Thursday, 23 February 2006

Podcast: the Bible and theology

I have just added another podcast, this time on the relationship between the Bible and theology. In retrospect, I wish I had also focused on the importance of exegesis; in case you’re worried, I do think that exegesis is essential for theological reflection, but I just didn’t have time to discuss this here.

Anyway, the podcast runs for about 15 minutes. You can listen to it here, or you can get the feed here. And if you enjoy this kind of thing, be sure also to hear Chris Tilling’s excellent inaugural podcast on gospel in Paul.

31 Comments:

Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for the plug, Ben.

And thanks for the new podcast. Thoroughly enjoyed it again.

This was a really thought-provoking one. I'm going to take this one away and churn it over in my thoughts. Actually, this is a subject in which I feel I have the most to learn. My 'default' is the proof-texting approach. Can't help it - the result of being a Fundie for years. So today, as I consider such issues as e.g. universalism, because of my theological past I feel taken to the very borders of my default methodology. And when I reach the border, I feel like I’ve only just begun, and I’ve then lost my road-map.

Cryptic language, sorry. I know what I mean!

Guy Davies (aka Exiled Preacher) said...

Hi Ben,
Interesting podcast.From what you are saying, the Barthian Theological method is only loosely based on the exegesis of Scripture. That explains a lot!

If I weren't such an olde Orthodox proof texing Luddite, I'd respond with a podcast of my own.

Chris Tilling said...

Guy, please do! I'd be interested to hear it ...

As for being loosely based on exegesis, I'm not so sure. The point is perhaps that he was being faithful to scripture as it is supposed to be read, and not faithful to favourite verses alone, but to the trajectory of scripture informed as it should be by an appropriate hermeneutic and tradition.

I could proof-text:
* handing a morally broken person to satan for the destruction of the flesh
* That women really should SHUT UP
* That head coverings be compulsory
* That women don't braid their hair or wear jewellery.

And that's just the NT. If I start proof-texting, i.e. gathering quotes from the OT, then we could really have some fun.

The point, then, is that it is not as simple as just gathering texts to back up a position, but needs to be all read with a certain hermeneutic - and it is here that Barth can help the most perhaps.

Nevertheless, I think I know what you are getting at, and I understand. I'm still chewing on this!

GoobyNelly said...

Hey Ben,
This is an excellent podcast that I think gets at some of the problems in method that I saw in the posts on Piper and Cancer. Well done for not having any notes! Truly charming to hear theology with the ambience of one's own living space in the background. ;-)

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

There seems to be an assumption here that to quote Scripture, or to derive Theological principles directly from the Bible is to unthinkingly proof text. That is not necessarily the case. Jesus and the apostles constantly appealed to the OT.

I believe that Systematic Theology should build upon the foundation of exegesis and Biblical Theology. The task of Theology is to articulate the teaching of the Bible as a whole.

Let's take the case of universalism. We could start with the general principle that becuase God is love and Jesus is the Saviour of the world, that all will be saved. But the Bible also speaks of God's judgement on sin leading to death and judgement. We could follow the Bible's plot line from Genesis 3, to Revelation and trace the development of the doctrine of God's judgement upon the lost. In terms of the NT, we would have to ask, "What to the Synoptics have to say"? That would call for a consideration of Jesus' teaching on hell. Or "What does John's Gospel have to say?" Then we would have to look at his teaching that eternal life is in the Son and that apart from him there is only condemnation. "What does Paul have to say about this theme?" That would include exegesis of, say, Romans 1- 3, 2 Thessalonians 1 etc - Paul's teaching on judgement and the wrath of God. Each writer must be allowed his distinctive contribution to the doctrine. But a cumulative picture will arise from the study of the text of Scripture. Such a study would not be "proof texting" but involve exegesis of the Scriptures in their proper context etc.

The Bible's teaching on the punishment of the lost cannot be screened out of the picture for the sake of a general Theological principle. The Bible must be studied holistically. God is love, Jesus is the Saviour of the world. But we are saved through faith in him. He who does not believe is condemned already for the wrath of God abides on him.

The Theological enterprise must begin by asking, "What do the Scriptures say?"

Ken said...

The point, then, is that it is not as simple as just gathering texts to back up a position, but needs to be all read with a certain hermeneutic - and it is here that Barth can help the most perhaps.

I don't think that is what Guy is suggesting... see esp. his most recent... nor was it what I was looking for Kim or Ben to do on the issues of evil and suffering.

