(Lisa Robinson)

I want to write about something that has troubled me for a good while.  I don’t want to present it as picking on anyone or isolating those I don’t agree with for the purpose of highlighting that which I don’t agree with.  That is not the purpose of this post.  The purpose is to address an epistemology (understanding) that determines the truth of God’s communication in ways other than from scripture in a way that dismisses what scripture communicates.   The goal is to highlight why this ultimately could undermine Christian unity, undermine how we understand revelation of God and why having a high view of scripture is important.

Epistemology  is the method we use to to know and understand truth.  Our epistemological foundation determines what avenue we come to understand God’s truth, how He has communicated that and how that translates into expectations He has for Christians to obey His word.  Having a low view of scripture means that we base our epistemology on some other method of determining God’s truth that supersedes scripture and in some cases dismisses it altogether.

A low view of scripture stands in contrast with a high view of scripture.  When we speak of a high view of scripture it is this – that God has unveiled Himself through the pages of scripture and culminated His revelation of truth in His Son.  This revelation is enscripturated in the 66 books that portrays God’s story as a unified whole.   Having a high view of scripture means that we assign scripture as the final authority of faith and practice.  It is recognizing that God has already spoken through His word. Thus, we read it with the intent of understanding what each author is striving to convey and how each piece fits within the unified whole.

Now,  a high view of scripture should not be confused with biblicism, or at least the way it tends to be used in a pejorative manner that makes the bible the object of worship over the triune God.  Nor am I addressing concerns related to interpretation (hermeneutics) that produce divergent opinions as to what is being communicated.  I also am not addressing traditions where the church is historically considered the guardian of faith.

Rather, a low view of scripture has particular characteristics that  entails utilizing other means of determining what God is communicating.  A low view of scripture may give support to the bible being God’s word and may even rely on it for faith and practice.  But ultimately it may not be the final determiner of what we believe about God or what He has or is communicating.   Experience is most likely the contributing factor of how one comes to understand God’s communication and most likely what He may be communicating directly.   Combined with a rampant individualism that subjects knowledge to one’s own experience, scripture is relegated to a secondary importance.  This is not necessarily a Charismatic/Pentecostal position since it is possible (and many do exist) to hold to both a continuation of gifts and a high view of scripture.

Another characteristic of a low view of scripture is a lack of concern for the exegetical process.   Normal rules of reading are not necessary to determine what the biblical writers are communicating according to the literary style, cultural or historical context.  Instead, meaning is derived from an subjective and experiential criteria that is typically assigned a spiritual significance.  A low view of scripture deems investigation into explanations as unnecessary and maybe even unspiritual.  Instead, what one experiences or believes God communicates directly is the means by which truth is ascertained.   Thus, those holding a low view of scripture may say things like

“God told me”

“I know in my spirit”

“That’s just your interpretation”

“Who are we to unravel the mysteries of scripture?”

Given Michael’s recent post on diversity of interpretation, I don’t want to give the impression that I am saying people should agree with me.  I know that is not possible nor do I claim to have infallible knowledge.  I do not.   I do believe that interpretive differences will exist until the coming of Christ.  I also think the Holy Spirit can overcome such differences.  The bigger issue with a low view of scripture is why disagreement is there.

To be honest, I have found that agreement with low view of scripture adherents to be most problematic.  It is not because of interpretive differences, although that may very well be the case.  Nor is it because one is more spiritual than the other, or loves Jesus more.  It is because the foundation by which we come to understand God and His communication is different.

What this means is that the unity that we all should be striving for is hindered.  If the foundation by which we understand truth is different, then that has implications not just for our individual understanding but how that also plays out corporately.   Moreover, the low of view of scripture adherent will necessarily be suspicious of attempts to challenge how truth is derived because of dogmatic beliefs regarding one’s own experience.   And therein lies the problem.  Ultimately, this is not good for the body of Christ.

