A short examination of a minister who is trying to hard to be deep and insightful and who thinks he succeeds at it.
Preacher Conway (PC) writes,
I hope to explore how I read and understand Scripture, to wonder together what it is to pick up this book and to wrestle with it. I begin here because this continues to be one of the most challenging and dynamic facets of my faith. What does it mean to say that God is revealed by Scripture? What does it mean for me to be intellectually honest as a scholar and as a human being and yet trust that the Bible is more than just any other book?
1.) Note the implied difficulty in being both a scholar, a human, and taking the Bible seriously … as if it is just such a labor to square this circle. Nevermind that it is a circle that has been squared by intellectually honest Scholars for millennium. Did Augustine, Anselm, the Cappadocians, Aquinas, Bonaventure, etc. take the Bible seriously? Were they scholars?
2.) I don’t want to over extrapolate here, but it sure seems, that right out of the gate, there is a hint of the glory in uncertainty. Look at how much angst I’m in, given all the uncertainty I have. Look how I have to wrestle the uncertainties of God’s revelation. How noble it is to be uncertain.
I begin here because this is a fundamental presupposition of my faith: our experience of faith and understanding of Scripture does not exist in a vacuum. Whenever we talk about God, Scripture, Jesus, etc. we stand on the shoulders of giants. Our modern understanding of faith has been molded and shaped by a conversation that has been happening in homes, churches, and the halls of academia for centuries. Our individual and collective experience of faith enters into a small part of this dialogue, a small branch of the bigger conversation about who God is, about the world He created, and about how we live, move, and have our being on this planet we call earth.
1.) Note that our understanding of Scripture is totally immanent. Our understanding of Scripture is totally subjective. Our understanding of Scripture is not accounted for by any Objective or transcendent categories. There is no reference to the God breathed nature of Scripture. No mention of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. All there is, is human conversation.
This is not to deny the subjective dynamic of understanding Scripture. It is merely to contend that if all we have is the subjective then there is nothing objective there to understand except some kind of wax nose Bible.
2.) If all we have is the subjective then who is to say which subjective is the one true subjective? Why is Calvin right and Kierkegaard wrong? Why should we subscribe to the TFU or Westminster and not the Schleitheim confession? Why prefer the Historic Church and not the Cathars?
3.) He begins with “our experience of faith” and then insists that “our experience of faith” is conditioned only by our experience in talking about the faith with others. It is experience, and only experience all the way to the bottom. There really is no authoritative Transcendent word.
4.) Allow me to submit that the only Giant’s shoulders PC has been standing on is a German chap named Schleiermacher. He was another bloke who knew a thing or two about subjectivism.
“I begin here because I must acknowledge something that causes fear and consternation among many Christians. Yes, as I have come to understand more about the world around me, about, say, evolutionary biology or the dominance of patriarchy, my understanding of Scripture has also undergone a transformation. Some Christians will immediately throw their hands in the air in disgust at this and immediately conclude that my faith has acquiesced to the world. The world as I perceive it has shaped my faith rather than vice versa. God is unchanging and His Word is eternal, some may say, so how can you let your faith in this unchanging God be shaped by the shifting theories of science?”
1.) PC acts as if his understanding of the world around him is unmediated by faith / theological / Worldview categories. PC speaks as if his mind was tabula rasa and with his tabula rasa mind he understood reality quite apart from any beginning theological-faith presuppositions or axioms. He speaks as if he arrived at facts apart from a philosophy of fact.
2.) So, my question is, “What theology did PC employ in order to understand the world around him?” I mean, PC’s understanding was mediated by some theology. “Understanding of the world” does not come to us theology free. The reason that Aleister Crowley understood the world one way and that Cornelius Van Til understood the world in a different way is because the lens (beginning axioms) through which each looked at the world were dramatically different.
3.) As such, a Biblical Christian theology would have helped PC to conclude that “evolutionary biology” is a myth, and that “biblical patriarchy” was and is good and proper. You see, Biblical presuppositions then work to interpret one’s experience as opposed to having one’s autonomous experiences interpret Scripture. This is the heart of PC’s problem. He is allowing his own putatively autonomous experience (and not really autonomous because all experience is pre-interpreted by some theological grid) to trump the perspicuous teaching of God’s divine revelation.
Paging Dr. Schleiermacher.
4.) Interesting that PC never answers that last question in that paragraph above that he has hypothetically presented to himself.
“No matter how we formulate our faith, regardless of the conclusions at which we arrive regarding such issues, our understanding of God and Scripture have been shaped by our experience in the world, by our upbringing, and by a host of other environmental factors. To find ourselves asking questions about Scripture because of experience in the world is not itself a bad thing. On the contrary, these questions may have the potential to bring us to a deeper and fuller understanding of God and our relationship with Him.”
1.) Notice it is “we who formulate our faith,” and not “the faith that formulates us.”
2.) Notice how it is our understanding of God and Scripture which is shaped by our experience and not our experience that is shaped by God and Scripture. Notice how environment trumps God and this in spite of the fact that it is God who predestined our environment that men “would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
3.) Asking questions about Scripture is good as long as the answers we arrive at are formed and shaped by Scripture.
Look, it has always been a staple of the Reformed faith (PC and I are both Reformed) that God is always prior.
“At some point in our lives, for instance, we all must come to grips with the realization that God’s answer to our prayers does not necessarily come in the form in which we expect or want. Such experiences help us come to a more complete understanding of verses like Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” The point of this example is not to explore a theology of prayer; rather, my hope is to demonstrate that our experience in the world impacts the way in which we approach and articulate our faith.”
Is PC concluding that God doesn’t answer prayer the way PC wants it answered? Amazing insight there. Generally, Biblical Christians take for granted that the problem is with them and not with God.
“The reality is this – while experience does not dictate the answers at which we arrive, our lived experience in this world often prompts our questions, and questions, it seems to me, are rarely a bad thing.
I begin here because this is perhaps one of the most unacknowledged challenges we have when it comes to reading Scripture – the Bible is a complicated, multifaceted book. Whether we like to admit it or not, the way in which we describe the central themes of the Bible have been shaped by our experience. This is not to say that experience trumps Scripture.”
1.) PC has spent the whole piece more than hinting that experience trumps Scripture and now at the very end he merely asserts that is not the case. Go figure.
2.) Given everything that PC has said up to this point how can it be that “experience does not dictate the answers at which we arrive?”
3.) I will agree that questions are not a bad thing.
In the end PC does not have Scripture. He has a Gestalt empty chair he calls “a Bible,” and a Rorschach Ink blot he calls God’s revelation.
One wonders what PC does when his experience is over and against that of his Council or one of his congregants? Who’s solipsistic experience ‘wins’ the argument?
Given this kind of “reasoning” is it any wonder that churches are just one big “encounter group”