Daniel Nairn said...

An insightful podcast Ben. I do agree with you that the old Princeton method of systematic theology was rather misguided, perhaps too caught up in the rationalist spirit of the age. The Bible is not a legal sourcebook that needs to be cracked by our reasonable categories in order to determine its true meaning. However, I don't think these extreme cases warrent dismissing proof-texts altogether.

Maybe an analogy can be made with apologetics. There have been plenty of over-extended attempts to prove the existence and even character of God through unaided human reason, as if whomever was willing to spend enough time in her armchair could find God herself. I think most of us would see this as wrong, yet this doesn't discount the long history from St. Paul through Justin Martyr and Calvin of applying reason to faith. In the same way, I think there are responsible ways to proof-text and maintain the context.

There are two more independant reasons I have for defending proof-texting:

1. Perspicuity of the text - If the Bible is the document of the living Church, it needs to be accessible to the entire body. We may have gone too far down the road of professionalizing theology if the issues surrounding any individual quote from Scripture are too complex to let it stand alone. I'm not discounting the hard work of the historical-critical method. This can help us determine which texts need a little extra background to decipher. However, prooftexts can serve as a "go and see for yourself" to the uninitiated.

2. Unity of the Text - While the Bible is miraculously gathered from a diverse collection of writers from different cultures with radically different personalities, my committment to a doctrine of inspiration also reveals the underlying unity of the Spirit throughout. The discipline of biblical studies has become far too specialized (like the rest of academia). This can cause the specialists to look down on anyone who would, say, look for support for God's sovereignty in both Is. 53 and Rom. 9 in the same sentence. However, I don't think they are apples and oranges, but the singular Word of God.

Looking forward to your next topic ...

Ben Myers said...

Thanks to all of you for these thoughtful and perceptive comments. Time forbids me from responding at the moment (I'm currently holidaying at the Gold Coast), but let me just make one quick remark in response to Guy's tongue-in-cheek criticism of "Barthian" theology:

My own approach isn't especially or exculsively "Barthian" (it's equally indebted to Lutherans like R. Bultmann, G. Ebeling and R. W. Jenson). But in any event, let's not forget that the most exegetical systematic theology ever written is still Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics. This work is the only dogmatics in the history of the church that comes close to exegting the entire Bible -- and entire volumes of the work are wholly shaped and determined by exegesis (e.g. CD III/1, which is nothing but a massive theological exegesis of Gen. 1-2; and CD II/2, which largely centres on a massive exegesis of Rom. 9-11; etc.).

So it's hardly true to say that Barthian theology is only loosely related to exegesis! In fact, to compare the seriousness and sophistication of Barth's exegesis with that of any of the conservative evangelical dogmaticians (e.g. Hodge, Shedd, L. Berkhof, Erickson, Grudem, Reymond, et al.) is like comparing King Lear with See Jane Run.

kim fabricius said...

Exegesis for Barth is a very complex matter. First of all Barth denies that scripture is itself revelation, rather it is witness to revelation. Thus Barth affirms the humanitas of scripture - indeed the sinful humanity of the authors of scripture. The biblical writers, Barth says, "speak as fallible, erring men like ourselves." Barth can even speak of the Bible's contradictions and inconsistencies. He also speaks of the hermeneutical restrictions imposed on texts by their idiosyncratic cultural contexts.
And he is sensitive to the issues of genre and and the different things words do.

Yet if scripture for Barth is imperfect, he denies that its gestaldt is either false or misleading: it bears a "sufficient" witness to the Word of God, and provides faith with a "sufficient" certainty to hear and repeat the Word of God.

As for the perspicuitas of scripture, Barth agrees with the Reformers that it is not scripture in itself and as such that is clear, rather it is the res scripturae - the "thing", the "matter", the "thrust" of scripture, what scripture is "driving at", that is clear - namely, the gospel, or perhaps the regula fidei. "Claritas scripturae," as Anthony Thiselton observes discussing Luther's biblical hermemeutics, "is a relational, contextual, or functional concept . . . and in no way offers any short-cut through the problems of interpretation."

