Sunday, 21 January 2007

weekend columnists

Jonathan Sacks writes in The Times: A gentle reminder that soft answers can turn away wrath.

Chris Hardwick writes about Conscience in Face to Faith in the Guardian.

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times about how The Bible is not a legal document.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 21 January 2007 at 2:25pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion
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The background to Giles Fraser's piece is the decline in all the various inspiration theories of the Bible, to the point where the bible stands nakedly as "regulative" for the Christian religion. If something becomes regulative, then in its nakedness is becomes something legal, like how the regulation applies. This notion of being regulative is supposed to happen in a general sense, and should not open itself to line by line legalities.

Whilst the fundies who send in the lawyers maintain more supernatural views of inspiration, it is an evidence of their creakiness among even their own that the lawyers' approach is being used, but we also realise that it is the quest for power that leads to this approach.

Giles Fraser is right, that it is to be rejected. They can do this process for themselves, but leave the rest of us out of it.

Incidentally I do not regard the Bible as regulative in a strong sense or alone, but see it as an inheritance of definitions, and increasingly is part of this division between liturgical practice and reflective belief, the liturgical practice as a pathway and giver of insights as being the more conservative. In a weak sense then it has a regulative element from its liturgical function, but that's it.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 21 January 2007 at 3:40pm GMT

Sometimes I fear I must sound like the ultimate sycophant, enthusiastically shouting "What he said!" to virtually EVERYTHING Giles Fraser writes.

Nevertheless,

"When someone put in those nasty verse numbers, the lawyers started to feel it was their book — a set of regulations. Chapter and verse started sounding like paragraph 1, subsection 3 of a legal contract. That was the point at which some Christians began to reject the idea that the Bible could be read in various ways, and, worse still, that it might contain contradictions or poetry. Such things would undermine its status as the ultimate legal document."

What Giles said! Bravo! :-D

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 21 January 2007 at 8:50pm GMT

What exactly does the Bible mean to the Christian?

On the one hand we have a legalistic, puritan and rigid school of thought. On the other hand, we have an "anything goes, anything is justified" school of thought that gradually chips away at the authority of the Bible.

It is simply not enough to criticise a "legalistic reading of the Bible" or "Biblidolatory". You have to explain to people who do not have degrees in theology how the Bible should be read.

This is the problem with progressive christianity - it prefers analysis to solution of problems. The evangelicals may not be as sophisticated, but at least they concentrate on the "how to" as opposed to our concentration on the "analysis".

This will not be the last "analysis" type article. There will be articles that criticise worship styles, sermons, liturgy etc. but precious little energy will be spent on the actual issue - how to EFFECTIVELY preach the message of the gospel in post modern Britain.

Posted by: Maduka on Sunday, 21 January 2007 at 9:39pm GMT

>it prefers analysis to solution of problems<

What is the problem? Is it the vast cultural and understanding difference over time, or is that just more analysis?

Solution... Should we perhaps read something else instead/ as well? Or should we carry on, and just explain the various informed views about the readings, possible connections, and let people make of them what they will? Is that a solution? Depends what you want.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 2:25am GMT

I was reading ?Gorringe on the Atonement not so long since, and he made the point that theology did not reign for long in the Middle Ages — they discovered Roman Law and realised very quickly that this was where the action was....

Posted by: mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 8:41am GMT

Pluralist,

Our problem is not in what we know, it is in what we do with what we know.

Let us KIS (keep it simple). We are "over-theologising" ourselves out of existence. There are things we will NEVER understand about scripture till we die (Now we see darkly). In our quest for "deeper and more complete" knowledge we are missing the basics.

The man on the street does not give a toss about the "historicity or cultural context of the Gospels", he wants to know how Jesus can make him a better person.

We are failing to impact our society - that is the truth. God will not measure us by our "understanding and knowledge", but by the lives we have impacted.

People do not remember Mother Theresa for her theology, they remember her for her compassion. People do not remember Martin Luther King for his theology, they remember him for freeing the conscience of men.

Posted by: Maduka on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 9:26am GMT

>Solution... Should we perhaps read something else instead/ as well? Or should we carry on, and just explain the various informed views about the readings, possible connections, and let people make of them what they will? Is that a solution? Depends what you want.<

First step. Let's get them to actually HEAR what we have to say. Nobody is listening to us, we are talking to ourselves (amongst ourselves).

The important question should be: In a world of Big Brother, Pop Idol and Shop till you drop, how do we get people to HEAR OUR POINT OF VIEW? How can our voice be heard above the din?

