Saturday, August 28, 2010

pomo reading shenanigans

Every generation, on the basis of its own social and cultural history, tradition, education, and experiences, reads the Bible in ways that our ancestors would not recognize. This is because we always read the text of our own lives in relation to the biblical texts," Carter Heyward observes.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 108.

Every generation reads the Bible in ways people before us would not recognize? Oh, really? And what proof can this Mr. Heyward offer for that claim?

Perhaps he bases it on things in the writings of the early church fathers? Irenaeus? Justin Martyr? Or is his way of reading them, let alone the Bible, so different that he can't even read them correctly?

And why just the Bible? Do people read Plato and Aristotle that same way? Or other Greek writers, poets and playwrites and philosophers? Can we not even understand Homer in any correct way?

Now, I've read a small bit of a few of the early church fathers. Not much, I admit, but a bit. I know, for example, that Justin Martyr had an eschatology that was rather a lot like what he today call Futurism, meaning that there would be a time when an Antichrist would rise and rule before the physical return of Christ. Though, as well, he thought that the church had taken the place of Israel, which I have a few problems with, but as with other Christian writers like Chesterton and Lewis whom I have found informative, I reserve the right to disagree as well as agree.

But I don't think the read the Bible in some kind of way that was so different from my own that it would not by recognizable to each other. Granting areas of disagreement, if the problems of language could be bridged, I think we could mostly understand each other.

On the other hand, I've recently had some encounters with those who could be said to read the Bible in ways that a Justin or an Irenaeus would likely not have understood, though maybe Irenaeus, in his studies of the Gnostics, would have been familiar with similar things.

The encounter began when I responded on an internet board to someone writing the he or she didn't believe that Christ died for our sins. I responded by posting several New Testament scriptures showing that Christ did indeed die for our sins. I was then told that this wasn't good enough because they weren't from the Gospels, that I was quoting Paul and John and not Jesus. And when I responded that I was quoting the Word of God, I was then told that if I was going to quote the Word of God I should quote Jesus, because of John calling Him the Word in that Gospel, that Paul and the other epistles-writers were struggling to understand Jesus' death and resurrection and what it meant to them (putting into question the concept of divine inspiration in the epistles), and that we can't even say that Bible is really the Scriptures.

And, to go to another though rather related source, even the words and teachings of Jesus are not enough. "...I could live with the idea that Paul condemned what we today have constituted as 'homosexuality' and that if anyone ever asked Jesus about it (and if they did we have no record of it) he would have said the same thing as Paul...In my view, even if there is a dominant view against homosexuality in the Scriptures and tradition...I would argue that on this point the Greeks were right and the dominant tradition among the Jews and Christian is wrong...Indeed, by invoking the spirit of a certain Jesus, I would argue for a counterfactual conditional: were Jesus alive to day and familiar with the pros cna cons of the contemporary argument, his centeredness on love would have brought him down onthe side of the rights of what we today call the 'homosexual' difference..." (Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct, pp 108-109). In other words, Jesus' own acceptance of and agreement with the laws against homosexuality is not enough if one can spin (I mean, deconstruct) things to the benefit of one's agenda. Even granting that the Bible never condones homosexuality means that we today must do so, in the minds of those who would call good what is evil. And apparently showing what the Scriptures say about the blood of Christ is not an "intelligent argument", whatever that means.

And there are others, too. I would wonder if Irenaeus would feel forgotten, because after he put a 1000 year kabash on Gnosticism through his works, it's back and people want to make such Gnostic gospels as authoritative as the biblical Gospels (or maybe take the authority of the biblical Gospels down to the level of the heretical Gnostics).

So, maybe Heyward has a point. Though if his point, and that of the Heretic's Guide authors, is that one way of reading the Bible (or, more accurately, interpreting it) is as good as the other, well, even they don't think that's true. If anything, Burke and Taylor and other emergents and progressives use themselves as the starting point for reading the Bible--they are the ones that judge and even condemn the Bible, not the Bible that judges us and both condemns us and tell us of God has provided us salvation. They even have the gall of judge and condemn God, as McLaren does in "A New Kind of Christianity" when he says that there are times in the Old Testament when God is "Unchristlike".

I really can't imagine a Justin or an Irenaeus thinking the God in the Hebrew scriptures was unlike Christ. When that happens, I think McLaren's views of God and of Christ are seriously, even fatally, skewed.

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