So how to overcome a low view of scripture? I don’t know exactly since experience in what we believe God is communicating from means other than His word can be a strong persuader.  But for those who have a low view of scripture, I would like to offer this appeal;

1) Recognize that God was very intentional about utilizing human authors to convey His word.  We then should be intentional about understanding what it meant in its original context as God intersected with human history to understand what it means now

2) While you may believe that the “voice of God” will lead you into truth, understand that He has spoken through His word.  He will not contradict what He has spoken and subjective experience can be misleading.

3) The Holy Spirit was just as involved in the writing of scripture as He is now indwelling every believer.  It is not unspiritual to investigate what the human authors were communicating for in that we discover the truth of God’s revelation and the message of salvation.  However, refusing to learn and utilize outside aids under the premise to avoid an academic treatment can be quite unspiritual.  We should be open to learning.

4) While there may be mysteries concerning the work and attributes of God, what He he has revealed was for the purpose of for us to know.  The only mysteries of scripture is a message that only those indwelt by the Holy Spirit can accept.  We would do well to identify where mysteries are explained, as is the case in much of the New Testament. (I will most likely do a follow up post on this)

5) We glorify God when we seek to understand what He has has revealed and seek to build understanding with the body of Christ based on what He has already spoken.

What do you think?  Maybe there is more to add on overcoming this challenge.  I would love to hear it.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    18 replies to "Overcoming a Low View of Scripture"

    • mbaker

      Lisa,

      I appreciate your carefulness in making the distinction. That is often missed. I do believe in some factions of the church the term diversity has become redefined as a code word to mean too much liberalism, while some other folks who believe in the defining role of scripture as higher written truth are automatically consigned to the ‘fundie’ camp, if they don’t agree with popular prevailing views.

      Unfortunate for us all is the fact that all this takes the focus off the study of scripture as God’s word to the entire body of Christ and makes it more about staking out certain specialized camps within individual churches, or groups.

    • Karen

      I know this might be ridiculous to even mention in a blog like this one, but I do perceive a great problem forming in various groups online & new churches that have formed. It is simply: a leader who doubts the Word. Years ago,I saw a website that had an article about the reliability of the last page of Matthew. Back then it put me in a brief tailspin, but I realized if one starts cutting & pasting in such a way, in the end there is darkness, more doubt about the rest of t/Bible, confusion, & nothing left to stand on. Recently, I see a lot more in this realm of thinking. People in leadership doubting or embracing writers that do not believe variousBooks of the Bible. Or such things as doubting Authorship in such a way to cast doubt on their followers. I really believe that doubting ministers are not helping the cause of Christ.Thereby, I want to bottom line all this to say, in all that I have digressed upon over these past years, I really do believe that church leaders that embrace all of the Bible and teach all of the Bible, are basically the very best teachers of all, at least generally speaking.
      It is like Calvary Chapel’s agenda for example..they believe that instead of teaching their congregation how to witness, be a missionary, etc.,that instead if they teach the Bible verse by verse,they instead will be the witness, for the very act of knowing Scripture & embracing it & being led by the Holy Spirit will help to make 1 mature in the Lord.

    • Laura

      This post really caught my attention, as I’ve recently been pondering the same things! I had a series of my own posts on how God speaks to us today…and I addressed it partly by emphasizing the sufficiency of (or a high view) of Scripture. People saying “God told me” or “I know in my spirit” concerns me as well…for various reasons. Some clearly elevate subjective experience to the same level as Scripture, yet I don’t think they see it that way. This seems a hard issue to communicate about…And I appreciate your approach.

    • I second your idea of a high view of Scriptural authority. While I do have charismatic leanings, I believe all things should be subjected to Scripture. I also believe the emphasis as well as the statements of Scripture is important. What God emphasizes in Scripture is what He wants us to emphasize.

    • Mike O

      I come from a pentecostal/charismatic background. We must be careful not to charicaturize that with which we disagree. There is probably more truth there than you think. As a “recovering Pentecostal,” I do have a lot of positive to say about it. But the negatives you also list are also true.