Finally, in The Hastening That Waits: Karl Barth's Ethics (1993), Nigel Biggar offers some equally important observations when discussing Barth's deployment of the Bible in his ethics. Biggar notes that "Barth's central concern to preclude a self-justifying, manipulative approach to Scripture expresses itself . . . in his denial that the Bible is a kind of 'supernatural register or arsenal' which provides direct moral guidance like 'a box of magic cards.'" So Barth tends to do his biblical ethics as witnessing narrative tradition rather than as authoritative torah. And, finally, Barth does not do his biblical ethics "neat", he "judges that, in order to be coherent and rational, Christian ethics must develop under the direct control of dogmatics rather than the Bible itself. The Bible's role is primarily that of shaping and monitoring the movement from dogmatics to ethics." Or, again: Barth sees "the Bible's main contribution to Christian ethics in its revelation of theological reality rather than in any direct revelation of morality." Barth thus anticipates contemporary virtue ethics, because before we look to the Bible to find out what to do, we must look to the Bible to find out who God is - and thus to begin to appropriate the thoughts, feelings and dispositions of character appropriate to a follower of this God.

Barth would certainly agree with Kierkegaard: Only "Stupid clergyman appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood."

Ben will know doubt correct me if I have misrepresented Barth in any way, but I hope that what I have relayed about this fastidious and imaginative exegete is useful to the discussion.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for this excellent comment, Kim.

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

Kim,

It seems that Neo-Orthodox Theology treats the Bible differently from Evangelical & Reformed Theology because the "Neos" hold a different view of the Bibe to Evangelicals. Perhaps that is why appeal to the text of Scripture is not dismissed as "proof texing" by "Neos". Barth does not accept the sole authority and suficciency of Scripture as the infalliable word of God. We could not agree on the issue of cancer and the will of God because our Theological presuppositions are radically different. When discussing Theology with other Evangelicals, the aim (I hope) is to disover what the Bible actually teaches. What is the aim of Barthian Theological discussion?

you wrote that according to Barth.

"the Bible's main contribution to Christian ethics in its revelation of theological reality rather than in any direct revelation of morality."

But, in the NT, morality and Theology are mutually interdependent. It is not a case of Theological reallity rather than morality. All of Paul's ethical imperatives in Ephesians 4:17-5:21 are based on Theological propositions: eg. 4:25 - the ethic is "put off falsehood". The Theological dynamic behind the ethic is "for we are all members of one body" - union with Christ.

The trouble is that I may be able to point out that Paul's approach to ethics is quite different to that of Barth, but that seems to carry little weight with you. We are driven back to the issue of Sola Scriptura once again. Denial of the infallibility of the Bible affects Theological methodology. My direct appeal to Scripture may make me a "stupid clergyman". I am certainly not clever enough to suggest that I to know better than the Bible.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Guy,

Barth would certainly deny that he does not accept the Reformers' sola scriptura. Equally, however, he would deny that a biblically faithful theology can simply parrot scripture - and not so much because times change but because the Lord of the Bible is dynamically alive and "hath yet more light and truth / To break forth from His word". For Barth, because the object of theology - i.e. God! - is always on the move, so too theology itself is always in via, prayerfully and thoughtfully reading the scriptures, trying to say the same thing that they say but in saying it again, saying it differently. As for an "infallible" Bible, the ultimate difficulty is quite simple: an inerrant text requires an inerrant reader. And there ain't no such animal.

Again, you say - quite rightly - that in the Bible theology and morality are "mutually interdependent" - and no one would agree with you more than Barth! Indeed apart from its detailed attention to exegesis, the Church Dogmatics is probably best known for its consistent refusal to detach ethics from doctrine - and not just in principle but quite prescriptively. Barth abandoned theological liberalism - and continued to fight it tooth and nail - not least because he saw that it had abandoned ethics to the secular world.

But where you are really spot on in what divides Barth - indeed all post-critical thinkers - from conservative evangelicals is the issue of "directness". Quite apart from postmodern insights about the social location of ideas, the impossibility of ideological innocence, the insidious savoir/pouvoir dialectic, the need for a hermeneutic of suspicion as well as of trust and retrieval, etc., etc., so-called naive realism is simply not a tenable epistemological/ theological position. Reality - let alone God - never comes to us unmediated. We have access to reality - and God - only via language, culture, tradition, etc. Barth would say that only idols speak to us directly.

Kim
(writing from ther Land of your Fathers!)

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

Hi Kim,

I disagree that an inerrant text requires an inerrant reader. That would conflate text with reader. I believe that the Bible is wholly inerrant because it is the product of men who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit. While I believe in the Spirit's witness to the Word in the heart of the believer, I do not claim interpretive infallibility. Only the pope claims that for himself - and he's badly mistaken!

