Why I Reject Biblical Infallibility

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I reject the doctrine of biblical infallibility. There. I said it. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this doctrine does a lot of harm, and no good at all. I mean, I can see the appeal of affirming the infallibility of Scripture. It sounds like the right thing to say. It's what church people want to hear you say. I can see how it would be appealing to think that I had a clear source of truth that I could turn to, knowing that it is always right, even when it seems wrong. But my experience shows me that this does not work.

Before I continue, let me provide a brief definition of infallibility so we are all on the same page. Infallibility says that when Scripture says something is moral and good, we can trust that it is. This is different from inerrancy which claims that the Bible does not contain any errors. The Bible may have the name of king wrong, or a scientific fact mixed up, or a typo, but the claim of infallibility is that you can nevertheless trust it in matters of faith, salvation, and morality.

That would sound really reasonable, but it just does not work. The most obvious examples of this are the horrifically immoral things we find endorsed in the Old Testament. Consider the appallingly immoral things we see ISIS doing now -- mass slaughtering of men, women and children, taking women as sex slaves, driving people from their homes, fleeing for their lives -- all of this can also be found in the Old Testament endorsed as God's will.

But we don't need to go to genocide to see this. We see it on a more subtle scale when pastors shame and ostracize people in the name of "church discipline" based on Paul's teaching in Corinthians. This leads conservative pastors like Mark Driscoll to kick people out of church for disagreeing with him, telling their congregation to not associate with them at all, cutting them off from friends and community. It similarly leads pastors like John MacArthur  to counsel parents to disown their gay kids.

The reason this happens is authoritarian unquestioning obedience. On its own merit the above is rather obviously terrible advice. It immediately raises red flags of "wow, that seems really cruel and harsh" and it is. The only reason it is followed is because of an appeal to authority, not to merit. The problem comes because we are taught that it is bad to question the Bible. The Bible says we should do this, and so if we question it, we are doubting God Almighty. The Bible is infallible. So parents who love their kids do something deeply hurtful to them because they are trusting that authority.

The result is that instead of helping us to be more moral, this blind trust in a book (or in some authoritarian guy's interpretation of it) leads us to stop thinking morally, to not listen to our conscience screaming at us "Hey, this feels really wrong, be careful here!"


A slippery slope: "If one thing is wrong, it all is"

One common argument is that if we question one thing about the Bible, then we will question all of it, and it will all come undone like a thread you pull on that unravels the whole sweater. 

Consider that this is not true anywhere else in life. If you say one wrong thing, this does not mean everything you say is wrong. If you don't like one song by a band, this does not mean all their songs are bad. The reason this would apply to the Bible is only of we were assuming that we should be able to unquestioningly trust everything and anything it says as good moral advice to be blindly followed. Then it is true that if you cannot blindly trust one thing in the Bible that you cannot blindly trust anything in the Bible. 

That's true, you can't. You need to discern, to think morally as you read. If there is a slippery slope here, it is a slippery slope away from an authoritarian fundamentalist way of reading the Bible characterized by unquestioning obedience. That is, once we begin to ask questions motivated by compassion we will move away from an immoral authoritarian way of reading, and towards a moral way of reading. Yes, that's right, to read the Bible in an authoritarian unquestioning way is to read it immorally. It directly leads to hurting people, and hardening one's heart. So I hope I can jump on a slippery slope away from that.


Picking and choosing (and why it's a moral imperative)

Another common argument I hear is the idea of picking and choosing-- as if this were something bad. Yes I pick and choose. You should, too. That's what morally responsible adults do. That's called discernment. This is not the same as cherry-picking. Cherry-picking does not mean picking the good cherries and leaving the rotten ones. That would be smart. Who wants to eat rotten cherries? Cherry-picking means misrepresenting the evidence to make it look like everything is nice, covering up the bad stuff. Cherry-picking is another way of saying whitewashing. Liberal Christians do that when they act as if the Bible were only about inclusion and compassion and caring for the poor, and obscure the fact that while the Bible indeed does contain all these good messages, it also has some pretty awful stuff as well that they would not endorse. These bad (read: immoral) parts of the Bible are not simply a matter of misinterpretation on our part (that happens, too of course). There really are some parts of the Bible that are just bad and wrong even when you know the original languages and understand the cultural context. Because of this reality, we need to have a way of reading that allows us to differentiate between the truly good and inspiring parts, and the immoral and bad parts. The key here is not learning exegesis (which is just the science of identifying what it being said), but learning to read morally. Unfortunately this is something that is largely neglected if not outright ignored in seminary where future pastors are trained. That's a real problem.


