Brian McLaren and the Bible

08072Brian McLaren is well known as a leader in the North American ‘Progressive’ movement, which many are finding a refreshing change from the ‘culture wars’ amongst evangelicals about Scripture and authority and its implications for theology and discipleship. He came to prominence with his 2004 book A Generous Orthodoxy, which sought to cut through the polarisations often present in evangelical debate.

His most recent book is We Make the Road by Walking, and he has been on a UK tour promoting it, with Paula Gooder and others as dialogue partners. As part of their Bible debate series, Brian had an online discussion with Andrew Wilson from King’s Church in Eastbourne, and their two perspectives feature in a pair of articles in this month’s Christianity magazine. Both articles are available free online; McLaren’s is here, and Wilson’s response is here.


To me, McLaren’s position has three major problems to it. The first is that he starts with an unhelpful confusion in titling his article ‘Jesus didn’t treat Scripture as infallible; nor should we.’ This is unfortunate, and throughout his piece McLaren uses ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ interchangeably. That might be fine in ordinary conversation, and there is some debate about what these terms mean, and how they are related to one another. But in most discussion about the authority of the Bible they are distinguished and the two terms have quite different meanings and each has its own history.

The idea of ‘inerrancy’ comes from B B Warfield and the so-called Princeton movement. It has the sense that Scripture is ‘without error in all that it affirms’ which is most commonly taken to mean that any factual statement should be taken as literally true. The best known modern statement of the position is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from 1978, which includes in Article XII:

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

To my mind, this fails to take seriously the social and historical context of the Bible’s human authors, and in effect it imposes a modernist and literalist mindset on the text of Scripture. It is the sort of idea which has led to headlines that 46% of Americans believing in a literal, six-day creation, and many have an anti-scientific outlook. At the 2013 meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society, the conservative evangelical NT scholar Ben Witherington argued that the term ‘inerrancy’ is simple the wrong word to use to describe the Bible’s authority.

By contrast, the notion of ‘infallibility’ includes the idea of effectively accomplishing what the text is intended to do. If the witness of Scripture is intended to testify to the truth about God, and bring people to faith, then to say Scripture is ‘infallible’ it to say that it is able to achieve that, and can be trusted to do so. The term goes back at least as far as John Wesley, and it is arguably the idea behind Reformation understanding, such as Article V in the 39 Articles of Religion—and in fact is found in Scripture itself. A classic text in the OT comes in Is 55.10–11:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to itwithout watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

And Jesus deploys similar ideas when he talks of his word ‘not passing away’ (Matt 24.35 and parallels).

McLaren’s criticisms of people wanting ‘absolute and incorrigible confidence’ applies to the notion of inerrancy, and in the main I would agree with him. But his goal of seeking ‘a proper confidence, born out of being teachable, and a hunger and thirst for justice and truth’ is happily met by seeing Scripture as infallible—able to do what God intends it to—without having to claim that Scripture is ‘corrigible’, in need of our correction.


The second issue I struggle with is the way McLaren advocates a kind of supersessionism—Jesus’ teaching has corrected and replaced what has gone before. I completely agree with McLaren on his characterisation of diversity within the canon and Jesus’ place in this:

Their statements and counterstatements are not contradictions; they are conversations. Wisdom emerges from their unfolding conversations over many generations…In this, Jesus emerges as the ultimate word of God to whom all the scriptures point. As we read in John and Colossians, the invisible God is made visible not in words on a page but in a man on a cross: word made flesh.

I also agree with his comments about interpretation; Jesus is inviting his contemporaries (and therefore us) to read in a new way:

When he says, ‘You have heard it said…but I say to you’ in Matthew 5:21-22, and when he challenges traditional Sabbath restrictions in Luke 14, he is challenging traditional understandings of the Bible and introduces what we might call ‘a new hermeneutical principle’: namely compassion.

Interpretations that lack basic human compassion, he suggests, are faulty interpretations. He is not merely tweaking conventional understandings, he is correcting them.

But correcting ‘them’, the interpretations, is a very different thing from correcting Scripture, and Andrew Wilson is right to highlight the difference. There is no evidence whatever that either Jesus or Paul ever thinks that they are correcting Scripture. Why does Jesus insist we read Scripture with compassion? Because that was the intention behind its writing!

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love (Ps 103.8; compare Ps 145.8, or Ex 33.19, or Ex 34.6, or Ps 86.15, or Joel 2.13, or Is 49.15, or 2 Kings 13.23, or Neh 9.17, or 2 Chron 30.9, or…get the idea?)

In his response, Wilson offers a good summary of Jesus’ attitude to Scripture—during a similar job to John Wenham in the first chapter of his classic Christ and the Bible (which I read as a teenager).

[Jesus] regards the scriptures as sufficient to prompt repentance (Luke 16:31), as fulfilled in his life and ministry (Matthew 5:17-20), and as truthful, even when they are describing scary acts of divine judgement (Luke 17:22-37). In one fascinating story, he describes the scriptures as ‘the word of God’, which ‘cannot be broken’ (John 10:35).

The red letters, in other words, repeatedly affirm the black ones: as inspired; as truthful; as God’s unbreakable word.

Andrew_Wilson_2-586x328McLaren ends up collapsing the difference between the text and its interpretation, and this leads him into misreading the way the NT relates to the old. When Paul says in Galatians 5:6 that ‘circumcision counts for nothing; the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’, he is not ‘correcting’ Levitical laws, as McLaren claims. In Paul’s own terms, his wide discussion of ‘circumcision’ is in fact a reinterpretation, even if it does not meet our criteria of what interpretation should look like. Understanding this is crucial; as Wilson comments:

Post-evangelicals often present the options as (1) an infallible Bible and an infallible Church, or (2) a correctable Bible and a correctable Church. But if we were to present these options to Jesus or Paul or Moses – or Gregory, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon and the rest – I suspect they would splutter in astonishment and tell us about option (3): an infallible Bible, and a correctable Church. That, surely, is the way to preserve divine authority and human humility; a word from God that never fails, and people that frequently do.

The most basic problem with supersessionism is that it is, at bottom, anti-Semitic. In McLaren’s words:

Jesus and Paul model a new way – a Christian way – of approaching the scriptures.

That is, they dispense with the old way, the Jewish way. Jesus and Paul, not Jewish? Enough said.


My third and last problem with McLaren’s approach is his attitude to history—or lack of it. We are steeped in a culture where the old is primitive, and the new is the only thing worth considering. In fact, we are so steeped in it that we do not even realise. Just as fish are the last to notice the water, we are unaware of this deeply ingrained attitude. I wonder if even the title of McLaren’s book is a symptom of it: the only road that really matters is the brand new one that we make by our own walking, as if no-one had ever trodden this path before us.