Being an Evangelical does not require a positivist view of hermenutics. Evangelicals were exegeting Scripture long before Bertrand Russel came along!

I am aware that I bring my own peculiar (some may say very peculiar) baggage to the text of Scripture. My understanding of the Bible is open to change and revision as I receive more light from the Word. To suggest that because we cannot understand the Bible inerrantly, we can hardly understand it at all is to escape from the frying pan of positivism only to fall into the fire of postmodernism.

My question as an Evangelical must be, "What says the Scripture?" I don't think that my question is unanswerable. (Paul, the great Theologian of the NT asked the same question after all. PROOF TEXT: Romans 4:3).The whole task of Theology is impossible if an accurate grasp of Scripture is beyond our grasp. Not to mention living the Christian life and pastoral ministry.

Have you read Don Carson's "The Gagging of God"? He grapples with postmodern literary theory in relation to the Bible in a very helpful way.

What are you doing in Wales? Not leading my fellow countrymen into neo-orthodox, postmodern epistemology I hope!

kim fabricius said...

Hi Guy,

Yes, I know the Carson. A formidable character.

What am I doing in Wales? God sent me here, of course - presumably to lead your fellow-countrymen (and -women!) precisely where you fear! But don't worry, I've made a few conversions, but there is no chance of a revival. (The WRU will pass through the eye of a needle before that happens!) I take succour from remnant theology.

Cheers,
Kim

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

Hi Kim,

Finally we agree. With your theology there is no chance of you knowing revival!

Nos da,
Guy

Ben Myers said...

Carson's The Gagging of God has some good points. But a far more perceptive and more profound book (also by an American evangelical) is Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text?

If I were you, I'd sell my copy of Carson in order to buy Vanhoozer.

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

Hi Ben,

I have great difficulty in selling any of my books. My proof text for this is Proverbs 23:23, "Buy the truth and sell it not". So, I'll be keeping Carson thanks very much.

I've read a review of the the book you mentioned. Sounds interesting. The reviewer points out that Vanhoozer begins the book by arguing for a Theological foundation for hermenutics, grounded in the Trinity and man as the image of God. But Vanhoozer fails to follow this through consistently in his critique of postmodernism where he relies too heavily on secular communication theory.

Review:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1999ReviewVanhoozer.htm

Ben Myers said...

Ah well, this review notwithstanding, Vanhoozer's work has been very well received (in conservative circles too). So I'd still encourage you to read him if you get the chance.

And of course I'm with you here: I would never be able to sell my books either -- not even volumes by Carson. ;-)

kim fabricius said...

Hi Guy,

That's another things about conservative evangelicals - you have a kind of theology of taint when it comes to the world of learning interfacing with theology (cf. your jibe about secular communication theory).

Such an attitude contrasts sharply with Barth: "Against the basic proposition that truth must be freely investigated even in the field of theology, there is nothing to be said. . . The man who rejects that proposition will inevitably and rightly cut a poor figure."

It also contrasts sharply with Calvin, who was never less than a humanist scholar, and always had time for his beloved Seneca and Plato.

And, of course, the Bible itself, in its Wisdom literature, attests to learning from experience and observation that is not directly reliant on covenant nomism.

Though not biblical, you might like to reflect on two of my favourite quotes:

"He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end up loving himself better than all."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms."
Simone Weil

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

Hi Kim,

Not at all. All truth is God's truth. But "true truth", to use a Schaefferism will be in accordance with the Bible, God's revealed truth. It is because I love Christ, the Truth that I am interested in all truth.

kim fabricius said...

Agreed! As the truth Christ is the criterion of all truth. But we are still left with the question of
"in accordance with the Bible".

Have a great St. David's Day! But given this year's calendar, will you daub some ash on your daff?

Guy Davies (aka Exiled Preacher) said...

Yes Kim, we are divided over the role of the Scripture in determining truth. You see the Bible as a witness to the Truth, I see the Bible as Truth. As Jesus said, "Your word is truth" (Jn 17:17).

Thanks for the St David's Day wishes. He followed Augustine. David was a good anti-Pelagian with a robust Theology of grace. St David was a kind of early Martyn-Lloyd Jones, who died 25 years ago this March 1st.

GoobyNelly said...

Guy,
Do you think the usage of "Word" in John 17:17 is "The Bible?" Could it not be Jesus talking about Himself as the Truth, since Jesus Christ is "The Word"?

guy davies (aka exiled preacher) said...