Is Jesus the infallible Word of God? 

This is something I have claimed. But it's important to be clear what this means. People often object that everything we know about Jesus we know from the Bible, so how can we say Jesus is infallible if the Bible is not? 

If we were wanting to claim that the words of Jesus in the Bible were infallible, then this would be a valid point. We might be tempted to think that we could just "read the red letters" of Jesus and this would solve all of our problems. However this is not true. We also need to engage our moral brains as we read the words of Jesus. There is a long history of people using the teachings of Jesus to promote bad things like counseling women to remain in a physically abusive marriage as a way of "suffering for Christ." Now, I do not think for a moment that this is what Jesus intended at all with his teaching on non-resistance, but it underscores the point that if we do not discern, if we practice the way of unquestioning obedience -- even with the teaching of Jesus -- that this will inevitably lead to hurtful applications, because we can only follow something right if we understand it. Otherwise we will, because of our lack of understanding, turn something good into something bad. Faithfulness is not possible without understanding.

So saying that Jesus is the infallible Word of God cannot mean that we can unquestioningly and unthinkingly follow the words of Jesus in the Bible. That is immoral. Jesus wants us to learn to be moral like he was, and that involves learning to question authority in the name of compassion like he did. The goal is to have the mind of Christ, not to mindlessly follow Christ's words. That's the difference between being a disciple and being a drone. 

What affirming that Jesus is the infallible Word of God does mean is that we recognize that there is something about who Jesus was, and his way, that captures the heart of who God is, who we are meant to be, and what goodness and love look like. So we follow in that way, we struggle and stumble and question and seek to grow in the way of Jesus, to grow in our understanding to see and think about ourselves and others like Jesus did, to have our actions be characterized by Christlikeness. 

This involves opening our hearts in faith and trust, but it does not involve shutting off our brains and conscience, but rather just the opposite. It means fully engaging our hearts and minds to the way of Jesus -- not as something we can capture and possess, but as a goal we humbly seek. The Bible can be a vehicle used by the Spirit to lead us into that. Scripture serves a servant function here leading us to a living Christ who wants us to become more human, more moral, more thoughtful, not less.

For all these reasons, I reject the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture. From what I can see, this doctrine is all too often used to promote unquestioning obedience. That way of reading is immoral and hurts people. When this doctrine does not lead to this, it seems to function as a rather meaningless affirmation that serves no purpose other than sounding like the right thing to say, the thing that church people want to hear you say. I really cannot see a plus side to affirming infallibility. That is, I do not see how anything good or worthwhile or important is lost by tossing it overboard. So I affirm the infallibility of the living Christ who is the eternal absolute Word of God, and reject the infallibility of a book. I want to let that book lead me to Jesus, not replace him.


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29 Comments:

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I think I am in agreement with you Derek. A follow up question I come to though is how do you then consider the words in scripture of the prophets in the OT (especially, eg. Isaiah, Ezekiel etc) and those of the apostles / Paul in the NT that are recorded as speaking / prophesying under what I'd generally describe as a 'this is the word of the Lord' banner? If those words are given as the words of God himself, how can we suggest that they are fallible? Doing so, to me, suggests these faithful servants of God heard him wrongly (a very plausible reason to my mind), or that God himself was wrong (a tad hard to argue, especially given it would be with the founder of the universe!). Is that what you would suggest?
Further, given that God is considered (almost entirely within christianity at least) to be omniscient and omnipotent (among others), ie he's already lived our lives and knows our thoughts / feelings etc, then could He not have pre-empted this so that He compensated for our misinterpretation, or for our extraordinary human capacity to mess stuff up (ie sin) for example. Could he not have covered off these and other issues when passing these words to us (humanity) both through the prophets etc at the time and then to later generations via their recording in scripture?