Evangelicals are looking for new means of being heard above the din. We have a dim view of "evangelism", so how can we be heard?

Posted by: Maduka on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 9:32am GMT

More negative theology. Yet another tiresome, flaccid protest by this writer. I'm going to put the kettle on and do my taxes and come back later to see if Giles Fraser is able to say anything other than what the Bible is *not*. The confessing Church in Germany was able to keep its form in the midst of the massive compromises that had been made by the National Church by dwelling on what the bible said about the Lordship of Christ and the contingency of human structures. In short because the Biblical witness spoke to them and laid the claim of Christ upon them. These were not fundamentalists - they bore no resemblance to the sort of calvinist and neo-pentecostal bad hats now running amok in the Anglican Communion.

Enough of the pudgy progressives tapping in their little faucets to reduce the pressure of somebody else's view of inspiration and authority. It's simply insufficient.

Posted by: Raspberry Rabbit on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 2:36pm GMT

Maduka,
Let your light so shine is how we have been told to get our message across. We are certainly not doing that. We do not show to the world our esteem for the human life God created, for example, we instead show our desire to punish and have control over those who would have an abortion, or those who are not heterosexual, or those whose marriages fail, or those who in one way or another do not follow the narrow Law we claim was given by God. We obssess on the Law so much that we forget what our own Scriptures say about legalism, and those outside the Church see this hypocrisy very clearly. The fact is that we do not show the light to the world because we have hidden it under the bushel of our own desire for control and correctness.
When I see posters for Alpha, I cringe. It represents what I consider the great Evangelical failing: They cannot see that their message of "obey or God will roast you forever", as though this were the Gospel, is lost on a generation that mistrusts authority, but rather than preach the love of God they sell out to the World and enlist the forces of marketting (as good a modern English translation of Mammon as any other) and put the faith out there as just another consumer product. That this represents a selling out to the World as anything they accuse their opponents of is laughable.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 2:36pm GMT

Ford Elms,

I wish we could break out of the "Oxford Theologian" mode. Everyone knows we are smart - so what?

Posted by: Maduka on Monday, 22 January 2007 at 6:59pm GMT

Come off it, Maduka. It's obvious that your anti-intellectualism is a thinly-veiled disguise for justifying abuse-of-POWER.

To wit:

"On the other hand, we have an "anything goes, anything is justified" school of thought that gradually chips away at the authority of the Bible . . . This is the problem with progressive christianity - it prefers analysis to solution of problems."

Oooh: how awful, those progressives. Kick 'em out!

...IF that's what they stood for.

BUT THEY DON'T. (and I suspect you know that)

Rather, progressives (frequently) see DIFFERENT problems and (usually) propose DIFFERENT solutions---reading ("learning, marking and inwardly-digesting") the Bible EVERY BIT AS FAITHFULLY as do (conservative) Evangelicals.

***

"The important question should be: In a world of Big Brother, Pop Idol and Shop till you drop, how do we get people to HEAR OUR POINT OF VIEW? How can our voice be heard above the din?"

Respectfully, replacing one kind of din with another, louder one, is NOT the answer. Respectfully, why not consider WHY people listen/view Big Brother (et al), and why they find it more compelling than (what they believe is) the Gospel?

[I think you'll find that that the average "Idol"-worshipper *g*, believe that the Gospel most Christians live/preach has little to do w/ Mother Teresa *OR* Martin Luther King!]

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 12:10am GMT

>The man on the street does not give a toss about the "historicity or cultural context of the Gospels", he wants to know how Jesus can make him a better person.< Maduka

Really? Do people want a relationship of dependence, how Jesus can make each a better person? Is this what they seek? The whole point about recent theology, even if it is us talking among ourselves (for a time) is because it sees that (some) people might want to be better people, but they want to do it as autonomous people.

This was the whole point about the Secular City, around which it fashioned some theology (analysis). Oh, and for those who don't like the busy secular city, there are always the types who still ponder ultimate questions. But they ask questions and do not seek dependence.

So the issue is not how Jesus can make them better people, but how Jesus may be a model for people to gain their autonomy and self-worth to become better people, and how that might be served.

And this is why it needs analysis.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 1:56am GMT

JCF,

People are engrossed with the "Big Brother" culture, because that is what is available.

How do we present alternatives to the prevailing culture?

Posted by: Maduka on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 10:30am GMT

'...a world of Big Brother, Pop Idol and Shop till you drop, how do we get people to HEAR OUR POINT OF VIEW? How can our voice be heard above the din?"..'

