the faith (Augustine, Anselm, John Calvin, James Orr, Abraham Kuyper, Carl F. H. Henry, R. J. Rushdoony, and Francis Schaeffer each contributed to the theme). It is a fundamental part of the Christian worldview. I think you will find at the basis of your disagreement with John a rejection of the Fall, a modified Pelagianism that rejects the radical nature and disastrous results of human depravity (GOP excepted).

    * Restoration / Recreation / Consummation is notably being omitted - and these are just different names for the "final" phase in the drama of God.

  2. chris while all those people may indeed have talked about creation/fall/redemption, I learned it first from Jack Rogers.

  3. I won't presume to put any words in John's mouth, but I can offer my perspective on what I think about the concept of "the fall" and original sin.

    Human beings are, by nature, capable of doing great evil and great good. Traditionally, the innate capability of doing evil has been characterized, particularly in the Reformation, as proof of original sin. IMO, whether it was a direct result of Adam chowing down on the fruit or some genetic predisposition is largely irrelevant. It does exist, and good people have the capacity to do horrible things.

    On the other hand, humans (with the exception of a handful with a severe mental illness) also have the capacity, no matter how rotten they may be, to do spectacularly good things. A point Calvin made in Institutio that I think gets ignored too often is his belief that human goodness is not just good, it's divine:

    "So God begins the good work in us by arousing in our hearts a desire, love and study of righteousness. More accurately, he turns, trains and guides our hearts to righteousness. He completes the good work by strengthening us to keep going to the end." (Institutes 2:3:6, Lane Translation)

    In my mind (and apparently Calvin's), this elevates human goodness to a new height. It gives us humility about our own sense of righteousness while acknowledging the supreme nature of goodness. It is a divine gift, not unlike a call, and it is up to us to respond to that gift appropriately.


    Bob, it was in fact Dr. Rogers who first explained the creation/fall/redemption theme to me in such a way that I finally got it. Jack is truly a blessing to not just Presbyterians, but Christians in general today.

  4. I will have to check out Jack Rogers on that. Which book of his do you recommend?

  5. One of my all time favorites is his latest, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality, which in addition to the obvious topic also has a concise rehash of the Presbyterians' own "story arc": Calvin, Knox, Scottish Common Sense, Princeton, Machen, Barth, up to today.

    Claiming the Center is a slightly more difficult read and has a broader discussion of how the mainstream Presbyterian church has evolved over the last couple of centuries and how it deals with both fundamentalism and modernism.

    I've heard that his book on the Book of Confessions is required reading in some seminary classes.

    I'm waiting for someone to ask Bob the $60,000 question regarding Dr. Rogers... ;-)