Conference on Bible and Justice

The University of Sheffield is organizing a Conference on Bible and Justice for 29 May – 1 June, 2008. The Conference promises to bring together scholars from around the world to explore how the ancient texts of the Bible can play an active role in addressing twenty-first century social concerns.  The purpose of the conference is to foster discussion about the relevance of the Bible to modern social issues, and promote bridges between the academic field of biblical studies and the various endeavours for a just world.
Areas of focus include Human Rights, Economic Justice and Environmental Justice.

Keynote Speakers are Stanley Hauerwas (Duke University), Timothy Gorringe (University of Exeter) and John Rogerson (University of Sheffield, Emeritus). Other speakers include James Crossley, Philip Davies, Daid Horrell, Louise Lawrence, Mary Mills, Hugh Pyper, Christpher Rowland, Gerald West, and Keith Whitelam.

Faculty members and research students are invited to submit abstracts, which will be accepted until 24 January 2008, and participate in this conference. For more information visit the website or contact conference organizer, Matthew Coomber.

Kierkegaard on reading Scripture

kierkegaard 2I wasn’t going to post on Kierkegaard today, but I came across this provocative statement in his Journal and thought it worth sharing. On face value, I suspect that many of us would disagree with what Kierkegaard is proposing here. Indeed, his own expository practice and adoration of Scripture might in itself challenge these thoughts. However, might he not be pressing on something that is important to hear in these days marked by both bibliolatry and bible neglect?

Fundamentally a reformation which did away with the Bible would now be just as valid as Luther’s doing away with the Pope. All that about the Bible has developed a religion of learning and law, a mere distraction. A little of that knowledge has gradually percolated to the simplest classes so that no one any longer reads the Bible humanly. As a result it does immeasurable harm; where life is concerned its existence is a fortification of excuses and escapes; for there is always something one has to look into first of all, and it always seems as though one had first of all to have the doctrine in perfect form before one could begin to live that is to say, one never begins.

The Bible Societies, those vapid caricatures of missions, societies which like all companies only work with money and are just as mundanely interested in spreading the Bible as other companies in their enterprises: the Bible Societies have done immeasurable harm. Christendom has long been in need of a hero who, in fear and trembling before God, had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible. That is something quite as necessary as preaching against Christianity’.

– Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard (ed. Alexander Dru; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 150.

The immediate context of the excerpt sheds little light on what Kierkegaard is here calling for. Some pages earlier, however, he defends the necessity for a more sustained reflection on the truths to which Scripture bears witness: ‘It has constantly been maintained that reflection inevitably destroys Christianity and is its natural enemy. I hope, now, that with God’s help it will be shown that a godfearing reflection can once again tie the knot at which a superficial reflection has been tugging for so long. The divine authority of the Bible and all that belongs to it has been done away with; it looks as though one had only to wait for the last stage of reflection in order to have done with the whole thing. But behold, reflection performs the opposite service by once more bringing the springs of Christianity into play, and in such a way that it can stand up against reflection’. This seems to be Kierkegaard’s main concern here. He is not wanting to change ‘real Christianity’ so much as call upon Christendom to repent of its failure to posit Christian faith as that which is immediate, personal, and simple, even in its paradox. He challenges believers to abandon the false dichotomy between ‘reflection and simplicity armed with reflection’. This alone, he insists, is true sense. He writes: ‘The problem is not to understand Christianity but to understand that it cannot be understood. That is the holiness of faith, and reflection is sanctified by being thus used …’.

His provocative statement regarding Scripture is, in other words, motivated, it seems, by his deep concern that believers are failing to hear, and heed, the word of God which has become domesticated to their ears. ‘It is high time’, he writes, ‘that Christianity was taken away again from men in order to teach them to appreciate it a little’.

Gay and Lesbian Bible

With the availability of kid’s bibles, men’s bibles, women’s bibles, worship bibles, teen bibles, backpack cinnamon strip bibles, spirituality bibles, compact wedding bibles (presumably for compact marriages), praying woman bibles (I think we get the point) it ought come as little surprise that there is now a Gay and Lesbian Bible, available for purchase or download. This new Study New Testament comes from Dr Ann Nyland, translator of The Source New Testament and is based on her The Source translation with new study notes which she claims are aimed at the spiritual needs of gay and lesbian followers of Christ. More information here.

Ratzinger on the Relationship between the Magisterium and Exegetes

Just finished reading Ratzinger’s 2003 address ‘On the Relationship between the Magisterium and Exegetes’ which he presented on the 100th Anniversary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I’ve always enjoyed Ratzinger’s writing, and this piece is no different. I thought I’d just share a few gems:

‘The pilgrim people of God … knows … that it neither speaks nor acts by itself, but is indebted to the ne who makes them a people: the same living God who speaks to them through the authors of the individual books [of Scripture]’.

