Thursday, 13 February 2014

Scholarly double-speak

I think there is a right kind of "scholarly language", that allows
different people from different backgrounds to come together, and to
discuss and debate the Bible, without either compromising the truth or
their differing interpretations of secondary matters. It is possible to
speak what you understand to be the truth without hedging, but also
without hectoring or preaching. (Preaching is of course right when you
are preaching!).

On the other hand, there is a wrong kind of scholarly language, which
reduces everything to a merely human view, and speaks as if God had not
spoken, or has not spoken authoritatively and clearly. There is a wrong
kind of language, which treats the Bible as if it were to be approached
like any other book.

For the Christian who is involved in some kind of academic study, there
is a challenge to navigate a right path between the two.

Sadly, many Christian scholars who started off well have evidently
shipwrecked their faithful testimony to truth. They have so modified
their rhetoric that everything is doubtful, and everything is
subjective. Has God spoken? Who knows? It's so far beyond the boundaries
of discussion that few reading the scholar would know one way or the other.

Here's a few examples of what I mean, from a book I just picked up...

"At the heart of the Bible's presentation of Israelite religion stands
Israel's story in which God is repeatedly acting in historical events".
"The prophets recognize in these events God's actions of judgment
against the people." "According to the biblical tradition, the events of
history are filled with meaning and purpose". "History clearly plays a
prominent role in the Bible's presentation of Israelite religion."
Interpreted charitably, that's all the true in the literal sense, of
course. But when the talk is all (or mostly) like this, exclusively from
a subjective human perspective that leaves the question of God's
revelation to one side, then we have a gross imbalance that dishonours
God and his holy revelation to us - a revelation that he tells us should
cause us to tremble.

Where is the trembling when the scholar's talk is continually of this
kind? What kind of reverence for God is it that can never bring itself
to speak in a way that goes beyond the way that a complete unbeliever

Many liberals realise that language is power, and that is why they
police language as diligently as they do, to prevent utterances that are
contrary to their world-view from being spoken. What cannot be
articulated, as Orwell perceived, is having the door shut upon it
against being believed or practised. We see this a lot in contemporary
culture in politically correct speech, etc. In with "gay relationship",
and out with words like "against nature", "sexual depravity" or
(horrors!) "sodomy". Such utterances are quickly shouted down with the
Newspeak word "homophobia!" Or consider the difference between these twosentences: "she's working at her God-given calling as a Christian woman"and "she doesn't work, she's a mother". They might be two different peoples' ways of talking about the same lady - but what a differencelies behind those two ways of thinking! And so on.

The Bible could be described as a record of Israel's dealings with God.
But that is a very one-sided description - and one which leaves out the
most important aspect of the matter. It is also God's holy word to us
all today. If we must say on the one hand "History clearly plays a
prominent role in the Bible's presentation of Israelite religion", then
we should also say "God dealt with his chosen people through history" or
"The Bible reveals to us how God dealt with Israel through history".

Dealing with holy things as if they were not holy is very dangerous. The
Bible tells us so. And thus, it is certainly true. The Bible is not
simply to be studied, but trembled at, and obeyed. Let those of us
involved in such studies not forget that, as we value our souls!

1 comment:

Rambling Steve Appleseed said...

This is the man to whom I will look.....he who trembles at My word. A scripture we don't hear so often is thrse days.

I was reading on Anglican Mainstream yesterday from an Anglican minister who said 'I am gay, I am called to ordination, I an not called to celibacy.' This for him settled the matter and he quarrelled with the Anglican leadership for forcing people like him to be dishonest-i.e. to carry on with sexual sin and lie about it.

Not much evidence of trembling before The Word.

Keep it up David.