      Coming from that side of the argument, I can tell you that the charicaturization we had of the Credo crowd (which is also true, albeit exaggerated) is that you are so focused on the word and study and theology that you forget to look around you. God *may*& actually be doing a new thing, and if he is you’ll miss it.

      For me, I’m somewhere in the middle, leaning more Pentecostal than this audience to be sure, but definitely not in that camp any more. Too many flakes 🙂 . But I can say that my time served there made me the believer I am today, and the good I picked up from my Pentecostal interrment (sp?) was invaluable to me.

      For me, I lean 100% on what the Bible says, AND what GOD says in my personal prayer time. When others tell me, “God said” or “I know in my spirit,” I listen but it carries no spiritual weight. I have a spirit and God will confirm it in MY spirit if it’s true. So I do believe “God says” and “I can know in my spirit” when it happens during MY prayer time. God is a spirit and I worship him in spirit and in truth. One caveat: spirit does *not* trump scripture. God will not contradict himself.

      Well, that’s where I am on it, anyway.

      • Lisa Robinson

        Mike O, it might surprise you to know that I am a former Charismatic/Pentecostal and spent years in those circles. So this is not really drawing a characterization picking on those I don’t agree with. It another reason why I indicated it was not necessarily a Charismatic/Pentecostal issue but one with respect to how we regard scripture in relation to experience.

    • Mike O

      Good to know. That gives your words more credibility. I already basically agreed, btw.

    • […] There are many ram­i­fi­ca­tions of hav­ing a low view of Scripture. Off the top of my head, it can lead to incon­sis­tency in our read­ing, higher view of our­selves, lack of com­mit­ment to the local body, lack of care for Christian unity, and many more. Lisa Robinson’s post from Parchment & Pen speaks about how we can over­come a low view of Scripture. […]

    • Marv

      Lisa,
      I wonder about your terminology “low view of Scripture.” After a couple of readings through this post, I think I understand the kind of attitude you are talking about–which I suppose is one particular way to have a “low” view of Scripture. Frankly, from the title I expected you to talk about another kind of “low view,” one which on the contrary is heavily into historical, literary, rhetorical factors and such. I find this kind of thing rampant right now. I mean it has been for a long time but it’s invaded Evangelicalism in recent years and I think it is seriously eroding an understanding of God’s truth.

      This has nothing to do with what you are talking about–I think–but it is distinctly a “low view of Scripture.”

      I do think I’ve run into what you’re describing. Once while teaching a Bible study on 1&2 Peter, someone objected to my trying to bring out the author’s intended meaning, saying it “doesn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit.” I did have to scratch my head on that one.

      Seems like we need a term that distinguishes the latter from the former though. Lazy, brainless, illogical, ignorant, poorly-taught, silliness comes to mind, but that probably wouldn’t be very kind, would it?

    • […] 9, 2012 – For anyone interested, there is a post over on Parchment and Pen blog entitled “Overcoming a low view of Scripture”  – it shares similar concerns regarding the Scriptures vs. hearing God’s voice. Share […]

    • mbaker

      Marv,

      I do agree with you when you say that some in the church are too heavily into historical, literal and rhetorical aspects of scripture to the point that the details become more of a primary focus than the foundational tenets of Christianity.

      Not that there is anything with valid questions and honest debates, but I do find that differing theological opinion often becomes the new lens of viewing scripture for some, like did “God really say….?”

      To present it that way is a ‘low’ view indeed.

    • mbaker

      I meant that sentence to read ” Not that there is anything wrong with valid questions and honest debates”.

      Sorry.

    • Maxwell Mooney

      I think you actually undermine your argument a bit. I’m with Marv in that low/high is generally attributed toward science/archaeology trumping the Biblical text, but I’ll take you on the rest of your argument.