By contrast, every NT writer appears to live by the dictum of Jer 6.16: ‘Look for the ancient paths’. They were interested to the point of obsession in how they could prove that this surprising, dramatic, unexpected new thing that God was doing in this strange and inexplicable Jesus was in fact the same old (brand new) thing that God had always done.

So Paul includes from the beginning the ‘first thing’ that had been passed to him and which he passed on is that it all ‘according to the Scriptures’ (1 Cor 15.3–4). His great struggle in Romans 9–11 is an attempt to establish continuity between the ‘gospel’ and God’s dealings with his people Israel. At the start of the first gospel, Matthew goes to enormous lengths to locate the birth of Jesus in this OT story—and to modern eyes he tries far too hard, forcing text which we think don’t fit! At the end of Luke, Jesus ‘interprets’ (rather than ‘explains’) all the Scriptures about him (Luke 24.27).

Apostle_John_and_Marcion_of_Sinope,_from_JPM_LIbrary_MS_748,_11th_cThis sense of history is driven by two concerns. The first was credibility in the ancient world, where anything ‘new’ was suspect, and the ancient traditions were venerated. Hence Josephus writes his apology for his people as ‘The Antiquities of the Jews.’ But a second concern was theological: how could we continue to proclaim that ‘God is one’ (Deut 6.4) if he acts in two different ways? It is no coincidence that Marcion splits God into two: the loving God of the NT revealed in Jesus contrasted with the hateful demiurge of the OT. Anyone who proposes that the NT corrects and replaces the OT is walking down the same path.

There are things in Andrew Wilson’s response that I would want to question. There are difficult things in the Bible that are hard to understand, and sometimes the first word needs to be ‘wait’, followed by ‘think’, before we move too quickly to ‘obey.’ And I am not sure that Wilson’s word ‘unbreakable’ is the first metaphor I would go to to describe the Bible. It makes it sound too much like toughened glass. (Wilson takes the term from John 10.35, but the word luo doesn’t normally have the meaning of ‘break'; it is used of freeing from a binding contract, or untying a ship at anchor. The sense, then, is that we cannot simply loose ourselves and roam free from our Scriptural moorings.) But I will happily give Wilson the last word:

The best way of protecting ourselves from twisting the Bible to fit our agendas, which is always a danger, is not to continually try to correct it, but to continually seek to be corrected by it. Jesus, as always, is at the centre of Christianity. So if we are confused about something – like how we should view the Bible in a generation that dislikes authority, for instance – we can turn to him.

This article first appeared on Ian Paul's blog Psephizo and we are grateful for his permission to republish it here on Fulcrum.

53 Responses to Brian McLaren and the Bible

  1. Dave January 18, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    I was agreeing with Andrew Wilson until I got to his last paragraph “true like Jazz”. This makes the human writers passive instruments.

    God has provided us with more than an infallible book such as is claimed by Mormonism or Islam. He has provided us with the Holy Spirit. It is us that need correcting not the Bible. Often this is the individual to what the best of the church already knew. The Holy Spirit does lead individuals into truth some of which is new to the church. Luther had a new revelation of the significance of justification. John Wesley and William Carey rediscovered home and overseas mission.

    The Holy spirit has been working on the church for 2000 years. I expect that most truths have already been espoused somewhere by the church. McLaren’s talk of anew path is overstated and misleading. Wisdom is to be found by following Jeremiah 6:16 “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” ESV

    • Ian Paul January 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

      Dave, I think I would agree with you. Such illustrations are always partially accurate by their nature…which is why I always avoid them!

      In the terms I have written, Mormonism and Islam have an inerrant text, rather than an infallible one—though Roman Catholicism uses the terms differently.

  2. Phil Almond January 17, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    I would be interested in the responses of Ian Paul and Bowman Walton to this question:
    Did God and Christ say and do all the words and deeds attributed to them in the Bible?
    Phil Almond

    • Ian Paul January 17, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

      Phil, I would be more inclined to offer a response if this didn’t sound like a trick question.

      What is it you are really interested in—how Scripture works, or whether we are ‘sound’?

      • Phil Almond January 17, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

        Ian
        “fulcrum aims to articulate the evangelical centre on a wide range of issues in both church and society”.
        I have always assumed that in this aim Fulcrum must have a view on what the truths of “the evangelical centre” are. As I see it these truths are, or should be, just “the truths of Christianity”. As I have said more than once, my view is that those who regard themselves as Christians and believe that Christianity is in some sense true are fundamentally in disagreement about what the truths of Christianity are. One of the key areas of disagreement is what we understand the Bible to say and mean. This is a vital matter because my overall interest and prayer and hope is that we should all confront ourselves and confront those who are not Christians with the God and Christ of the Bible. I regard the words and deeds of God and Christ given in the Bible as an important indicator of who God and Christ are and what they are like. The question I asked, “Did God and Christ say and do all the words and deeds attributed to them in the Bible?” is my first question in debates where this vital matter is discussed because I believe it immediately grasps one of the nettles which tends to present itself sooner or later, as discussions on the former fulcrum forum exhibit – “Did God command the total destruction of the Amalekites?” – for instance. So I fired the question off straight away.
        I have views on what the truths of Christianity are and I have welcomed the fulcrum website as an opportunity to set out my views, respond to challenges to them, and issue challenges to views expressed which I believe are inadequate expressions of Christian truth or even contradict it. You are one of the few members of the fulcrum Leadership Team who have from time to time interacted with me and disagreed with me on various points, and I commend you for doing that. I believe I have asked the question I asked earlier today on previous occasions and, relying on my memory, which may be faulty on this point, I don’t believe any member of the fulcrum leadership team has ever replied in a definite way. I notice on further study of your article that you approve the quote:
        “The red letters, in other words, repeatedly affirm the black ones: as inspired; as truthful; as God’s unbreakable word”. That makes me think that you would say yes to my question. It is not a trick question. If you are able to say yes that would mean that we are in agreement on this (that would be a good thing wouldn’t it?) even though we disagree on the correct exegesis of the passages relating to the ordination of women. I apologise if your answer is “yes” and if I have given the impression in previous posts that I suspect that your answer is “no”. On a similar theme I have recently been pleased to note that Rachel Marszalek, if I am understanding her post on another thread aright, has said that she believes that Articles 9, 10, 17 and 31 do teach the (dreadful) truths “that all human beings are born spiritually dead, with a nature inclined to evil and facing God’s wrath and condemnation, incapable, without divine grace, of taking any steps towards God, and that God has chosen in eternity those whom he will save and those, those only, will certainly be saved, and that the death of Christ propitiates and satisfies God’s just wrath”. I responded to Rachel to say that I have long suspected that no supporters of the Ordination of Women also believe these truths and that her post rebukes and humbles me and that I hope that her convictions are shared by many other members of Fulcrum, including the Fulcrum Leadership Team, who for some reason have never confirmed explicitly that they do share these convictions. It would please me even more if you could affirm that you agree with us that Articles 9, 10, 17 and 31 are true and that they do teach these (dreadful) truths.

