'Authority of the bible' and much else
(This post has been moved from the Homosexuality and new creation thread.)
Paul, you open your message with ‘In my opinion the main sticking point is the different views we have of the authority of the bible.’ As you say, ‘authority of the bible’ is a phrase that means different things to different people. I see that you also give authority to the bible, by ‘reverencing’ the New Testament. For you, the Spirit takes precedence over the letter - and so it does for me - but we approach things in quite a different way.
I think the key phrases which you use, suggesting other forms of authority which influence your approach, are ‘the modern informed moral conscience’, and ‘the standards of the modern informed Western conscience’. I too believe that theology must dialogue with experience and culture, but you seem to have made a jump beyond dialogue to giving an unexplained and undefended authority to experience and culture.
But what is the basis of these new forms of authority? In Western Europe and the Western world generally, the ‘modern’ conscience has been hugely influenced by a Christian tradition which has in the past involved granting authority to its sacred text - the bible. The very traditions which are self-criticising could be traced back to this Christian tradition.
I think the ‘authority’ which governs your own approach needs unpacking a bit. It seems highly subjective to me.
‘Authority’ for me centres in the person of Jesus, the experience I have of him, and the effect on my life. But the experience I have of him as God is defined and mediated crucially through the bible. This brings into play principles of interpretation. I cannot make a direct, literal equation between the authority of Jesus and the complete, exact, literal words of the bible. But at the same time I must have good reasons if I want to be selective about what I take to be authoritative in the bible and what I do not.
This, I think, is something of what this site is also about; and to a greater or lesser extent we all accord a measure of authority to the bible. If we decide that some parts of the bible are not authoritative, it is useful if we give reasons for that. Then there might be counter-reasons from others - given in a more or less convincingly argued way. I’d like to see a bit more useful engagement with each other’s arguments.
I think we should give convincing arguments for what we believe about the authority or otherwise of biblical texts. I feel there is much more engagement to come with regard to your own views on the Old Testament, and also on what the bible appears to say about homosexuality. (I’d like to see your responses to the views I have expressed on both these matters). I personally feel that to dismiss the former as writings about a tribal god which are of narrowly historical and anthropological interest, and the latter as mistaken, or to be dismissed because incongruent with somewhat vague notions of modern thinking is too easy.
It’s also slightly too easy to ‘pigeon-hole’ what others say on the site as the perspectives of ‘evangelicals’. That word needs some qualification, in the light of some of the explorations taking place on the site. I have tried to qualify it somewhat in relation to my own position.
If this isn’t too much to digest, I’d also like to throw in the observation that tucked into Andrew’s post were all kinds of assumptions about the rapture, the parousia, the resurrection, the new creation, and even the use of the phrase ‘inherit the kingdom of God’, which merit further critical reflection - and which I’d like him to defend and explain a bit more fully.