Interested to know your thoughts, though
I am with you on this issue I think. Have read disarming scripture and thought it a wonderful read, so thank you for your work and faithful desire to follow Jesus. You help the rest of us with your journey. Best, Dave.

 
At 4:23 PM, Blogger theFlakes said...

Yes, exactly Derek and thank you! What parent does not want their children to grow up and learn to love and reason for themselves. Infallibility and Inerrancy are anachronistic enlightenment reactionary hindrances best to be discarded.

 
At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Dave,

As you'll recall, in Disarming Scripture I note how we find multiple examples of different OT prophets contradicting one another, and doing so under the 'this is the word of the Lord' banner. This includes Isaiah and Ezekiel. In other words, one prophet is saying the other prophet is wrong... fallible. We don't find in the OT a single view of God, rather we find multiple conflicting views, we find a dispute.

As far as the "wouldn't/couldn't an all-powerful God prevent us from misunderstanding the Bible?" question, one could also say "wouldn't/couldn't an all-powerful God make a world without suffering?" The fact is however, we live in a world where there is suffering, and we live in a world where people do get the Bible very very wrong. So even if God could and maybe in our mind ought to act in a certain way, we need to deal with the way things actually are. That's hard, I know. It's hard for me too. But that's the reality we need to deal with.

What I find inspiring is that the NT takes a very different stance from the typical way of religion. Typical religion says if there is suffering than this must be God's will and so we must deserve to suffer. The NT instead says, No, things are messed up, the authorities are wrong, things are not fair, and yet somehow nevertheless in the middle of that mess we can still find God. We can find God in our messy world, and in our messy Bible. Not because it is infallible, but in its very fallibility we find God. Like a treasure hidden in a jar of clay.

 
At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

TheFlakes,

Thanks. I agree.

p.s. I enjoy your moniker. Not sure what it means, but it makes me smile :)

 
At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

Thanks for this, Derek ... I grew up in a fundamentalist church and left it during college and was mostly unchurched for two decades ... Your blog and books have helped me see past the angry God of my youth to the loving God shown in Jesus ...

I do think it is possible to find that loving God in a fundamentalist setting, but I also think that fundamentalism, at its worst, can foster fear, and nothing defeats love like fear ... I can attest to that ...

I think that for some fundamentalists, this issue goes beyond just a slippery slope ... They believe that if they refuse to affirm the truth of a single verse in the Bible, they put their salvation at risk ... That type of fear is tough to overcome ...

 
At 11:49 PM, Blogger Juan C. Torres said...

Excellent (as usual), Derek.

I especially liked the part where you mentioned the difference between being a disciple of jesus vs a drone of Jesus;)

Thank you.

 
At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this type of fear is what is destroying the church in modern United States and maybe Europe. Scientific reasoning in most disciplines removes a lot of 'unknown'. Many people describe themselves as 'spiritual' but not 'religious'. But sometimes it seems the spirituality has mostly to do with the individual and not the individual's relationship with the larger world.

The church, and the world, need people to dig into the only written connection we have to Jesus to understand his compassion. But an infallible view of the writings can't serve that purpose. And it can't serve modern western society. With all our enlightenment we still haven't learned how to quell human aggression without reciprocal aggression. Or take a long view towards life for generations on the terrestrial ball. Yeah, there are natural disasters, but we humans cause way more misery for other humans.

