In my previous post
I discussed why I reject the Fundamentalist understanding of infallibility, which as I discussed is very different from how Boyd understands infallibility. In this post, I’ll begin by explaining why I, in contrast, agree with Boyd’s re-imagined Christ-centered understanding of infallibility. I will then discuss inspiration, authority, and what it means to make Christ the center of how we read the Bible.
Boyd’s Re-imagined Understanding of Infallibility
What infallibility means for Boyd in the context of the larger “God-breathed” nature of Scripture is a bit difficult to ascertain from his review. The closest I found to a definition was in a footnote where he states,
“The Bible is infallible in accomplishing all that God intends it to accomplish, which, as shall become clear later on, is ultimately to point us toward, and bring us into a relationship with, the God revealed in the crucified Christ.”
“Our confidence in Scripture as the inspired Word of God can be strengthened once we abandon the misguided notion that everything in Scripture is equally important … If God’s ultimate purpose in ‘breathing’ (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3: 16) Scripture is to point us to Christ and to help us cultivate a relationship with Christ, then so long as we remain confident that Scripture doesn’t fail to do this— in this sense, it is ‘infallible’— whatever problems we might encounter in matters surrounding this book are irrelevant to the question of whether it’s divinely inspired.”
From this I take it that Boyd sees infallibility as meaning that God is somehow active in Scripture, using it to lead us to Christ. Scripture (or more precisely, God active in Scripture) is unfailing in doing this, and thus infallible. As Boyd says above, affirming this does not mean that we should not question violent portrayals of God, nor does it mean that everything is of equal weight or validity.
The question of course is then, how does Scripture do this? How does a text which contains “violent divine portraits that conflict with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ” lead us to Christ? The answers that Boyd and I give to this question are different. I will consider our two differing answers to this question in my next post (part 3). Right now I want to simply note that Boyd and I are in agreement that Scripture—when it is interpreted rightly—leads us to Christ and his way of cruciform love. If that’s what infallibility means, then I apparently believe in infallibility, too.
Now, I don’t think I will be adopting the term “infallibility” because for me the term is historically tied to Fundamentalism, and as I said, I am not a Fundamentalist. I am however sympathetic to why Greg might want to redeem the term.
We all do that at one point or another. There are some who reject the term “Christian” because of its negative associations, instead calling themselves “followers of Jesus” and such. I instead want to redeem the word “Christian,” showing that it should be associated with Christlikeness. I also want to redeem the term “inspiration,” showing how it works in the context of Scripture’s ultimate purpose being to lead us to Christ. I present that definition in the final chapter of Disarming Scripture
, drawing on the of of Stanley Grenz.
So I really do appreciate what Greg is trying to do here by re-defining infallibility. I just don’t think it is fair or particularly charitable to fault me when I do not feel the need to redeem the same words that he does. At the very least, what we need to look at is the content of what we each believe and affirm, rather than focusing on affirming particular words.
Inspiration (And How I Don’t Deny It)
More important however is how Boyd jumps from me denying the Fundamentalist doctrine of infallibility to assuming that I hold a position that “requires us to deny the inspiration and infallibility of all Scripture.” This is an inaccurate presentation of my view and I said nothing of the sort in Disarming Scripture
. But Boyd pushes this even further, claiming that I advocate just tossing out anything I don’t like,
“When our conscience and life experience discern a portion of Scripture doesn’t lead to love, then it is apparently not inspired and we are free to reject it.”
Again, this is not what I said. What I in fact say repeatedly (using it as a thesis statement) in Disarming Scripture
“If we therefore recognize that a particular interpretation leads to observable harm, this necessarily means that we need to stop and reassess our course. To continue on a course we know to be harmful, simply because ‘the Bible says so,’ is morally irresponsible.”
How Boyd takes my above statement advocating humility and self-reflection, and from this declares that I am therefore saying that Scripture is “not inspired” and can just be tossed out, is frankly baffling to me.
On the contrary, I make a point throughout Disarming Scripture
of saying that we need to face these violent text head-on, rather than ignoring them or pretending that they are good and Christlike, when they clearly are quite the opposite (more on that later). Continuing, Boyd writes,
“Yes, Flood holds that we should still wrestle with this material to learn lessons from it (104-12). But in his view we are not wrestling with this violent material as though it was divinely inspired and carried divine authority.”
Again, the first sentence is true (note that he can give a page reference). I do say that we should wrestle with the text (and I might add, so does Boyd). In the second sentence however Boyd is once again putting words in my mouth.
Let’s take a moment to consider the notion of “authority.” What does it mean for a biblical text to “carry divine authority” as Boyd puts it?