        Phil Almond

      • Bowman Walton January 18, 2015 at 3:31 am #

        Phil says very often that he is interested in both, and I see no reason to doubt that.

        “Il est Charlie.” And as his unchanging question is among the most ancient of Fulcrum traditions, rumour in the village even has it that the mods are planning a gala celebration of its nth iteration.

        Meanwhile, I myself take it as a monthly (or fortnightly, sometimes weekly) opportunity to think about a matter that we really should discuss sometime– the sort of perspicuity that evangelicals should now believe and teach. The Old Princeton view of perspicuity may have been an abject capitulation to modern epistemology that missed the texture of scripture and understated the role of the Holy Spirit, but it was an easy view for anyone to understand and apply. That was a great virtue; Phil is very reluctant to give it up. In contrast, some of the exotic moves by which we now understand the sacred texts are more faithful to the Word written, but for just that reason they elude the understanding of naive moderns, who are as likely to be liberals or progressives as conservatives. Evangelicals do need to be able to give an account of the hope that is in us, and a view of how the Holy Spirit uses scripture to draw us to the Son and the Father must be a part of it. What should it be?

    • Bowman Walton January 18, 2015 at 1:59 am #

      No, Phil. God did not raise St John the Baptist from the dead, nor did Jesus plot to overthrow Rome, yet these deeds are attributed to them by persons in the Bible. Only the Holy Spirit bears true witness to the Father and to the Son.

      • Phil Almond January 18, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

        Bowman
        Are we at cross purposes? I think so and it is because my question was badly put and ambiguous. Let me try again: Did God and Christ say and do all the words and deeds which the Bible asserts they said and did?

        Phil Almond

        • Ian Paul January 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

          The reason that this question is a problem is that you don’t appear to be aware of the issues in it.

          Does God stretch out the sky like a tent curtain? Does he lay the beams of his palace on the rain clouds? Does he store up snow in rooms? Did he lift up his people on the wings of an eagle?

          Is that what you are asking?

        • Ian Paul January 19, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

          You might find an answer to this question (from my point of view) in this post:

          http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/is-god-a-murderer/

          • Phil Almond January 19, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

            Ian and Bowman
            Thank you Ian for pointing me to this incident. As always when we debate about the Bible there are several things I want to say about this and about your other posts. But this incident is an example that enables me to make just one point at this stage.
            Ian sets out “the two ends of a spectrum of possible responses to this incident”. But as I see it, before we analyse possible responses, there is a prior step in which there are only two alternatives: either God said these words or he did not. Which of these two alternatives do you both think is the true one, the true historical fact?
            Phil Almond

          • Ian Paul January 19, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

            Er, as I say in the post ‘There are problems with both ends of the spectrum.’ So I am unclear why you are asking which of these two ends I am at, given that it is a spectrum, not a choice of two boxes to tick.

          • Bowman Walton January 20, 2015 at 4:18 am #

            Again, those who believe in the triune God are posed only with the Holy Spirit’s work through the text we are given. The execution of the man gathering wood on the sabbath exposes the reader to the gravity of divine law. For those adopted in Christ, other considerations lie outside the bounds of revelation.

          • Phil Almond January 20, 2015 at 9:04 am #

            Ian
            At the “God can do what he likes” end of the spectrum you suggest, God did say those words. In the “This cannot be God’s will” end, God did not say those words. I invite you to give some intermediate points on your suggested spectrum between those two ends. I think you will find that they fall into two groups: a group in which God did say those words and a group in which he did not say them. So there are only two alternatives. Which do you think is true?
            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton January 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

            Faith in the Resurrection– a work of the Holy Spirit– necessarily brings the canon along with it, so that it is unnatural for believers to discuss a canonical passage as though it were a flyer left anonymously on their windscreens at a car park. It is wiser to change bad habits than good doctrines.

        • Bowman Walton January 19, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

          No, Phil, I take your concern seriously, but my personal difficulty with your question is that it personifies the Bible in referring to a work of the Holy Spirit. Attributing a work of God to a creature is a grave sin no matter how accustomed to this we may have become. I won’t commit it here or anywhere.

          If memory serves– you or Carl will know the passage I mean– J Gresham Machen took a position on the virgin birth that seems closely relevant to your concern. I take it that his own zeal for the facticity of things mentioned in the text of the scriptures is beyond reasonable question. Yet even he conceded that the virgin birth was hard to understand, and that there was no way that an individual Christian today could prove the facticity of it. Nevertheless, he argued that because the Church was constitutionally bound to the scriptures, it was obliged to publicly confess the account of the virgin birth which we have received.

          To my mind– I think to Christ’s mind– that is weak. It is more nearly right to say that we are bound as believers in the triune God to directly trust the work of the Holy Spirit in the canonical writings of ancient Israel. To only indirectly trust the work of the Holy Spirit because we first think it comports with our own prior sense of ‘what a fact is’ or ‘what a statement is’ etc seems to be something other than than the trust of those who have been adopted in Christ. The godless have no choice but to see things that way, of course, but why should any of us insist on such nescience in the household of faith?

          • Phil Almond January 20, 2015 at 9:11 am #

            Bowman
            You posted
            “No, Phil, I take your concern seriously, but my personal difficulty with your question is that it personifies the Bible in referring to a work of the Holy Spirit. Attributing a work of God to a creature is a grave sin no matter how accustomed to this we may have become. I won’t commit it here or anywhere”.
            I’m sorry but I am not understanding what you are getting at. Please could you kindly explain how asking the question “Did God and Christ say and do all the words and deeds which the Bible asserts they said and did?” “personifies the Bible in referring to a work of the Holy Spirit” and attributes a work of God to a creature.
            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton January 20, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

            Phil, do you see clearly that a bible is a creature like a cat or a motorcycle?

