Sunday, August 07, 2005

Drive-Thru Spirituality

In my Monoemania thread below, a poster named Greg states:
Enloe is merely a caracature of the Steve Hays, PP, White, Swendsen, King types. Enloe thinks biblical understanding can be found by reading a thousand primary sources in pre-Reformation church history, whereas you others think reading a commentary 'cover to cover' (the more modern and "up to date scholarship" the better!) actually gives you understanding of the Bible that can only be received and developed via reading the Bible itself with the illumination of the Holy Spirit inside you.

It might be worthwhile to discuss this post, not because of anything particular to Greg, but because of the attitude entailed by the post, which is not an uncommon attitude among some Christians today.

Proceeding with the discussion:

(1) I'll let the comments on Enloe pass, with one exception: it doesn't seem remotely fair [from my corner of the world] to assert that he "thinks biblical understanding can be found by reading a thousand primary sources in pre-Reformation church history." I don't think he's ever said or implied this, based on his material.

Greg then states, in contradistinction to Enloe, that others think reading a commentary 'cover to cover' (the more modern and "up to date scholarship" the better!) actually gives you understanding of the Bible that can only be received and developed via reading the Bible itself with the illumination of the Holy Spirit inside you.

By way of reply:

(2) Greg is in factual error here, as I'm a big fan of the "Victorian"-styled commentaries and such. In fact, my studies/commentaries by Bishop Lightfoot and Archbishop R.C. Trench, to name a few, have been most edifying in my studies. These are, Greg will note, 19th century works. I also have a soft spot for RCH Lenski's NT Commentary set, written in the first half of the 20th century. And the Ante-Nicene Fathers set, the Aquinas commentaries, the Luther commentaries, etc aren't on my shelf just for show either.

(3) Greg's mindreading exercise continues with another false assertion. The terms "modern" and "up-to-date scholarship" are neutral in my book, giving a book no more a priori value than, say, a golden oldie by Trench.

There are times when "modern" is a good thing. For example, Moo's NICNT volume on Romans [replacing Murray's volume] is modern-in-a-good-way in the sense that it supposedly interacts with the New Perspective on Paul. This is something that, say, Cranfield's two-volume ICC set reall doesn't do. So, if one wants to see Evangelical response to the NPoP, a more modern Moo might be more useful than a Cranfield.

On the other hand, when "modern" is used in an argument-by-labelling sense, being "modern" may very well be a bad thing. For example, in Morris' NICNT volume on John, where he discusses various theories of authorship of the Fourth Gospel [coming to the conclusion that the traditional claim of John's authorship presents the least difficulties, though it has its own set of difficulties too], a scholar by the name of Kysar is quoted as saying that Morris' argumentation is [giving the approximate sense of the words here] "more at home with 19th century criticism than with modern form criticism." And I've been told myself that I'm "precritical" or hopelessly non-modern my thinking. Perhaps I am. But merely labelling me as such does nothing to bolster one's case for or against me. So in this sense, "modern" isn't anything good, as I reject most if not all of the assumptions of mainstream modern criticism.

(4) Greg seems to be making the claim that "understanding of the Bible that can only be received and developed via reading the Bible itself with the illumination of the Holy Spirit inside you."

In response:

(a) The Bible is a collection of writings, each of which, being thousands of years removed from our language, culture, historical situation, etc, are not matters of trivia.

(i) For example, Hebrews requires a knowledge of the OT cultus.
(ii) Allusions by Paul in Romans and Galatians require background with Genesis.
(iii) The understanding of Jesus in a prophetic sense requires some understanding of OT prophecy, which in and of itself is a rather tricky affair.