A structure or sculpture that is constantly painted over years and years without ever cleaning the old paint off eventually loses the crispness of form and detail that could help someone understand it. This is the church in the modern western world, and if we don't get all the old paint off, and take a good look at it before putting more on, it will be a formless, immobile lump that's just there, doing no good nor bringing understanding to anyone. Tom Coursen III

 
At 2:45 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

So Derek how would you describe the Bible in a positive sense, you have said you don't believe in x, y and z about the Bible but what do you believe? Do you think the Bible contains God's word in places? Is the Koran as good as the Bible but just in a different cultural setting? DaveW

 
At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Phillip,

"some fundamentalists ... believe that if they refuse to affirm the truth of a single verse in the Bible, they put their salvation at risk"

That's a really important insight. It's a response of fear, and fear and reason don't mix. Fundamentalism fosters fear, rather than helping people overcome it. It's indoctrination that stunts a person's moral development. So the problem is not so much with the Bible as it is with people who are at a very low level of moral development which is characterized by black and white thinking and fear. A fundamentalist environment encourages people (by means of shame and fear and threat) to remain at this low developmental level. So it would be important for us to identify what a higher level of moral development looks like (hint: it looks like Jesus) and seek to move in that direction towards moral maturity.

Unfortunately, just as a child is not capable of understanding higher level morality (everything for them is black and white), many adults who are morally retarded (or if you prefer morally stunted) also cannot comprehend this. Perhaps there is a way to get them out of this, but what we at least can do is establish for the rest of us adults that it is not normal for adults to be stuck at this childish moral developmental stage, and that things like discernment and nuance and thinking for ourselves and empathy are all good things we should foster. The Bible is a tool, and in the hands of a mature person can be used for great good, but in the hands of a morally immature person (including one with a PhD or a flag pin) it can be profoundly dangerous.

I think this is actually a much bigger issue than just Christianity. Our public discourse -- whether this grandstanding politicians, shouting pundits on the news, or the toxic posts on the comments section of any big internet site -- are all characterized by people who exhibit very low level moral development: fear based, black and white, otherizing, incapable of understanding complexity or finding compromise. This moral retardation is so prevalent that it feels like the norm, but it is not normal (let alone is it the ideal), it's broken.

There are a lot of us who are morally mature out there. We just don't post in comment sections, or go on news shows to yell over others. The question is how we can give voice to those of us who are morally mature. I hope this blog might be one of those places.


 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Gingoro,

I have plenty of other blog posts that do that. However, it is also vital that we are able to discuss problems, even if it is uncomfortable. That's what we are doing here. That's important and good to do.

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Tom,

"With all our enlightenment we still haven't learned how to quell human aggression without reciprocal aggression"

Yes, that's hugely important. Again, I think the main issue here is moral immaturity. It's how preschoolers deal with conflict: screaming and hitting and saying "but he started it!"

 
At 1:47 PM, Blogger Kelley Danahy said...

"Jesus wants us to learn to be moral like he was, and that involves learning to question authority in the name of compassion like he did." But how do you know that Jesus was moral? He certainly seems so in the NT, but how do you know that his advocation of compassion is accurately portrayed - How do we know Jesus isn't some figure we've each composed in our heads?
(Honest questions).

 
At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kelley,

From an ethical perspective I makes no difference. Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables is fictional yet in literature can be an example of moral character. Jesus is not fictional but as far as being a moral example it really does not matter.

 
At 7:29 PM, Blogger theFlakes said...

Kelley,

To me the literal veracity of the accounts in the gospels are not that important anymore. I look around this world and am forced to conclude that enemy love, embracing 'the others', reconciliation, and active non-violence are the hard answers. I'm learning to embrace the ambiguity and mystery of life whilst still looking for the truth. The older I get the more I see life and metaphor as profound ways to truth. I do not reject empirical methods and critical thinking but I try to hold all of this in the tension, I think, they were meant to be held.

One of the things that attracted me to Atheism when leaving fundamentalism was the ability to say I don't know about beliefs I was told are unquestionably true and to reject other beliefs I now know as false and harmful. That was freeing. But, what I stated in the above paragraph is what has drawn me back.

Faith to me is not believing some propositional statement is unquestionably true in any unalterable sense, but that believing this way of living leads to the life and world changing results that points toward and leads us into that Truth.