          • Phil Almond January 25, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

            Bowman and Ian
            I assume that the posts to the ‘old’ fulcrum are no longer accessible by people like me who make posts now to the ‘new’ fulcrum. (Am I right in this assumption or am I missing something?) I find this (assumed) inaccessibility a hindrance in engaging in debate and challenge and disagreement on this vital subject, the right view of the Bible, because we have debated and disagreed extensively about this on the ‘old’ fulcrum on several threads. Before the ‘old’ fulcrum became inaccessible I tried to copy (in haste so I cannot guarantee that I captured everything) all my posts to it and all the posts of some of those with whom I had debated or disagreed (Bowman, DavidR, wggrace, djr, but not, unfortunately, Ian Paul). But it is difficult to reconstruct the sequence of posts from separate word documents.
            However looking at my posts from September 2012 to my last post around November 2013, I note an interesting exchange with Bowman around September 2012, ending with me saying in a post on 17 September 2012, “Bowman, Thank you for your response. I want to concentrate on looking at Ephesians 5 so a full response to your post will have to wait……….”. Most of my posts after that were concerned with the women’s ordination issue with just a few about the Bible. So I regard the exchanges on this thread sparked off by Ian’s article as a continuation of the September 2012 exchanges.

            As I see it, and I interpret some of Bowman’s posts and Ian’s article and blog as agreeing with me on this point, if nowhere else, that the question how those who regard themselves as Christians and believe that in some sense Christianity is true should view the Bible (I put it in that general way) is a vital question and is the subject of a long-running debate and disagreement among both scholars and non-scholars. If we all agree on that I suggest that it is appropriate that a thread in the ‘new’ fulcrum should be devoted to this question and I hope that this thread will be it.

            There are multiple points I want to make, as usual, but in this post I would like to begin by asking a question, an obvious question, and a follow-up question, directed to both Ian and Bowman, with the aim of getting myself clearer on your positions. But before that I must try to respond to the two questions, one from each of you, that I have not yet tried to answer.

            On January 20 2015 Bowman asked, “Phil, do you see clearly that a bible is a creature like a cat or a motorcycle?”. I decline to give a yes/no response to that question. Instead I reply that the Bible is a communication from God and Christ to mankind. I base that response on the Bible’s witness to itself: the witness of the Old Testament to itself; the witness of the new Testament to the Old Testament; the witness of the New Testament to itself, and on the harmony between the God and Christ which the Bible ‘gives’ me and the experiential journey in my soul.

            On January 19 2015 Ian asked, “The reason that this question is a problem is that you don’t appear to be aware of the issues in it. Does God stretch out the sky like a tent curtain? Does he lay the beams of his palace on the rain clouds? Does he store up snow in rooms? Did he lift up his people on the wings of an eagle? Is that what you are asking?”

            This question may be challenging me in two possible ways. It may be implying that I am not appreciating that God often uses figurative language to express meaning, as in (I assume) Ian’s reference to Exodus 19:4 and Isaiah 40:22. I do appreciate that and I don’t think it affects my question. Or it may be challenging me to distinguish acts and words of God and Christ which the Bible directly asserts or directly attributes to God or Christ from acts and words which others say that God or Christ did or said. This was the point of Bowman’s post, “No, Phil. God did not raise St John the Baptist from the dead, nor did Jesus plot to overthrow Rome, yet these deeds are attributed to them by persons in the Bible. Only the Holy Spirit bears true witness to the Father and to the Son”. I also recall a debate with DavidR along these lines about the incident recorded in 2 Samuel 21 David’s posts included “…Notice we only have David’s word for this…” and “… Did he (i.e.God) speak to David as he claimed? Did he really require the slaughter of the house of Saul over an incident we have no record of here or anywhere else?…”. If this is the point of Ian’s and Bowman’s challenge, let’s narrow my question to the deeds and words that the Bible directly asserts happened or were said and the deeds and words that the author of a Bible book (e.g. Jeremiah) directly attributes to God or Christ.

            My question to both Ian and Bowman is this: do you ever take any of the commands, rebukes, promises, warnings, statements etc. expressed in the words of God and Christ that the Bible directly asserts were said by them or that the author of a Biblical book directly attributes to them to be addressed to you personally, and do you, in whatever witness you make of your faith, ever point others to any of these words?

            My follow-up question is: if your answer is ‘yes I do’, on what grounds do you do this if not on the grounds that you are convinced that it is a fact that God and Christ did say the words?

            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton January 26, 2015 at 2:30 am #

            Phil, was any province of heaven or earth created by a bible?

          • Bowman Walton January 26, 2015 at 2:43 am #

            Phil, the Holy Spirit does often use words of scripture to communicate with those whom He enables to hear His voice. To the faithful, for example, He speaks in the words of Caiaphas that Jesus died “for the sake of the nation” of Israel. But the Sanhedrin heard nothing but a scheming high priest.

          • Bowman Walton January 26, 2015 at 3:01 am #

            “I believe,” Phil, “in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life… Who spoke by the prophets.” Those Jews who so believed believed in the Son. Those Jews who did not so believe rejected the Son.

          • Bowman Walton January 26, 2015 at 3:28 am #

            So far as I can recall, Phil, our Lord Jesus Christ warned nobody about Hell except persons who believed in the scriptures. And Saul, who surely believed in the scriptures, persecuted those on the Way because the meaning of them had not yet been opened to him from above. Indeed, it seems possible that there could be experts on the scriptures who have no doubt that ‘God and Christ said and did what the Bible says they saiud and did’ where the fire ever burns and the worm dieth not. On the other hand, what did Didymus or the Centurion know about the Torah?

          • Bowman Walton January 26, 2015 at 4:27 am #

            Only God can bring us to God. Indeed, Phil, apart from “the innermost testimony of the Holy Spirit” (Calvin), we cannot recognise some of the bible (eg the Song of Songs) to be about God at all, and we may not see the same God in the Old Testament and in the New (eg Marcion). And when, as Shakespeare says, “the devil quotes scripture for his purposes,” it is by that testimony that we are wary of what we hear. Our doctrine of the Holy Spirit is prior to our doctrine of scripture– logically, historically, experientially.

          • Bowman Walton January 26, 2015 at 4:56 am #

            In short, Phil, although I warmly share your general desire for a more authentic witness to God, the first criterion of that is not what we say about the bible–important as that is, of course– but what we say about the Trinity. Speech that slights the Holy Spirit in favour of the bible bears a witness that is false– logically, historically, experientially– to His life with the Father and with the Son. Personally, I see this, not as a ‘challenge’ to your position, but as a purer statement of the heart of it.

