Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Problem of Truth and Idolatry

I've been following Dr. Pete Enns's blog as of late. There are many things that we agree on and, significantly, many things that we disagree on. On the agreement side, we both see the need to break out of a fundamentalistic understanding of Sola Scriptura (for the simple fact that it plain doesn't exist in any meaningful fashion); on the disagreement side, I'll never be an evolution subscriber as I don't see conclusive scientific evidence that makes evolutionary theory the best (or only) theory of biological/physical origins. I also am not a scientist, so I don't feel qualified to speak too much about the issue anyway.

As I was reading through a couple of his posts concerning the Conquest of Canaan and the various historical, archaeological, moral, and theological quandaries that stem from that event, I had a bit of an epiphany concerning both that debate and the evolution/creation debate. Both sides (to reduce it that way) rely, at least stereotypically, on a privileging of truth-method. (Note: I'm not saying Dr. Enns holds either of the views I'm going to superficially illustrate -- his blog posts served as a board from which to dive into these waters.) Those who argue for evolutionary origins or a non-occurrence of the Conquest (or the Exodus or David, etc.) often rely too heavily on scientific methodology to base their truth claims. If Kathleen Kenyon says Jericho wasn't destroyed by the Israelites, then it must not have happened (per example). The "facts of scientific investigation" don't back up the Biblical narrative. Or, given the various evidences about the age of the earth, we could say that the Biblical chronologies cannot be accurate. Either way, the main interpreter of the text is scientific findings. This, of course, has been rehearsed by many polemicists much brighter than myself.

The point I'm trying to make, though, is that often those on the other side privilege a literal-historical reading of the text over any other interpretive method. If the Bible "says" it happened this way, then it must have, regardless of any errant scientific findings. If the Bible "says" Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, then somewhere in the past a man named Jonah must have been swallowed by a fish. And so on. So, the Conquest must have happened in such-and-such a way, otherwise all of Biblical truth is at stake. If Adam was not a real historical person, then (the argument goes) Christ's resurrection loses its historical moorings. Whether or not these are valid conclusions, of course, remains to be argued. I've no interest in doing that now.

Both groups privilege one method of interpretation that is, regardless of method, detached from a basis in the living Tradition of the Church, that is, the holy Spirit "leading into all truth" (Jn. 16:13). Both seek an objectivity that is unmoored from the catechetical and theotic purposes of the Church reading, interpreting, and applying the Scriptures. Both are valid ways of addressing the text, but only if they come under the rubric of Christ's Spirit in Christ's Body, otherwise they are idolatry, seeking to make God over in our interpretive image. Any and all interpretive methods of the Scriptures must be connected to the living Spirit: now this does open the questions of who has the Spirit and who has authority (both questions, really, are the same question)? These are questions that I am not, as of now, qualified to answer. However, they do need to be brought up and prayerfully reckoned with in the Body. Too much is at stake, but possibly not what we normally think is at stake. Our readings of Scriptures will come and go, but a union with the Spirit is the definition of eternal salvation.

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