 
At 7:27 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

theFlakes,

That's quite a profound insight I think. Art (story, metaphor, song, etc) are not in conflict with empirical evidence. We can observe empirically that love of enemies really works. But the way to really get it is by hearing it expressed in a story. Stories have a way of changing us, moving us, deeply affecting us, that go beyond the cognitive. What's valuable on a cognitive level is understanding how stories function so we are aware how the movies and commercials we watch are impacting and effecting us so we can choose what to feed our imaginations with.

 
At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Matthew said...

I think what is often forgotten in the issue of infallibility is the audience. We twenty-first-century Americans tend to think of ourselves as the audience, and thus expect such things as Les Miserables or the Bible to speak directly to us. They were not, of course, but rather written for an entirely different audience. When we look at Jesus's teachings, I think we must try and understand what he is teaching to that specific audience. Only then do we determine how his teachings could be applied to us as an audience. Sometimes it means recognizing that the situation is entirely different.

For instance, when Jesus says to "sell your cloak and buy [a sword]" (Luke 22:36), is he suggesting that every American pastor, evangelist, or missionary get a gun before spreading the gospel? Perhaps not. In verse 38 Jesus concludes that two swords are enough. That certainly won't protect 12 disciples and as many followers as they have. Perhaps this passage is meant for something else entirely.

 
At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Matthew,

Thanks a good point. One thing I noticed in my study of violence in the Bible is that Jesus' audience are expecting violence as the norm for how God acts. Jesus is working against that, showing an understanding of God as nonviolent, but necessarily begins where they do. When we read it today it can be hard to differentiate between the point Jesus is making and the cultural/societal/religious assumptions in which the story is set.

It's hard not to self-project when listening to someone else's story. We do that all the time just talking to another person. All the more so when there is a distance in time, language, and culture of over 2000 years.

 
At 3:23 AM, Anonymous Roger Haydon Mitchell said...

Thanks for what you are doing, Derek. I think you might be interested in my brief recommendation of Disarming Scripture on my blog a few months back https://rogerhaydonmitchell.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/doing-theology-the-way-jesus-did/ and also the statement I made in discussion with my Mississauga friends in discussion of this post:

"I am certainly familiar with the blog piece here, as I follow Derek Flood’s blog so read it when it came out last weekend. I can’t find anything essentially new here that wasn’t in Disarming Scripture though. I don’t see any really significant development, although he has now used some of the shibboleth vocabulary that might worry people who haven’t read the book. Basically, for me, the question is what we mean by authority. The sovereignty system as I understand it is about using authority as an exclusive means of establishing a power base from which to rule over others. In this context, doctrine, including the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and infallibility, is a toxic thing, what Paul speaks about when he says the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. Incarnational authority on the other hand, that is to say the authority of Jesus and therefore the Father and the Trinity together, is the authority of love relationship. This love does not insist on its own way but lays down its life for the others. Jesus clearly accepted that the Old Testament scripture was the story of God’s revelation of this authority to the human race as they responded to what it meant to be made in his image. I fully accept the authority of Jesus, and try to interact with the Old Testament on that basis. He promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, and I work with the New Testament on that basis. The gospel testimony to Jesus I accept by faith because it makes sense of my encounter with divine love both directly and with and through other people. It is renewed and strengthened daily as I live my life as a disciple of Jesus applying that testimony, together with its interpretative reading of the Old Testament and the New, to what I read, see and meet in life. That’s about it."

I'd love to connect more! Cheers, Roger
http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/ppr/profiles/roger-haydon-mitchell
http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/centres/richinst/people.htm
http://lancaster.academia.edu/RogerHaydonMitchell
https://rogerhaydonmitchell.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/roghaydonmitch
www.2mt.org.uk/




 
At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Roger,
Happy to connect with you. I sent you a DM on Twitter. Thanks for reaching out.