          • Phil Almond January 28, 2015 at 8:16 pm #

            Bowman

            Thank you for your 6 posts in response to my 25 January 2015 post. But I point out that you have not actually answered the questions I put to you and Ian Paul at the end of that post. However your 6 posts perhaps help me to understand better why you are reluctant/unwilling to give a direct, explicit answer.
            I perceive (am I right?) that your misgivings about my view of the Bible, and perhaps about asking my question at all, is that you consider it “slights the Holy Spirit in favour of the bible (and) bears a witness that is false– logically, historically, experientially– to His life with the Father and with the Son.

            In fact I agree wholeheartedly with the following extracts from your 6 posts:

            And Saul, who surely believed in the scriptures, persecuted those on the Way because the meaning of them had not yet been opened to him from above.

            Only God can bring us to God.

            Our doctrine of the Holy Spirit is prior to our doctrine of scripture– logically, historically, experientially.

            Behind all my posts about the Bible and the words of God and Christ has been the conviction that, to quote from the Churchman article you recently referred to,

            “One particular set of rules is the set that starts with the conviction that to know God and be known by him we are utterly dependent on the showing-mercy God taking a unilateral, supernatural and irresistible subjective action in our own dead sinful souls, breathing new life into them”

            and later in that article

            And which regards the processes which should operate on that source (the Bible) to yield subjective and objective knowledge of God as the devout study of and Spirit-enlightened, prayerful and self-abasing meditation on, submission to and faithful embracing of that source by all Christians, and the submission to and faithful embracing of the saving Christ whom that source faithfully sets before us.

            and in a fulcrum post

            God and Christ do communicate in words through the Bible to Spirit enlightened sinners such that the meaning of the communications is the same for the sinners as it is for God and Christ.

            On reflection I should have emphasized more frequently this presupposition that it is the Holy Spirit who graciously convicts us and opens our hearts to believe and submit to what the Bible says, including the words of Christ and God.

            Sorry about that.

            Also I need to say that I agree:

            that God can save people without them knowing about the Bible

            that someone may believe all that the Bible says and yet not be born from above, just as someone may be born from above and be astray or go astray in what they believe, such as denying what the Bible says or believing things that the Bible rules out

            Does this help you at all to give an answer to my questions? Like, “Yes”, or “No”, or “I am still considering it”.

            As I see it, and I think posts to Fulcrum support this, evangelicals who are unhappy with what they perceive (rightly or wrongly – that needs to be discussed) to be the flaws or weaknesses with (let’s call it) Warfield’s view of the Bible, are seeking a better view without sacrificing anything they regard as essential, as you put it in one of your posts: “Evangelicals do need to be able to give an account of the hope that is in us, and a view of how the Holy Spirit uses scripture to draw us to the Son and the Father must be a part of it. What should it be?”

            I want to summarise what seem to be an implication of that view based on your convictions as I understand them. To do so, I would like just to focus on what the Bible says Jesus said – in the gospels, in the Acts (chapter 1 and Saul’s conversion), in “A revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to the slaves of him things which it behoves to occur with speed…..”

            The implication is that the new view will be agnostic about whether Jesus said any of the things that the Bible says he said. In this new view, whatever words of Christ we are certain we have, they will not include any of the words the Bible says Jesus said.

            Do you agree that this is an implication of your view?

            Regards

            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton January 29, 2015 at 6:13 am #

            Thank you, Phil, for your gracious reply. Not having the heart to subject the poor mods to an over-long post, I instead sent several brief pensees on your last comment. You seem to have connected the dots without difficulty.

            On your last question: no, I do not see why acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s work in the scriptures should make us any less confident in the witness to Jesus that we are given in them. Would not just the opposite make more sense? We are not likely to do much better than Richard Bauckham has done in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

            Also, our view of the Holy Spirit working through scripture should be robust enough to account for the midrash that informs the apostles’ own understanding of Jesus. But that is a post for another night.

          • Phil Almond January 30, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

            Bowman
            Since “the witness to Jesus that we are given in them” (the scriptures) includes the assertions that Jesus did say the things that the Scriptures say he said, and you are saying that we should be confident in that witness, “acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s work in the scriptures”, I take it that we agree that Jesus did say the things that the Scriptures say he said. That is, we agree that it is a fact that he did say the things that the Scriptures say he did. If we are agreed on that I am profoundly grateful and I thank you for your post.
            As you say, we need another debate to agree or disagree whether “midrash (that) informs the apostles’ own understanding of Jesus”.
            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 1, 2015 at 4:26 am #

            On midrash and the apostles, Phil, villagers would probably prefer to wait for Ian’s review treating Peter Enns’s thoughts on that topic. But please do feel free to ask about any of my actual comments on texts under the New Testament tab. In those, I am often obliquely testing the hypothesis that the midrashim most important to faith in Christ (eg Daniel 7 + Psalm 110 = Mark 14.62) circulated with much of their Christian meaning before the lifetime of Jesus.

          • Phil Almond February 1, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

            Bowman
            Obviously the controversy at WTS about the views of Peter Enns is one of the key matters in what I referred to in a previous post, the attempt of some evangelicals to find a view of the Bible ‘better’ than (let’s call it) Warfield’s view, without sacrificing or abandoning anything they regard as essential and precious. Now that (I am assuming – am I right?) that you and I agree that it is true, it is a fact, that Jesus did say all that the Bible says he said, I am taking it that you, like me, would reject any such ‘better’ view which did not include that truth, that fact. I don’t know whether Ian Paul is going to give his view on whether he agrees with us. I wonder if we know what Peter Enns’ view is? And of course there is the allied question of whether or not we are all agreed that it is true, it is a fact, that God did say all that the Bible says he said. These two questions about the words of God and of Christ are not all that needs to be debated in the right view of the Bible, but I am convinced that they are a critical litmus test, as it were.

            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 2, 2015 at 5:24 am #

            Phil, believing readers of all ages have tried to do justice both to the diversity– to my mind, the wealth– of scriptural expression, and also to the realities that, when illumined by the Holy Spirit, unify them into a whole. Speaking very roughly, readers before the Reformation did the latter at the expense of the former, and readers since the Enlightenment have done the former at the expense of the latter. So, in our own time, we seldom worry that good readers might assimilate Genesis to Plato, read Proverbs as a Sibylline oracle, allegorise Job until it sounds like Isaiah, or confuse Mark’s ending with Luke’s, but we do find ourselves insisting (among other things) that the Holy Spirit is prior to the scriptures, that the gospels are reliable presentations of the Son, and that the Father is the same in the Old Testament and the New. The main difficulty that believing readers have, now as in the distant past, is in hearing the varied expressions of scripture as presentations of the one Word. There is no viewpoint outside of the scriptures on which they can overcome this difficulty from afar, and inside the scriptures it is only God who can lead them into his light.