‘The mere objectivity of the historical method does not exist. It is simply impossible to ompletely exclude philosophy or hermeneutical foresight’.

‘A God who cannot intervene in history and reveal Himself in it is not he God of the Bible. In this way the reality of the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary, the effective institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper, his bodily resurrection from the dead – this is the meaning of the empty tomb – are elements of the faith as such, which it can and must defend against an only presumably superior historical knowledge. That Jesus – in all that is essential – was effectively who the Gospels reveal him to be to us is not mere historical conjecture, but a fact of faith. Objections which seek to convince us to the contrary are not the expression of an effective scientific knowledge, but are an arbitrary over-evaluation of the method. What we have learned in the meantime, moreover, is that many questions in their particulars must remain open-ended and be entrusted to a conscious interpretation of their responsibilities. This introduces the second level of the problem: it is not simply a question of making a list of historical elements indispensable to the faith. It is a question of seeing what reason can do, and why the faith can be reasonable and reason open to faith’.

‘Faith and science, Magisterium and exegesis, therefore, are no longer opposed as worlds closed in on themselves. Faith itself is a way of knowing. Wanting to set it aside does not produce pure objectivity, but comprises a point of view which excludes a particular perspective while not wanting to take into account the accompanying conditions of the chosen point of view’.

You can read the entire address here.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – Bauckham Interview

Gary Burge, from Christianity Today, interviews Richard Bauckham here about his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. For those who are yet to read the book, this interview is a great little taster.

A snippert:

The Gospels were written within living memory of the events. They are what historians in the ancient world regarded as the only sort of history that should really be written, that done while eyewitnesses were still accessible. They are what modern historians call oral history.

Forsyth on the Bible and authority

Ben Myers, over at Faith and Theology, has posted a great post by Kim Fabricus on preaching. Well worth checking out. On a related note, here’s a list of points that Forsyth makes about the authority over (or source of) the Bible.

1. There is something authoritative for the Bible itself.

2. It is not something which comes up to it from without like the scientific methods of the Higher Criticism. To make that supreme would be rationalism.

3. It is something which is in the Bible itself, provided by it, and provided nowhere else. We must go back to the Bible with modern scholarship to find what the Bible goes back to.

4. It is not truths extracted from the Bible and guaranteed by prophecy and miracle. That is the antiquated supernaturalism with its doctrinaire orthodoxy.

5. In a word, that is over the Bible which is over the Church and the Creeds. It is the Gospel of Grace, which produced Bible, Creed, and Church alike. And by the Gospel is meant primarily God’s act of pure Grace for men, and only secondarily the act of men witnessing it for God in a Bible or a Church.

6. The Gospel was an experienced fact, a free, living, preached Word long before it was a fixed and written Word – as was the case also with the prophets.

7. It is not enough to say the authority in the Bible is Christ unless you are clear whether you mean the character of Christ or His Gospel. All admit Christ’s character to be a product of God’s action; is the same true of Christ’s Gospel?

8. To apply the Gospel of Grace as the standard of the Bible is to go higher than the Higher Criticism. It is the highest. The Gospel is not merely the final test of the Bible, but its supreme source; and the Bible is its humble vassal to be treated in any way that best obeys and serves it. The security of the Gospel gives us our critical freedom.

9. The Bible is not merely a record of the revelation. It is part of it. It is more true that God’s great Word contains the Bible than that the Bible contains the Word. The Word in Christ needed exposition by the Bible. The Gospels find their only central interpretation in the Epistles.

10. The Bible is not so much a document as a sacrament. It is not primarily a voucher for the historian but a preacher for the soul. The Christ of the Gospels even is not a biographical

Christ, so much as a preached Christ. The Bible is not so much a record of Christ as a record and a part of the preaching about Christ, which was the work of the Spirit and the apostles. There is no real collision between the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ of the Epistles. The apostles, and especially Paul, moved by the heavenly Christ, form an essential part of Christ’s revelation of God’s grace.

11. It was a theological Gospel, though not authoritative as dogma but as living, personal revelation. The Christian experience must cast itself more or less in the forms of its historic origin, and not merely in those of human relations and affections. E.g., Christian sonship is not natural, or even spiritual, but evangelical; it is the sonship of adoption. So conversely with the Fatherhood of God.

12. This subordination of the Bible to the Gospel was the relation felt by Jesus Himself. He used His Bible for its Gospel, not for its information – as a means of grace, and not as a manual of Hebrew history. That is, He read His Bible as a whole. He commits us not to the whole Bible but to the Bible as a whole. The Bible is not a compendium of facts, historic or theological, but the channel of redeeming grace. Faith is something more than the historic sense dealing with documents. It is the moral and spiritual sense dealing with revelation as Redemption.

13. The appeal of the Bible is not to the faith of the individual but to that of the whole Church, which is the other great product of the Gospel. My dullness or disbelief does not affect the witness of the saints, classic or common, in every Church and age.