 
At 6:13 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

I just want to make a comment to you, Derek, where you write in a comment to Dave: "What I find inspiring is that the NT takes a very different stance from the typical way of religion. Typical religion says if there is suffering than this must be God's will and so we must deserve to suffer. The NT instead says, No, things are messed up, the authorities are wrong, things are not fair, and yet somehow nevertheless in the middle of that mess we can still find God."

It's amazing how many modern Christians (especially those of a fundamentalist- and especially Calvinist-leaning bent) miss this. I think I've commented before that the most satisfying critique of sub-Christian theodicies I've read is The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart. Sounds like you may have read him (if I were to read between the lines of this part of your comment to Dave), but if you haven't yet, I think you'd find him validating and challenging. I have just read another book by him (The Experience of God) that is illuminating as to how many modern Christian would-be apologists vs. modern atheists miss the boat entirely of the *classical* theistic understanding of the nature of God in his relationship with creation. Though Hart is placing it in a much bigger picture and has a slightly different focus in this book, what he reveals (as a theologian and with his considerable comprehension of historical philosophy both East and West) is very illuminating for the modern debates over issues like those you raise on your site. You might enjoy that one of his, too.

I really appreciate your work!

 
At 8:22 PM, Blogger JMT 123 said...

Hey Derek,

Yourself or someone posing as yourself invited me here after I reviewed Disarming Scripture on Amazon:

I wrote in part: "All this said, when trajectory hermeneutics are done individually or on a smaller scale outside of "orthodoxy," (or tradition), this type of reading seems to yield itself too much towards personal opinion; a sort of self-fulfilling approach towards Scripture. Personally, I prefer Eastern Orthodox hermeneutical principles which do at times, and as within the traditions and teachings of the church, incorporate this trajectory approach."

"You" responded: "I very much appreciate the approach of Eastern Orthodoxy. So I'd be interested in hearing more about how you see it coinciding with a trajectory approach."

So if this was you, then cool. Let’s chat.

I’m not sure EO coincides with “trajectory” as much as trajectory is contained within teachings and logic of the church. That said, I should be clear: I’m not EO, but am a fan. Full disclosure: if Christianity could be even more franchised, I’d have a Greek Orthodox jersey, like that sports fan born in another state who cheers on his favorite team from afar...

I decided to post here on your infallible discussion because I think my cautions of trajectory approach outside of the “church” is similar to my concerns with your infallible argument here. To quote the movie No Country For Old Men: “What you got ain’t nothing new.”

So to how I observe trajectory hermeneutics contained within Orthodox teachings, and why do I think your infallible argument isn’t anything new? Consider these two issues as a start: Evolution and the Old Testament.

From the Orthodox Study Bible on Genesis: “Regarding questions about the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of creation, and about various viewpoints concerning evolution, the Orthodox Church has not dogmatized any particular view.” Furthering that statement and as found on YouTube from the Canadian Orthodox Monastery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxLKzQ5Rr2s

Considering the Old Testament. From the Greek Orthodox Church: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68tEUHepVQY

So considering these two very high-level and brief YouTube discussions on these two topics, I pose the question for all who have both read your book and have watched these videos: Is this Orthodox teaching not “trajectory” reading/similar to your thesis of Disarming Scripture?


[break / break]

I truly enjoy writers such as yourself and Brian McLaren, etcetera; the “Emergent Red Letterers” if I may be so bold.

If you don’t scowl at my labeling of you as such (and please forgive me for doing so), then in the future I’d really like to talk about what is today’s “emergent” or “red letter” church. It doesn’t seem to be whatever it was a few years ago… and whatever it was seems to have fizzled into a sort of calm-before-the-storm, post-church-post-post-modern state of being. Is the “emergent” church over? Was it consumed by it’s self? Is whatever the emergent church is today not just one or two contemporary issues in difference from the historic liberal North American Church? Did the contemporary emergent church serve its purpose in raising the issues that will start a new reformation? Consider what Greg Boyd says here about our being at the cusp of a new reformation. http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/fully-revealed-in-christ

There’s so much more that could be said and I don’t want to steer the conversation too far away from where it would have gone by simply sticking with the Eastern Orthodox issue.