          • Phil Almond February 4, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

            Bowman
            In my last post I said, “Now that (I am assuming – am I right?) that you and I agree that it is true, it is a fact, that Jesus did say all that the Bible says he said….”. It would be helpful, please, before we continue our discussion, if you could post to say whether I am right or wrong in that assumption.
            Phil Almond

          • Phil Almond February 7, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

            Bowman
            Sorry to be over-punctilious. If your view is that it is true, that it is a fact, that Jesus did say all that the Bible says he said, please indulge me by confirming that that is your view, even if you feel you have already said that it is your view. I can then move on out of the circle you think I am in.
            Many thanks
            Phil Almond

          • Phil Almond February 8, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

            Bowman

            To try to clarify why I am pressing you on this point:

            On 13 September 2012 I posted this to DavidR:

            ‘What is the difference in meaning between these two statements?

            “It is true that Jesus said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’”
            “It is a fact that Jesus said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’”

            In my view they both mean that it is objectively certain that Jesus said those words.’

            In your 19 January 2015 post you said, among other things,
            ‘To only indirectly trust the work of the Holy Spirit because we first think it comports with our own prior sense of ‘what a fact is’ or ‘what a statement is’ etc seems to be something other than than the trust of those who have been adopted in Christ.’
            I just want to make sure, without any possibility of misunderstanding, that we are definitely agreed that it is true, that it is a fact, that Jesus did say all that the Bible says he said.
            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 9, 2015 at 5:39 am #

            Of course you know, Phil, that only the Holy Spirit can release one from walking in circles by sight rather than straightforwardly by faith. And that Martin Luther rightly insisted that a merely ‘historical’ credulity that accepts reports about the Son as one accepts reports about Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon is not the Spirit-given ‘saving’ faith that trusts in the Son’s promises. Yet your posts sometimes seem to suggest that post-Fall private conjectures about what the Son ‘really’ or ‘truly’ said (such as we find in Julius Caesar’s memoirs) are more ‘true’ than the knowledge of the Son that God gives to those who by faith have been united to Christ. Now it is obvious why the godless believe this– having no faith to show them this knowledge, they see no alternative to their own cognitions. But, Phil, I do not see why a believer would care to check what the Holy Spirit illumines in the Son’s collected words against some private ‘historical’ reconstruction– yours or mine or the Jesus Seminar’s– of what the Son probably ‘really’ or ‘truly’ said. The mere thought of it is a little blasphemous. Perhaps you could explain to us what practical use a believer could have for the merely human opinions that you so diligently seek?

          • Bowman Walton February 9, 2015 at 6:39 am #

            It seems, Phil, that we rely on the reported words of Jesus with the same confidence, but that we understand that confidence in contrasting ways that reflect our different interests and emphases.

          • Phil Almond February 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

            Bowman
            I am flummoxed. In my January 28 2015 post I said, “On reflection I should have emphasized more frequently this presupposition (of mine) that it is the Holy Spirit who graciously convicts us and opens our hearts to believe and submit to what the Bible says, including the words of Christ and God. Sorry about that.”
            So I do not understand why you suggest that I seem to be seeking “some private ‘historical’ reconstruction– yours or mine or the Jesus Seminar’s– of what the Son probably ‘really’ or ‘truly’ said” nor why you think I am diligently seeking “merely human opinions”.
            I note that in your 29 January post you say “I do not see why acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s work in the scriptures should make us any less confident in the witness to Jesus that we are given in them” and in your 9 February post you speak of “what the Holy Spirit illumines in the Son’s collected words”. Could it be that your view is that the Holy Spirit’s work in illumination of and witness to the Son’s collected words, which the believer receives by faith, does not include the conviction that it is true, that it is a fact, that Jesus did say those words? But then I am back to the question I asked at the end of my 25 January post, which I don’t believe you specifically answered. Let me make that question more specific. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to his disciples,
            “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell”.
            When you read those words do you take them as addressed to you personally as a command to be obeyed? If you do, are you not convinced that it is true, it is a fact, that Jesus did say those words?

            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 10, 2015 at 1:22 am #

            Phil, if you do not see how your queries about the probability 0 < p < 1 that Jesus said something closely resemble the Jesus Seminar's votes about the probability black-grey-red that 'the historical Jesus' said it, then perhaps you should rethink them.

            I've downloaded Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology into my Kindle, so if a brief reference to something there can clarify your interest, do feel free to mention it. Although Hodge is often faulted for a weak pneumatology, I would be very surprised to read that he had counseled routine suspicion of the 'testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti' in scripture.

            As always, it seems clear "…that we rely on the reported words of Jesus with the same confidence, but that we understand that confidence in contrasting ways that reflect our different interests and emphases."

            (corrected)

          • Bowman Walton February 11, 2015 at 2:28 am #

            When Brian McLaren proposes a new understanding of the truth in scripture, I wonder why he offers a doctrine about the scriptures– presumably “in their original autographs” (CSBI)– rather than one about the work of the Holy Spirit who has shaped and still illumines them in the Church everywhere. A doctrine about ultimate truth must be about the Creator’s truthfulness to his people.

          • Phil Almond February 14, 2015 at 11:46 am #

            Bowman
            I thought I had made it clear that I am convinced that God and Christ did say all that the Bible says they said and I humbly and thankfully acknowledge my total dependence on the ‘testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti’. Your post implies (have I got this right?) that I am ‘routinely suspicious’. Quite the opposite. My challenge to you and Ian Paul and anybody else is to say whether you agree with me on this ‘litmus test’ of the right view of the Bible. You still have not answered the question I asked at the end of my 9 February 2015 post. Our view of the Bible and the Holy Spirit’s illumination affects what doctrines we believe are true and affects our Christian walk, including our self-mortification, good works, devotional life, what we say to people who are not Christians and our obedience to Christ. This last point is what I was trying to get at with my question. How does the Holy Spirit illumine to you the commands of Christ recorded in the Bible?

            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 15, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

            A very clear post, Phil; thank you for that. To me, whole-hearted reliance upon the TISS rules out any preconditions from man’s side on the Holy Spirit’s presentation of the Son. We cannot specify the theory by which human reason might find that presencing to be real without rejecting it whenever it does not conform to that procrustean notion. Far wiser to be grateful to the Holy Spirit for the variety of ways in which he ‘accommodates’ the eternal Word to the comprehension of sinful human beings. Our doctrine of God is all the doctrine of scripture we need, and it may be all that we can have.