14. In the Church the Bible becomes more than a product of the Word. It is a producer of it in turn. It generates the faith that generated it. As the greatest of preachers it produces preachers. And it is at home only in a Church whose first duty to men is to preach.

15. The detachment of faith from the Bible and from its daily use marks both Romanism and the religiosity of the modern mind.

16. The disuse of the Bible by Christians is due to a vague sense of insecurity rising from critical work on it, and to the extravagant claims made for it which criticism prunes.

17. The Christian creed has really but one article, great with all the rest. It is the Gospel of God’s redeeming Grace in Christ. The charter of the Church is not the Bible, but Redemption. Those words of Christ are prime revelation to us, and of first obligation, which carry home to us the redeeming grace incarnate in His person and mission.

18. The Higher Criticism has been a great blessing, but it has gone too far alone, i.e., without final reference to the highest, the synthetic standard of the Bible – the Gospel of Grace. What we need, to give us the real historic contents of the Bible, is not a history of the Religion of Israel, but of Redemption – with all the light the Higher Criticism can shed on it, and much more that it cannot.

19. Christianity will not stand or fall by its attitude to its documents, but by its attitude to its Gospel and to the soul.

20. The Free Churches have yet to face the spiritual problem created for them by the collapse of an inerrant Bible and the failure of an authoritative Church. And the only key lies in the authority of that grace which called them into being as the true heirs of the Reformation, the trustees of the Evangelical tradition, and the chief witnesses of the Holy Spirit of our Redemption.

(Taken from PT Forsyth, The Church, the Gospel and Society (London: Independent Press, 1962): 67-70)

The error of inerrancy

Some of you may have been following the postings by Chris Tilling on Biblical inerrancy here and here. Not wanting to leave this debate entirely in the hands of the biblical commentators, and wanting to say something in response, I wish here to offer a (not the only, nor indeed a particularly full) theological perspective on this vitally important question. ‘I do not believe in verbal inspiration. I am with the critics, in principle. But the true minister ought to find the words and phrases of the Bible so full of spiritual food and felicity that he has some difficulty in not believing in verbal inspiration. The Bible is the one enchiridion of the preacher still, the one manual of eternal life, the one page that glows as all life grows dark, and the one book whose wealth rebukes us more the older we grow because we knew and loved it so late’ (Preaching, 26). So said PT Forsyth to his American audience in his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind. It seems to me the debate concerning infallibility is at core one about the nature and object of authority and where that authority for faith and life is to be found.

Notwithstanding the debates about terminology used, to my mind it is of great concern that people of faith should consider the ground of their faith a book, rather than in what that book testifies to. In some schools, this amounts to no less than bibliolatry. The Bible is not the Koran! An infallible book implies that our primary need is revelation, and that contained and conveyed in words. Whereas our greatest need is not intellectual but moral, not truth but grace, not revelation but redemption. I, for one, do not see a necessity for belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures but, with Forsyth, I believe it should be difficult for us to not believe in verbal inspiration. I believe in that which creates the Bible, i.e. the gospel to which the Scriptures perfectly bear witness. And I believe that we must believe in the Bible’s finality, authority and inspiration.

Donald Bloesch’s definition of inspiration is helpful here: ‘. . . inspiration is the divine election and superintendence of particular writers and writings in order to ensure a trustworthy and potent witness to the truth’ (Holy Scripture, 119). The authority of the Scriptures lies in the same place that the authority for life and the Church exists: in the gospel itself. What, then, is the authority in the church? The church itself? The ex cathedra statements? The magisterium? Existential experience? The authority is where it always has been, in the apostolic testimony to Christ. The authority is carried by the apostolic word, but that word itself is not the authority. What we have is the apostolic message as it has been committed to writing by the apostles, in what we know as the New Testament.

So the question remains, do we believe what the apostles taught or not? The fact that we learn shape of the gospel from the Bible does not make the Bible an infallible witness, but a completely faithful one. (As an aside, why is it that so many of those who trumpet the inerrancy of scripture from pulpits either fail to use the Bible in their preaching or misuse it so severely? A wise preacher once said to me that you can tell what one’s view of Scripture is not from what one says about them, but rather from how one uses them.) The Scriptures are the authority, for no other reason than they are the definitive testimony to Christ. That would not imply that there is no further communication from God to us, simply that in what is written we have the certain word. All else is to be tested against that (1 Thess. 5:20-22; 1 John 4:1). So, ‘nothing beyond what is written’ (1 Cor. 4:6); ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them’ (Isa. 8:20).