JMT 123



 
At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi JMT,

Yes that was me on Amazon inviting you here. Welcome!

While I am not EO, I'm quite familiar with EO theology and have learned a great deal from it which has had a big impact on my own theology. In fact, I know one of the guys in your Youtube video -- Archbishop Lazar Puhalo. I've had several great conversations with Lazar via my friend Brad Jersak who introduced us (Brad himself is ordained in the EO church and teaches patristics at Westminster Theological Centre). So I guess you could say I'm a "fan" too.

I don't claim that my approach is "new" just that it is good. I also do not propose that we should interpret scripture "outside the church" and on the contrary believe that its crucial that we do this as part of a Jesus-following community and tradition. I discuss this in Disarming Scripture. So I'm not really sure what your cautions are. Perhaps you could clarify that?

I watched the two videos, but did not catch where either of them discussed trajectory reading. Maybe you can clarify that too. It would not surprise me if Lazar embraced a trajectory reading. I just don't see him doing that here in this video.

 
At 9:08 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Hi Derek,

I hope you don't mind if I jump in on your discussion with JMT. Being EO, I have some reservations about Bp. Lazar (Puhlao). He is a polemicist, and for this and some other reasons, he is a controversial figure in American Orthodox circles (in a very small fish in a very small pond sort of way). Some of his views are a bit eccentric, and I believe he gives the wrong impression of Orthodox teaching on a number of issues (e.g., LGBT), though certainly not all. The bottom line is it's good to be a bit skeptical of a teacher whose only real public outlet is his own video channel (if I'm not mistaken). I believe also he may also be the only resident of the monastery where he lives. Likely, there is a reason the jurisdiction where he retains his credentials (mine--he was ordained an Orthodox Bishop in another Orthodox jurisdiction) hasn't (as far as I know) given him any formal responsibilities for the direct spiritual care of others. ;-P

In order to better understand Orthodox teaching, it would be wise to try to stick to teachers and clergy who are being listened to and read by their colleagues (i.e., published by Orthodox publishers), who are active in Orthodox institutions, and who have done respected work in their fields.

One excellent way to get a feel for the Orthodox approach to interpretation of the Scriptures would be to do a search on "Scripture" or "hermeneutics" at the blog site of Orthodox Priest, Fr. Stephen Freeman:

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/

He does a good job of translating an Eastern patristic Orthodox mindset for the modern Western reader and on a popular level. Though he writes mainly for an Orthodox audience and his aim is pedagogical and pastoral not scholarly, he has many readers from all Christian traditions and he himself comes from a Western Christian tradition background (nominal Southern Baptist in childhood and then as an Anglican priest for many years), so he understands the issues those coming from Evangelical backgrounds are dealing with quite well. His comments section, unlike some other theological blogs, are very irenic and respectful in their approach. (Check the ground rules for comments at his blog.)

For a more fair and balanced representation of Orthodox teaching, I can also recommend the writings and podcasts (available on Ancient Faith Radio's web site) of the late Fr. Thomas Hopko. For more in-depth scholarly treatments of this and other subjects, Fr. John Behr, who teaches at St. Valdimir's Orthodox Seminary, is one of the most respected teachers in modern Orthodox circles (especially here in the West), and an outstanding patristics scholar. I would also trust other pastoral and scholarly Orthodox sources Fr. Stephen might recommend for you as reliable representations of Orthodox teaching.

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks for that perspective ofGrace. I appreciate your wisdom.

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

I did take the opportunity to peruse Brad Jersak's Youtube site and view several of the videos there. I thought Brad's most recent expanded rendition of "The Gospel in Chairs" was awesome! I also saw nothing there of Bp. Lazar's that would concern me. It's also a bit ironic I, of all people, should caution you about the Bishop's tendency to be a bit polemical--it was a very polemical address by a Greek physician (Dr. Alexander Kalomiros) entitled "The River of Fire" presenting an Orthodox paradigm (largely grounded in St. Isaac the Syrian's teachings) for understanding the nature of hell that confirmed for me the Eastern Orthodox Church was my true spiritual home! :-) However, since the Internet can be such an inflammatory place, I like to see representations from all sides that are fair to the others.