            Although I hardly think that you of all people mean to be suspicious of the Holy Spirit, your posited assumptions about facticity prior to the text can evoke just such suspicion (or doubt) that his work in scripture might (not) measure up to a human standard (eg the Jesus Seminar), either of truth or of meaning. The problem is not with the veracity of the text (cf Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) but with the mere idea of imposing our own culture-bound standard of veracity on the inspired scriptures as a precondition for hearing the eternal Word in them.

            There is certainly a pleasure in feeling that, say in a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, our vivid mental picture of the Lord shows him to us as he was. We are meant to feel that pleasure as we read. But why should we place this stumbling block in the way of others– having them pretend to be Times editors deciding whether to print the scriptures in the news pages when what they need is to listen to the Word of life at his feet?

            You will be the first to see that putting conditions on the text is the wrong frame of mind in which to seek challenging spiritual truth. If a view of scripture encourages such wrongheadedness, is it not counterproductive? Indeed, read with a sense of history, the CSBI actually marks a transition from the old Princeton facticity to the understanding of the variety and depth of the scriptures that we have now. Several decades later, the question is how that understanding should be restated.

            You and I will agree that the scriptures are ‘perspicuous’ with respect to the gospel itself (Articles VI and VIII). A certain plainness of expression is, after all, proper to the starting point of the whole (St Thomas at the Resurrection). Beyond that, however, the Holy Spirit’s work can demand varied attention that modern Christians did not always expect to give, and that no single theory that we have today yet describes. For example, we again hear Christ’s voice in the Old Testament (cf Brevard Childs, Hans Boersma, John Goldingay, etc) in ways that they seldom could.

            That example calls some still-open questions to mind. The apostles did not follow a modern theory in their own use of scripture, but it is not clear how we should understand this. Canonising of scripture is evident in the OT scriptures themselves, but there was probably no single canon of the scriptures of ancient Israel (cf Timothy Lim). Ideas about the Christ that many C20 scholars regarded as post-Resurrection reflection may have actually preceded Jesus in Jewish apocalyptic (cf Daniel Boyarin). Evangelicals among others have published ‘theological’ commentaries that do not hesitate to identify christophanies in the OT (eg the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs), even as systematicians do not see eye-to-eye on the ‘logos asarkos.’ Indeed, so busy have evangelicals been with the OT that next summer, John Goldingay’s publisher will release his tongue-in-cheek collection, Do We Really Need the New Testament? The relation between the two testaments is a perennial question.

            We lack the theoretical wineskins for all this new wine. At least for now, it seems that the truest doctrine– and the one most most helpful to C21 evangelicals– is simply the doctrine of the Trinity, understood in a way that gives all due attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures and their readers.

            (corrected)

          • Bowman Walton February 18, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

            “How does the Holy Spirit illumine to you the commands of Christ recorded in the Bible?”

            Phil, the verses following Mark 7.16-18a exemplify the sort of illumination in which Jesus believed. Conserving words of halacha more than many today acknowledge (v 13), Jesus also recognised an esoteric meaning in those words that is accessible through the illumination that we attribute to the Holy Spirit.

            http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/new-testament/week-2-reading-mark-6-10/#comment-1113

          • Phil Almond February 19, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

            Bowman
            Your February 18 2015 reply to my question from my February 14 post “How does the Holy Spirit illumine to you the commands of Christ recorded in the Bible?” does not answer the question I was trying to put to you. This must be because I have not succeeded in asking the question in a clear way that avoids misunderstanding. Sorry. Let me try again. The question in my February 14 post was a more general version of a more specific question I asked in my February 9 post, “In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to his disciples, ‘And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell’.
            When you read those words do you take them as addressed to you personally as a command to be obeyed? If you do, are you not convinced that it is true, it is a fact, that Jesus did say those words?”.
            Let me put it this way. In the gospels Jesus is recorded as speaking to his disciples in the imperative mood, like the above quote from the sermon on the mount – ‘pluck it out’, ‘cast it from thee’. Other recorded sayings of Jesus lack a verb in the imperative mood but are clearly teachings which Jesus expects his followers to take note of, like, ‘And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.’
            In your February 15 post you say, “The problem is not with the veracity of the text (cf Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) but with the mere idea of imposing our own culture-bound standard of veracity on the inspired scriptures as a precondition for hearing the eternal Word in them”. In my dictionary ‘veracity’ is a noun meaning ‘the quality of being true or accurate’ or ‘the quality of telling the truth’. I understand you to be saying that the text of the above quotes from Matthew and Luke has the quality of being true or accurate and/or the quality of telling the truth. To me this means that the text is true or accurate, and so if the text says that God or Christ said certain things then they did say those things. The mistake I am making, according to your way of thinking, is to impose my own ‘culture-bound standard of veracity on the inspired scriptures as a precondition for hearing the eternal Word in them’. That is not what I am doing. Rather, I am convicted that I must hear and obey these words of Jesus, in line with Jesus’ words, ‘and other sheep I have which are not of this fold; those also it behoves me to bring and the voice of me they will hear, and there will become one flock, one shepherd’. So what ‘standard of veracity’ do you apply to these quotes from Matthew and Luke? Does your standard of veracity lead you to the conviction that Jesus did say these words? And what effect does this application of your standard of veracity have on Jesus’ recorded words in these passages? And how does whatever emerges from that application impact on your Christian walk and obedience to Christ? What do you hear from the eternal Word in them? How does it differ from what Jesus is recorded as saying?
            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 20, 2015 at 2:03 am #

            You remind me, Phil, of a godly bishop who drily commented that there was not a single one-eyed parish in his whole diocese 😉

            Your profound and general question is a pleasure to consider, but it is hard to answer with anything less grand than a memoir, a treatise, a commentary, or all three. And who would want to read any of them?

            Every particular report has its own relation to the whole canon, makes its own inner demand on the hearer, and entails some practical obedience in our lives. We cannot find any of this without the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit, relating what Jesus said then to where we find ourselves now. To God, our dependence on his assistance is at least as important as what we hear in a given text.

            Although many nevertheless misread it, Jesus’s halachic responsum in Mark 7 on the interpretation of the purity law in Galilee exemplifies the closeness of the reading that his reported words can bear. In addition, it shows that he saw even an obviously inapplicable law– the Galileans lived too far from the Temple for it to have applied to them in practice– was a sign of a deeper spiritual duty, one as real in Galilee as in the Temple itself. Even his disciples had not the ears to hear it, and their difficulty in anticipating his explanation shows our need of the Holy Spirit’s assistance to hear what Jesus is saying to them. With that assistance, we ourselves may hear Jesus in Mark 7 pointing to the same reality as his word on eye-plucking, the one you mention above.