      Though not a Pentecostal, I’m highly charismatic and I think you lose your argument relating to epistemological foundations on a couple areas. I want to give you props for clearing up Biblicism, but your argument rests on this: using any other medium other than scripture as your final epistemological structure is somehow wrong. You say that differences in hermeneutical opinion don’t count toward this, yet everything you describe tends to stem from a differing hermeneutic.

      You say that one characteristic of a low view is disregard for the “exegetical process” which is… well… a hermeneutic. Just because they don’t ascribe to your exegetical process of finding the original author’s intent (which btw, developed from an Enlightenment epistemology, the scientific method) doesn’t mean that they hold a low view, but rather a different mode of interpreting. Furthermore, you argue against personal experience, then lay claim to the fact that God has revealed himself through personal, human experience- which is the main crux of your argument regarding your exegetical process.

      Good thoughts, but I would have to disagree with some of the conclusions you draw, which seem to stem from your assumptions. Thanks for the thoughtful read.

    • ScottL

      Lisa –

      I do believe this post opens a whole host of questions to be answered. But I’m not sure it addresses many of them, outside the challenge against overly experiential theology.

      As I said on your thread at Theologica: I have always thought it interesting that all who wrote scripture wrote it following ‘experience’, actually walking with & encountering the living God. All the men & women of God beforehand spoke & wrote out of what they came to experientially know in God. Experience can be a lot more helpful than we allow it in a more western skeptical church society.

      I believe that, at least in part, we can deny experience because it is not as evidentially verifiable, in a kind of you-must-prove-it way, you know, prove it was a true experience of God, his work, his Spirit, etc. In the end, I think we do deny the role of experience because it is too messy and doesn’t allow for verifiable attestation to what seems Christianly kosher. And I do understand that. But I do appreciate the acceptance of and allowance for experience within a biblically-formed group of Christians who understand the importance of the local body today with helpful & wise shepherding, & the historic church of centuries past. None of those things are 100% fool-proof, though we sometimes crave such. But denying experience outright is not 100% fool proof either.

    • ScottL

      Lisa –

      Just another comment on another point.

      I do believe you are championing sola scriptura in the article, that scripture is our only infallible standard for our faith beliefs and practice. Over the past years, I’ve probably shifted more to a focus of prima scriptura. As the God-breathed and authoritative text that gives us the redemptive story and revelation of our God in Christ, it is the place to start. But I am not sure we should claim it is the only place.

      I am much more benevolent to the importance of church tradition-history as both the preservers and formers of our now canon of Scripture. I am not fully RC/EO, but I do very much understand what is being communicated on this point. I much more appreciate the words in 1 Tim 3:15 – God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

      I like the idea of something like the Wesleyan quadrilateral in helping form the church in understanding God’s revelation. I don’t see myself trying to grab onto a low view of Scripture, but I am also not fully satisfied that the neo-reformation cry of sola scriptura as THE answer. Modernism craves to have an empirically proof-based foundation to dot all i’s & cross all t’s for our theology. But things are a lot more fluid and organic. There truly is much mystery. This is why I appreciate Peter Enn’s book Inspiration & Incarnation and Kenneth Sparks’ book God’s Word…

    • Ben Thorp

      As someone who has a mixed history of evangelical and “traditional” and charismatic churches at various points, I appreciate your careful consideration of the potential of this flaw in all.

      In the church of which I am currently an Elder, we are in a traditional denomination, but are definitely coming from a charismatic theology. Whilst we believe in God speaking to people today in various forms, we have always emphasised that the Bible is the primary form of testing such “words”. We use the acronym BART:

      Biblical – the primary test. If it’s not Biblical, it’s not God
      Agreement of others – we shouldn’t live in isolation, and we should see if others agree with this “word”. Others can include the voice of church history
      Relevant – God tends to speak to our situation. If it’s not relevant to me, then it’s probably (although not definitely) not God
      Tested in the Spirit – does this word (if it’s been given to me) resonate with the Holy Spirit residing in me?

      I also find that these 4 tests can help when interpreting Scripture too, FWIW.

    • Ananya

      Ben … Thx for sharing BART.

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