Authority: Why the Bible is not like the Constitution
In his review Boyd draws an analogy between the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Constitution for the Supreme Court judges. The role of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution. The judges frequently do not agree on these interpretations, but they do agree that the Constitution is authoritative in making their rulings. Boyd thus writes,
“Imagine how chaotic and dysfunctional the Supreme Court would be if each judge was allowed to reject whatever aspects of the Constitution they disapproved of? …
Throughout the Church tradition, Scripture has functioned very much like the Constitution functions in the Supreme Court... [C]utting the tether with this tradition has the same effect on the theology of the Church as denying the supremacy of the Constitution would have for our Supreme Court.”
That all makes sense as far as the Supreme Court goes, but completely falls apart when it is applied to how Boyd proposes we should interpret Scripture. Boyd maintains that we should reject violent interpretations, while at the same time he fully recognizes that many parts of the Old Testament texts themselves contain “violent divine portraits that conflict with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ” and thus present us with an inaccurate portrait of God’s true nature revealed in Christ. This is not a matter of interpretation, of us somehow reading it wrong. It is simply what the texts actually proclaim and promote.
The only way Boyd can get around the fact that these texts themselves contain morally disturbing content intended by the biblical author is to propose that we interpret a text in a way that is intentionally opposed to the way the biblical author intended it. Now, try and apply that to the Supreme Court: Imagine how chaotic and dysfunctional the Supreme Court would be if each Supreme Court justice sought to interpret the Constitution in a way that was intentionally counter to the intent of the Founding Fathers. If there were a way to get fired as a Supreme Court Justice, I’m pretty sure this would be it.
So at the very least the analogy of comparing the authority of Scripture to the way the Constitution functions completely falls apart here. Conservative biblical exegetes who are exclusively concerned with authorial intent, completely detached from ethical concerns, might be comparable to the Supreme Court, but not to the approach of either Boyd or myself.
The fact is, the way Boyd proposes we interpret Scripture is really nothing like the way the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, and that’s because the way we interpret Scripture (as both Boyd and I affirm) centers on Jesus not on Torah. That’s why I agree with Boyd when he writes in Benefit of the Doubt
“Confessing Scripture to be completely ‘God-breathed’ does not entail that everything in Scripture is equally authoritative or that every portrait of God carries the same weight.”
Amen. What is therefore ultimately authoritative—i.e. what is normative for how we should live and how we see God—is not all of Scripture equally, but Jesus definitively. Jesus is authoritative. The cross is central. Only in so far as Scripture is read in a way that leads towards a Jesus-shaped life and a Jesus-shaped understanding of God is it authoritative. That’s why I very intentionally said in my previous post that I “affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and in particular of the New Testament.”
That is what I am saying, and—despite the apparent confusion between us—I think it is what Boyd is trying to say as well.
You must reject... You mustn’t reject
This understanding of the supremacy of Christ as our ultimate authority when interpreting Scripture necessarily entails that we must reject the portions of the Old Testament which run counter to Christ and his way, at least insofar as they are to be normative for us. Along these lines Boyd writes,
“Jesus, along with Paul and other authors of the New Testament, felt led by the Spirit to go beyond, and even at times against, the original meaning of passages”
Right. They go beyond and even against the original meanings. This is what I demonstrate in Disarming Scripture
. But Boyd’s above quote continues,
“[But] there is no indication that they ever felt free to simply reject any portion of Scripture.”
Wait, what? Then what does “go against” mean then? How can you go against something, but not be rejecting it? Boyd writes further,
“I am in agreement with Flood when he claims that Jesus employed a hermeneutic of love that caused him to prioritize some parts of Scripture over others and to repudiate other parts of Scripture”
Repudiate. Let’s look that up in the dictionary: It means refuse to accept or be associated with. Deny the truth or validity of. So, following the lead of Jesus and Paul, we should repudiate and go against violent passages, but we can’t reject them?
Does the term “reject” have some meaning for Boyd that is different from these other terms? One might be inclined to think so, until we read him say,
“I completely agree that we must, in the light of Christ, reject violent interpretations of Scripture.”
At this point I honestly became a bit confused. Boyd maintains that in the light of Christ, we must reject violent interpretations of Scripture, and simultaneously that Jesus and Paul never felt free to simply reject any portion of Scripture? How does that make any sense?
It frankly doesn’t.
So what might Boyd have then meant? Trying to view his position in the most generous way I can, I assume what he was trying to say is that we do practically need to reject, repudiate, go against (in the sense that they are not normative for how we see God or how we treat one another, which is to say that they are not normative at all) texts which are in conflict with the revelation of Christ, seeing them as not carrying the same weight and authority as the way of Jesus, but nevertheless still should seek to wrestle with these morally problematic texts to understand how they can then function as part of our sacred canon.
Both Boyd and I seek to do this, albeit in very different ways. In my next post I will discuss our two approaches.
What I have attempted to accomplish in this post is to show how what Boyd finds so alarming (that I am supposedly “severing the tether” with the historical faith by denying the Bible’s inspiration) is simply not true. In fact I think we agree more than most on these things. I hope that Greg can give me the benefit of the doubt
continue to part 3...
Labels: Bible, books, Disarming Scripture, Greg Boyd, series