          • Phil Almond February 21, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

            Bowman
            Thank you for your post of 20 February 2015. I will have to defer any comment on your last paragraph (‘Although….above’) until I am confident that I understand what you mean. But in this post I focus on your statement ‘Every particular…..given text’.
            This statement slightly revives my hope that we are not so much disagreeing as misunderstanding one another. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement subject to the following qualifications:
            1 Your ‘relating what Jesus said then’ means that it is true (not ‘culture-bound’ true but absolutely true, true for God as well as true for us, it is a fact) that Jesus did say those words.
            2 Your ‘the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit, relating what Jesus said then to where we find ourselves now’ begins by taking the words Jesus is recorded as saying and relates them to where we find ourselves now.
            3 Your ‘what we hear in a given text’ starts with what we read Jesus is recorded as saying.
            4 To God, our dependence on what we read in a given text is as important as his assistance in applying it to our own lives. Because in the gospels Jesus lays great stress on hearing and obeying his words, voice, commands, sayings.
            5 Your ‘without the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit, relating what Jesus said then to where we find ourselves now’ is open to abuse (I am certainly not saying that you would abuse it) if ‘where we find ourselves now’ is used to contradict or seriously modify what Jesus is recorded as saying or, more generally, what the authors of the New Testament wrote.
            6 Your ‘Every particular report has its own relation to the whole canon’. This recalls to my mind the discussions/disagreements I had on the previous version of fulcrum. It was sometimes said that I concentrated too much on the trees and not enough on the wood. I also gave a view on the relationship between the overall themes of the Bible and the specific teachings, because the Bible nowhere states what its overarching paradigm is: in one of my posts I said, ‘But this is how I see it: the route to arrive at that true overarching paradigm is an iterative process. We have to consider the specific teachings of the Bible and the broad themes of the Bible. We have to build up the broad themes from the specific teachings and we have to understand the specific teachings in the light of the broad themes. Sometimes the specific teachings will cause us to modify our understanding of the broad themes; sometimes the broad themes will cause us to modify our understanding of the specific teachings. The specific teachings, if you like, are the dots. The broad themes, if you like, are the way the dots are joined up. But we need to be aware that the dot-picture analogy has a flaw: in a child’s dot picture book the dots are just…dots. They have no significance of themselves. They only acquire meaning (the overall right picture) when they are joined up in the right way. The specific teachings of the Bible are not just dots. They do have significance of themselves. The way I see it is that we can be certain of some specific teachings (not all, I agree) which must be true, ‘stakes in the ground’, irrespective of what the true broad themes are, which our understanding of the broad themes must accommodate and not modify. These are the oft-disparaged ‘proof texts’. As an example: John 3:36. From this verse the following truth is clear and unavoidable: ‘The wrath of God remains on anyone who disobeys the Son. When anyone believes in the Son the wrath of God no longer remains on him but rather he has eternal life. Therefore, to put it in the most general terms, based on this verse alone, something connected with who the Son is, or what the Son has said, is saying or will say, or what the Son has done, is doing or will do, removes the wrath of God from anyone who believes in him’.

            Phil Almond

          • Bowman Walton February 21, 2015 at 9:01 pm #

            Phil, your interest in the facticity of Jesus’s reported teaching seems to have been shared by Origen.

            Why would this famously allegorical exegete care about anything so mundane as a biographical fact? Because, in his view, it was Jesus’s activity as the incarnate Word (cf Mark 7) that makes the spiritual sense of scripture accessible, and indeed unavoidable, to the sanctified reader in the present. For Origen, we hear the Word in the words because Jesus showed us how to listen for them. But for that to happen, Origen, or any other allegorical exegete, needs to know that Jesus too was the Word and how he taught us to read. This is more selective than a surveillance camera, but it is facticity nonetheless.

            This is from the ‘Homiliae in Jesu Nave’, Origen’s commentary on Joshua–

            In this way, we can understand the Law correctly, if Jesus reads it to us, so that, as he reads, we may receive his “mind” and understanding. Or is it not to be thought that he understood “mind” from this, who said, “But we have the ‘mind’ of Christ, that we may know the things which have been given to us by God, which things also we speak?” [1 Cor 2.1-2, 10-13, 16] And [did not] those [have the same understanding] who said “Was not our heart burning within us when he opened the Scriptures in the way?” when he read everything in them, beginning from the Law of Moses up to the prophets, and revealed the things which had been written about himself. [Luke 24.27-45]

            –in PG 12.

          • Bowman Walton February 22, 2015 at 1:31 am #

            With your last post, Phil, we inched over the frontier into the C21. Personally, I did not mind discussing the C19-20, but your points (1)-(4)– all true– may be the last we will see of them. Your (5) and (6) more or less directly touch on uncertainties of the present day, and we approach them with different concerns that lead to different emphases. With respect to your (5), I am much less worried about how faithless readers might rationalise than you are, and perhaps more concerned that faithful readers have a full-strength encounter with God in the sacred pages that includes their situation and subjectivity. Calvin on the eucharistic word is not far from my approach to the scriptural one. With respect to (6), I have no reservations about the gospel of Jesus as the hermeneutic intrinsic to the canonical scriptures, although you and Tom Wright do have such reservations.

  3. Bowman Walton January 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    Ian, your three sensible criticisms of McLaren’s position converge on this– it does not do justice to the centrality of midrashic interpretation in the New Testament.

    • Ian Paul January 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      Bowman, yes, I think you are right. In my other post on my own blog I mention some important studies of the use of the OT in the NT.

      http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-unity-of-scripture-and-the-integrity-of-god/

      • Bowman Walton January 18, 2015 at 1:31 am #

        Thanks for the link, Ian. Peter Enns proposes that biblical authority among evangelicals be congruent with apostolic use of OT scripture. Have you blogged on his proposals?

        • Ian Paul January 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

          Am planning to. I have a review of his book in the pipeline.

          • Bowman Walton January 19, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

            Excellent. If you have not done so already, you might treat yourself to a skim of Daniel Boyarin’s Jewish Gospel for an academic (UC Berkeley) talmudist’s popular account of Christian origins and scriptures. Quick, cheap, easy. Opinions on it differ– Larry Hurtado is cool to it; Richard Hays largely agrees with it– but it is the most mind-clearing alternative yet to the standard C20 narrative. In assessing arguments like those of Enns, it is probably wise to keep the Jewish scholarship on closely related matters in mind.

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