OK, clearly my short-treatise format is not working for me. Nor is my attempt at foundationalism-on-the-run. 

The Gospel is our way in. It is the way in to our relationship with God, which gives us the Holy Spirit, which helps us understand the Bible, which allows us to develop doctrine.

That’s what I wanted to say.

Having said that, it is through the Scriptures, illumined for us by the Spirit, that God talks to us. Not the community of believers, not the “tradition” of doctrine and not our curent doctrinal system. These are valid only as and when they reflect the scriptures.

Of course, both the community and tradition (and it could be argued that they are basically the same thing) are valuable correctives to our own personal weaknesses and failings in reading the Bible (read: the effects of Sin on our reading). However, if our best exegetical efforts on a passage challenge the tradition, our community or our systematic, they must give way to the preimmenent authority of Scripture.

Go one, shoot that one down.


8 thoughts on “ctrl-alt-del

  1. It’s still a theological/doctrinal statement though, isn’t it? So, you HAVE begun, very sneakily, with doctrine!! HA! Got you!

    • Yes, but at least I did it sneakily.

      That “doctrine”, though, comes straight out of the Bible. So by asserting that I started with doctrine, you are sneakily beginning with the Bible!


      Wait, if we keep doing this, we’re going to get dizzy…

  2. Ah, but wait: you had to decide how to read the Bible, didn’t you, before you decided what was in it…

  3. No more than I had to decide how to read the newspaper before I decided what was in it. There are genre decisions in reading, which are almost always performed subconsciously (except in people who have been told what a genre is). But unless you extend the scope of “doctrine” to cover what I learned in 3rd grade, it’s not a theological decision.

  4. But no: you don’t just decide to read the Bible without already having an awareness of its claim to be Scripture – ie, a theological entity… .

    But you are right: the gospel is our way in!

  5. I disagree.
    I think.

    I think we can pick up the Bible without an awareness of it as a theological entity and have it impress itself on us as such. Someone wanting to know who this Jesus guy really was, and whether he was a cool teacher can pick up John, understand Jesus’ claims, and then recognise the theological significance. From that point on, the Bible becomes a theological entity for him.

    Before that point, it might not even have been an historical exercise by that person. Only when you understand Jesus’ claims does it matter whether the Gospel of John is historical or mythical. He could have started reading the Bible as literature, and finished by realising that it is theologically charged history.

    I’m sure it’s happened at least once. Probably with a Gideon’s Bible.

  6. Isn’t it the exception that proves the rule? It is theoretically possible, but almost never happens this way. Even with the Gideon’s Bible – Joe Blow in a prison somewhere picks it up to read it with an awareness that even if he doesn’t think this book is a holy book, many others do – and that frames his reading of the text. This isn’t just a matter of genre, either.

    Isn’t the recognition of the canon a piece of theologising?

  7. Are we allowed to have exceptions that prove rules in theology?
    Hmmm, God is love and his wrath is the exception that proves the rule…
    I think I can make that work.

    Recognition of the canon is only a piece of theologising if you think it is a theological work. So, yes, if someone picks up the Bible, they are entering into someone else’s theological work – the writer/s and the canonising community – but they do not need any knowledge of that work to take up and read.

    I was being a little bit sarcastic about the one person. Give our culture another 10 years of forgetting its Christian roots, and there could be a number of people who are ignorant enough to be able to pick up the Bible without any pre-formed theological opinion about it.

    Another example could be English teachers who recommend that students read parts of the Bible (along with Shakespeare) because it is a foundational document of the English language and our culture. Thus a student can pick up a Bible without even knowing the name Jesus, and be confronted by the internal witness of the book about its own nature.

    A third example could be the book of Luke-Acts (or even Mark). If it was indeed written to Gentile non-Christians as a statement of who Jesus was, then many of them would have read the document without any knowledge of Jesus’ claims to divinity, and hence with no knowledge of any theological significance to the book. It could just be a statement of who this Paul guy is and why he is in prison in Rome.

    The point is that it is possible for a person who is totally ignorant of the Bible to pick up an existing copy and read it. This reading, with the work of the Spirit, is able to convict that person about Jesus, the Gospel and the authority of the very book that is being read.

    Indeed, to deny that argument seems to cause some very large problems in the doctrine of God’s ability to speak and his chose methods of speaking.

    Take it another way, to pick up the Bible is participating (possibly even unknowingly) in other people’s theological statements about the Bible. But those statements were either based on the Bible, or on a third party’s theological statements, and their statements were based on … and so on. When you boil it back, the doctrine of the Bible can only be derived from
    1) the Bible itself, or
    2) the community
    And I don’t feel like being Catholic today.

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