Friday, August 16, 2002

Scripture as Proposition and the Transpropositional

My friend Fred Peatross alerted me to an interesting conversation now taking place at David Heddle's blog that began as a commentary on David's assertion that

"The Bible is the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God"

is the first axiom of Christianity.

When I first went to David's blog I couldn't find the discussion Fred was talking about. But then he clarified that he was referring to the lively discussion taking place in the comments to this post! So I began there to post a response and was expatiating at such a length that I thought I'd just blog on it here.

On this axiom Christopher Jones (and while David left Christopher anonymous, Christopher said in the comments that he did not mind being associated publically with his comments) wrote (among other comments):

"This way of apprehending Christian truth is thoroughly and deeply wrong. Christianity does not, as you claim, lend itself to an axiomatic approach; such an approach leads inevitably to a deficient understanding of Christianity."

I tend to lean toward Christopher's position on this point. And yet I'm sympathetic to a particular way in which David's axiom might be formulated so as to be defensible.

I've written in various places ab evangelicalism's addiction to the proposition as the omnicompetent modality of spiritual formation. Yet I wonder if I should say "the naked proposition." I wonder if our more foundational error is an arbitrary bifurcation of the Scriptures from the One Who speaks. There are times when the propositional achieves transpropositionality as, for example, when propositions are performative (e.g. "My Word will not return to me void...."). And when we consider that it's all God-breathed, then we can't collapse the Scriptures down to a mere collection of propositions. It's more.

Yet - surely - it can be treated in that way. The evangelical quiet time - for example - is meaningless outside of the vertical relational context that gives it passion, spontaneity and vibrancy. And that's not even to deny that - just as in any relationship - there can be times when even being with God can be mundane or routine. But what's critical is that there is an intentionality about being with God. But - just as surely - a view of Scripture or theology as mere information transfer is inadequate. And we still believe that too often the church has viewed information transfer as too important by itself.

So these nuances might be easily missed in Heddle's stark statement.

Postmodernism a Full-Circle Path from Modernism to PreModernism?

In his comments on Heddle's suggestion, Fred Peatross wrote:

"Postmodernism has taken us full circle; back to the pre-modern, experential time; pre-reformation. "

RW responded with

"I'm concerned (and this is sincere concern) whether post-modernism is really capable of taking us "full circle." Granted, intellectual fashions sometimes do move in circles; but I'm worried that leaving modernism doesn't necessarily make us pre-modern, any more than leaving a marriage makes a woman a virgin again (to use C. S. Lewis's analogy--or was it Chesterton?). Aren't there certain strains in post-modern thought that are inimical to Christianity? "

It's been my contention that postmodernism helpfully critiques an inordinately modernized evangelicalism. At the same time, we must resist the easy mistake of viewing modernism and postmodernism in a simple antithetical binary fashion. We don't see them as opposite viewpoints in every respect. In fact, one could argue that postmodernism is the full-flower of modernism. Alternatively, one could also view the two schools of thought as being complimentary.

I believe that RW is right that full-blown postmodernism does have elements- as he puts it "inimical to Christianity." For example, contra Foucault, mere expression is not intrinsically malevolent. But Foucault does help to underline a potential abuse of language and presented knowledge.

And I'm not sure that it's possible - or desirable - for us to revert to the pre-modern.

Rather, I suggest we've something to learn from the pre-modern. Imagine how always seeing the same people in your village decade after decade as you never travel more than 25 miles from your home could deepen your sense of community.

We've something to learn from the modern. As Brian McLaren says, one wants a modern heart surgeon! One would desire a very modern air traffic controller!

And we've something to learn from the postmodern. There are limits to our knowledge. There is mystery. We can say - at times - I don't know.

All these perspectives must be kept in balance in the context of our grateful love for the One Who died for us.

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