The message of the Churches has even less to say of the shag till you drop culture ....

.... we seem to get a mixture of enjoying it (goes without saying ) but THEN either splitting it off and ignoring it; or condeming it.


Maybe be we need a lot more pop reflection on its meaning for us all

( a kind of pop Adrian Thatcher perhaps ?)


Posted by: laurence on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 2:13pm GMT

Perhaps the Who are "we"? should be answered first.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 2:41pm GMT

Now, Maduka, you are analysing. Join the analysts. You ask, How do we present alternatives to the prevailing culture? The answer is that we already do.

People who present a dogmatic and usually simplistic view of the Christian story do so along with present day culture, in other words they have a high belief distance from the culture but do it with ease of entry via spiritual entertainment. It has some success with rotating to it frustrated people from other churches and a few new captures.

People who present the Christian story in relationship to how people think today (and have been journeying through the faith) can do this with what has become a more distinctive alternative cultural presentation.

So the evangelical end has cultural similarity on presentation and cultural difference on the message, the liberal end has cultural difference on the presentation and intellectual/ cultural similarity regarding the message (very roughly speaking). The latter relates to religion as myth, and that myth is accessible through more artistic and symbolic representation that needs an alternative culture, just as in distinctive art, whereas the evangelical end with its literalism tends to present it in the otherwise most accessible way possible, as if this alternative universe is normal.

I realise this analysis is open to some criticism, but that is why we analyse.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 3:07pm GMT

Lawyers are great scapegoats aren't they -they have a bad image. But plenty of Christians in much more user friendly professions will share the LCF's interpretation. So Giles does no favours by playing the man not the ball. Besides any lawyer would have told him that his argument was seriously flawed. Adding verse numbers to the Bible doesn't make it any the more a legal document. As a Philosophy lecturer and a theologian he is surely familiar with plenty of classical works that use paragraph numbering, not to mention poems and songs. At the same time with or without verse numbers your average layman can easliy spot the significant legal dimension to the Bible. Words like Covenant and the presence of laws and penalties give the game away somewhat. Come on Giles let's have a proper debate there is much to discuss!

Posted by: dave williams on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 12:32am GMT

Adding verse numbers has defaced the inspired writings and turned them into something different from the orgiginal surely. If God had wanted verse numberings God could have added them God's self,surely ?

Posted by: laurence on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 12:28pm GMT

It is impossible that a document that is studied as much as the Bible would not be broken down into small subsections. This applies to every other much-studied document, Shakespeare, Josephus or whatever. What has this to do with whether it is a 'legal' document or not?

It is clear, however, that certain parts of it (Leviticus, parts of Exodus and Deut) are definitely legal documents: it would be foolish to deny this.

The whole idea that the whole Bible is one genre is a non-starter. It is all sorts of genres. 'It' is not even a single book, anyway, but a library.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 12:36pm GMT

Dave Williams,
Would you not agree that the Christian attitude is that our response to the Law must be more than either:
It's the Law, we have to obey it, or
Jesus frees us from the Law so we don't have to obey it?

Either attitude would seem contrary to Paul's nuanced arguments, not that I understand them. Yet "Free From the Law, Oh Happy Condition" remains a truly Christian sentiment, does it not? It seems to me that we need to debate out understanding of what that freedom actually is rather than just falling back on "Bible as legal document".

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 1:22pm GMT

Touchy, touchy...

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 3:18pm GMT

"What has this to do with whether it is a 'legal' document or not?"

Well you know, the paragraphing w a s done (pretty late in Time) by people who read the Bible as "one genre" - and as Law at that.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 8:49pm GMT

Ford,

Yes. I'm a Romans 6 as well as a Romans 5 Christian!

Dave

Posted by: dave williams on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 9:13pm GMT

Goran,


Nope -as you know there has been a long tradition of referenciing text sections by letters of the alphabet, by paragraphs and by verse. Other classical texts are given reference markers. It's a useful way of telling people which bit of the Bible we are going to read from or refer from -it's helpful to you wonderful Anglicans when you use the lectionary... it's not scripture, it's not infallible can sometimes imply a divide in the wrong place but pragmatically its useful. I cannot beleive that grown men have resorted to such a silly level of argument but if "ooh we don't like verse numbers anymore" is the best that people can do we might as well give up on theological discussion hadn't we!

Posted by: dave williams on Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 11:53pm GMT

Touchy, touchy ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 25 January 2007 at 9:39am GMT

So you've found 1 against all the others.

And then it's "slander the dead"?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 2 March 2007 at 10:07am GMT
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