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.