As PT Forsyth put it: ‘Inspiration and Revelation are two very different things, and one mistake we have made has been to treat them as being co-extensive, if not identical. The first mistake, of course, was in applying such words to a book. It is said the Bible is a revelation from God, or the Bible is inspired. The statement is loose. The Bible contains God’s revelation (though in no dissectible way); what is the revelation is the Gospel, as some put it, or, as others would say, Christ, or the line of historic redemption. And, as to Inspiration, it is not, strictly speaking, the Bible that was inspired, but the souls of the men whose writings fill it. The more we dwell on this, the more we may feel what important consequences flow from the correction. The verbal, literal infallibility of Scripture goes down at once, for example, and with it so many of the doubts, or attacks, it has roused’ (Parnassus, 243).

And again: ‘”Who shall tell me surely what to believe about Christ?” None can. No Church can. No book can; no saint, no theologian. None can but Christ Himself in actual presence-it may be without a word that I could report, or a theme I could frame-by overwhelming my soul with its greatness and its evil, its judgment and its salvation, in His invincible word of death, resurrection, and glory’ (Authority, 63).

And again: ‘The inspiration is not infallible in the sense that every event is certain or every statement final. You may agree with what I say without agreeing with all I say. The Bible’s inspiration, and its infallibility, are such as pertain to redemption and not theology, to salvation and not mere history. It is as infallible as a Gospel requires, not as a system. Remember that Christ did not come to bring a Bible but to bring a Gospel. The Bible arose afterwards from the Gospel to serve the Gospel. We do not treat the Bible aright, we do not treat it with the respect it asks for itself, when we treat it as a theologian, but only when we treat it as an apostle, as a preacher, as the preacher in the perpetual pulpit of the Church. It is saturated with dogma, but its writers were not dogmatists; and it concerns a Church, but they were not ecclesiastics. The Bible, the preacher, and the Church are all made by the same thing-the Gospel. The Gospel was there before the Bible, and it created the Bible, as it creates the true preacher and the true sermon everywhere. And it is for the sake and service of the Gospel that both Bible and preacher exist. We are bound to use both, at any cost to tradition, in the way that gives freest course to the Gospel in which they arose. The Bible, therefore, is there as the medium of the Gospel. It was created by faith in the Gospel. And in turn it creates faith among men. It is at once the expression of faith and its source. It is a nation’s sermon to the race. It is the wonder-working relic of a saint-nation which was the living organ of living revelation. What made the inspiration of the book? It was the prior inspiration of the people and of the men by the revelation. Revelation does not consist of communications about God. It never did. If it had it might have come by an inspired book dictated to one in a dream. But revelation is the self-bestowal of the living God, His self-limitation in the interest of grace. It is the living God in the act of imparting Himself to living souls. It is God Himself drawing ever more near and arrived at last. And a living God can only come to men by living men. Inspiration is the state of a soul, not of a book-of a book only in so far as the book is a transcript of a soul inspired. It was by men that God gave Himself to men, till, in the fullness of time, He came, for good and all, in the God-man Christ, the living Word; in whom God was present, reconciling the world unto Himself, not merely acting through Him but present in Him, reconciling and not speaking of reconciliation, or merely offering it to us.’ (Preaching, 9-11).

I remember once attending a packed wee (that means ‘little’ for those non-Scots) church to hear a preacher. I was at the back and could not see him, so I created a stack of Bible’s to stand on, that I might better see the preacher and hear the Word. I remember being told off for engaging in such ‘disrespectful’ activity. I complied, more out of embarrassment than anything else, but over the years I have reflected on what was happening here and the message that was given to me as a young Christian. They are many of course. But what was my reproofer saying about the Bible? Was it simply that I should respect it, and the church’s property? Or was it more? I’ve often wondered if the reaction would have been the same had I stood on a stack of hymnbooks. I’m afraid that in some places this may be even considered the ‘greater sin’. I know that standing on the word enabled me to hear the Word more clearly.

Finally, I love the Scriptures… all of them. I was converted reading the Scriptures. Sometimes I feel that I am reconverted when I read them. In them is where I discover their God-breathed nature and so their profit for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that people may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ And for that I thank the Lord for the Scriptures. I have devoted my life to their study. With the psalmist, I say ‘Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day and night’ (119:97). I love the Scriptures for in them is where I find life, where I hear the word of Christ in such a way that I cannot argue back. In this sense, they are final. Although more than happy to be convinced otherwise, why this requires, or even demands, a belief in inerrancy remains a mystery to me. Luther once said, ‘Christ is the Master; the Scriptures are only the servant. The true way to test all the Books is to see whether they work the will of Christ or not. No Book which does not preach Christ can be apostolic, though Peter or Paul were its author. And no Book which does preach Christ can fail to be apostolic though Judas, Ananias, Pilate or Herod were its author’ and that ‘The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.’ Not bad for a guy who (wrongly) called James an ‘epistle of straw!’ (NB. For those who wish to throw stones, or cans of fruit, may they please be well polished and, if fruit, I like peaches.)