 
At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

ofGrace,

I very much appreciate your spirit. I was thinking that maybe we might think of the various denominations as meeting a need for a time in our lives. There was a time where I needed to learn about teenage things -- hormones and self-worth. In that time Evangelicalism met those needs in a real and deep way. I will forever be grateful that I was introduced to a relationship with God first through Evangelicalism. Now that I am feeling the pull towards learning about enemy love, I feel drawn to Anabaptists who are helping me work out that aspect of my faith. I hear you saying that the EO church's understanding of hell ("The River of Fire") is meeting a need you had for good and compassionate theology. Maybe before Evangelicalism met a need for a time in your life too.

Thinking about it in this way helps me to see the good in all these various traditions. Maybe it's okay if one size does not fit all, or even fit us as we grow bigger.

 
At 8:14 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks, Derek. I do think on a practical level what you say has a lot of truth to it. God knows where to plug us in to get us bit by bit to where He wants us. The EO Church teaches we can affirm truth wherever it is found, and even philosophies or religious groups or denominations we cannot affirm in toto will include shared beliefs, values or insights grounded in common human intuition and experience of God we can and should affirm. I just finished reading the book, The Faith Club, written by three women, one Muslim, one Christian, and one a Jew in a search for better mutual understanding. Their experience for me shows not only is there evidence of God's guiding and leading people as they can receive it toward truth in different Christian denominations, but even in different religions. St. Paul's strategy in preaching to the Greeks in Acts 17:22-31 seems to presuppose this very thing and seems to be the opposite of the strategy of many would-be evangelists who want to start with and stress what they see as the errors of teaching in other groups rather than starting with what beliefs we may hold in common.

 
At 6:12 PM, Blogger Steven Hammond said...

Hi Derek, :)
I'm one of those who agrees (essentially) with all you've written here.

Since I don't have any criticisms to post, I thought I'd just say that your writing has impacted people more than you know. Personally the, idea of a moral "Trajectory" in the world is something that I think is very "TRUE" in the most stringent philosophical sense. This is something that I see you explain better than any other "non-violence" teacher.

The other thing that strikes me,is your emphasis on evidence of harm from a scientific perspective--or at least an evidence based perspective- in determining what we should support or not. This is something which is, unfortunately, very much lacking in Christian circles. We, as Christians, need to acknowledge and incorporate the evidence of the world we live in into our worldview and moral vision. On another site, we were discussing the recent blog post by John Pavlovitz regarding the "formerly churched" and I think much of us felt that churches that felt they "had it all figured out" with doctrinal statement dating back 500 years were not for us. We've been reading folks like you, Peter Enns, Michael Hardin etc and the idea of being pinned down by a "statement of faith" is ludicrous.

In any event, I absolutely agree with what you've said in this blog-post and support you 100%. I suspect you're somewhat of an introvert (unlike Michael Hardin :)
) so I understand your very understated presence--(I'm an introvert, BTW) Regardless, I love your posts, books and insights. I think you're making a difference in the world and Christianity.

All the best,
Steve

 
At 10:21 AM, Blogger Amanda said...

I am reading Disarming Scripture and I find the idea of multiple conflicting views throughout scripture really interesting! When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their view of God changed. Suddenly they were afraid of Him and thought they were not good enough, thats why they hid and covered themselves. But God hadnt changed at all and came for His evening walk as always. Now if indeed, the consequence of sin is a false picture of God (and separation from Him through us turning away because of this false picture, not God turning His back on us), then that makes me wonder if God intentionally put these contradictory views into the bible to paint a picture of the state sin put us in. And then in between these conflicting views God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus. Like "This is who you think I am, this is who you think I am aaaaand this is who you think I am...but look here: THIS is who I really am!" I'm not quite sure that even makes sense but that just came into my mind while I was reading your book :)

 

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