Goobynelly,
No, not really. Jesus does not refer to himself as the Word in John's Gospel or anywhere else for that matter. The context of John 17 suggests God's word in another sense - "they [the disciples] have kept your word (vs 6), "I have given them your word" (vs 14). Jesus does not seem to be refering to himself in these verses. Why a sudden change of meaning in vs. 17?

The "word" in question seems to be the word of teaching that Jesus had given the disciples. That word would continue to be communicated to them by the Spirit after Jesus' departure (John 14:26 & 16:13-15). Of course, as the Word of God he is the focus of God's self-revelation. But he is revealed through the truth of God's written Word - the Bible. It is through Christ-centred, God-given, Spirit-inspred, Biblical truth that believers are sanctified.

guy davies (aka exiled preache said...

Goobynelly,
No, not really. Jesus does not refer to himself as the Word in John's Gospel or anywhere else for that matter. The context of John 17 suggests God's word in another sense - "they [the disciples] have kept your word (vs 6), "I have given them your word" (vs 14). Jesus does not seem to be refering to himself in these verses. Why a sudden change of meaning in vs. 17?

The "word" in question seems to be the word of teaching that Jesus had given the disciples. That word would continue to be communicated to them by the Spirit after Jesus' departure (John 14:26 & 16:13-15). Of course, as the Word of God he is the focus of God's self-revelation. But he is revealed through the truth of God's written Word - the Bible. It is through Christ-centred, God-given, Spirit-inspred, Biblical truth that believers are sanctified.

Guy Davies (aka Exiled Preache said...

Yes Kim, we are divided over the role of the Scripture in determining truth. You see the Bible as a witness to the Truth, I see the Bible as Truth. As Jesus said, "Your word is truth" (Jn 17:17).

Thanks for the St David's Day wishes. He followed Augustine. David was a good anti-Pelagian with a robust Theology of grace. St David was a kind of early Martyn-Lloyd Jones, who died 25 years ago this March 1st.

kim fabricius said...

Agreed! As the truth Christ is the criterion of all truth. But we are still left with the question of
"in accordance with the Bible".

Have a great St. David's Day! But given this year's calendar, will you daub some ash on your daff?

guy davies (aka exiled preache said...

Hi Kim,

Not at all. All truth is God's truth. But "true truth", to use a Schaefferism will be in accordance with the Bible, God's revealed truth. It is because I love Christ, the Truth that I am interested in all truth.

guy davies (aka exiled preache said...

Hi Ben,

I have great difficulty in selling any of my books. My proof text for this is Proverbs 23:23, "Buy the truth and sell it not". So, I'll be keeping Carson thanks very much.

I've read a review of the the book you mentioned. Sounds interesting. The reviewer points out that Vanhoozer begins the book by arguing for a Theological foundation for hermenutics, grounded in the Trinity and man as the image of God. But Vanhoozer fails to follow this through consistently in his critique of postmodernism where he relies too heavily on secular communication theory.

Review:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1999ReviewVanhoozer.htm

guy davies (aka exiled preache said...

Hi Kim,

I disagree that an inerrant text requires an inerrant reader. That would conflate text with reader. I believe that the Bible is wholly inerrant because it is the product of men who wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit. While I believe in the Spirit's witness to the Word in the heart of the believer, I do not claim interpretive infallibility. Only the pope claims that for himself - and he's badly mistaken!

Being an Evangelical does not require a positivist view of hermenutics. Evangelicals were exegeting Scripture long before Bertrand Russel came along!

I am aware that I bring my own peculiar (some may say very peculiar) baggage to the text of Scripture. My understanding of the Bible is open to change and revision as I receive more light from the Word. To suggest that because we cannot understand the Bible inerrantly, we can hardly understand it at all is to escape from the frying pan of positivism only to fall into the fire of postmodernism.

My question as an Evangelical must be, "What says the Scripture?" I don't think that my question is unanswerable. (Paul, the great Theologian of the NT asked the same question after all. PROOF TEXT: Romans 4:3).The whole task of Theology is impossible if an accurate grasp of Scripture is beyond our grasp. Not to mention living the Christian life and pastoral ministry.

Have you read Don Carson's "The Gagging of God"? He grapples with postmodern literary theory in relation to the Bible in a very helpful way.

What are you doing in Wales? Not leading my fellow countrymen into neo-orthodox, postmodern epistemology I hope!

guy davies (aka exiled preache said...

Hi Kim,

Finally we agree. With your theology there is no chance of you knowing revival!

Nos da,
Guy

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