(b) Greg and others sympathetic to his position would seem to think that the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting on these matters. Since I'm roaming through Romans right now with Cranfield, here are some good questions for those illuminated by the Holy Spirit:

(i) Rom 1:16-17: Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, Δικαιοσυνη γαρ Θεου is revealed in the good news. What sort of genitive is Θεου here, and what exactly does Δικαιοσυνη mean? Is the genitive subjective and does Δικαιοσυνη refer to God's activity, so that the righteousness of God means something akin to God's making us righteous, not only in terms of status but also in terms of ethics? On the other hand, is the genitive a genitive of origin with Δικαιοσυνη referring to "man's righteous status which is the result of God's action of justifying"? As this verse is a lynchpin of Protestant thinking, it is very important do understand the words and the genitive here.

(ii) Rom 4:1: Having been justified by faith, is Paul stating "let us have peace with God" [εχωμεν], a hortatory subjunctive, or is Paul merely being indicative here, stating "we have peace with God" [εχομεν]. This isn't a trivial matter either.

(iii) Rom 5:12: Here we have εφ’ω παντες ημαρτον. [Note: I can't figure out how to get diacritical marks in MS Word. The omega requires a smooth breathing and an iota subscript.] What does this mean?

Is the dative relative ω masucline with death as its antecedent?

Is ω masculine with "one man" as its antecedent?

Is, say, εφ’ω to be taken together conjunctively, meaning "because" ?

Is, say, the dative relative ω neuter instead of masculine, with some thing or concept being its antecedent?

(iv) Rom 9:5 Is Jesus explicitly called Θεος here, so that we have as explicit an expression of the full deity of Christ as possible, or is Paul giving a separate doxology to God the Father?

These are four good questions for those who, if I understand Greg correctly, are, like him, illuminated by the HS inside of them. Does the Spirit say "masucline, not neuter!!" relative to the relative in Rom 5:12? Does the Spirit say what the actual punctuation in Rom 9:5 was?

So far as I know, responsible exegesis tries to root itself in objective reasoning, word-usage, considerations of context, etc, rather than some subjective experience whereby we think the Spirit says such-and-such. Responsible exegesis, alas, takes up a certain degree of time and effort, unlike the quick-and-easy illumination by the Holy Spirit that has no control nor testability.

Reading the Bible, for me at least, is rather boring at times. Reading commentaries, more often than not, isn't as exciting as reading an Asimov robot story or goofing off with my computer poker program. But the question is this: since we think the OT and NT constitute God's revelation to us, do we want to be careful with the text or not? Do we want to take the time to study things carefully or not?

Those with a quick-and-convenient spirituality seem to have all the fun, and they get done more quickly too, appealing to the Holy Spirit like some charismatics do.

You see, the Holy Spirit is a substitute for carefully studying something. Relying on the Holy Spirit or the Magisterium or the Prophet in Salt Lake City or the Watchtower or whomever, when compared to sober and careful study [which, alas, is not often highlighted by trumpet blasts of definitiveness by the HS on the stickier exegetical questions], isn't much more than wanting a drive-thru window where goodies are handed out quickly on the cheap without one needing to put forth the effort of getting out of one's car.


Anonymous greg said...

Not having a fallacy dictionary ready to hand I'll not go into your sins along those lines and allow other readers to draw their own conclusions, but I'll just say this: reading the Bible is hardly the easy way out. It, in fact, requires more effort and directed-attention than any secondary or reference book by a considerable degree.

Everything else you've stated, aside from making my point rather hilariously, also demonstrates this: when you have your nose pressed against the bark of a single tree you aren't seeing the forest as a whole. To get understanding of the Bible you have to see the parts in relation to the whole, which requires seeing the whole to begin with. Only complete readings will accomplish this. Complete readings of commentaries will not accomplish this.

As for the value of teachers and commentaries and dictionaries and what not in general: they make a good slave but a poor master, to paraphrase an old saying.

Sunday, August 07, 2005 7:16:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Wow, a Dave Armstrong Bluff --- you *could* enumerate the deficiencies of the post but you won't. Feel free to be specific at any time you please.

I'm not sure if you know this, but both Blogger and this sleepy internet burg of mine don't have argument and evidence detectors that capriciously remove argumentation from one's claims. So, if you'd like to post, feel free to insert an argument for your claims --- both myself and the site administrator promise not to delete them, if you should care to make them sometime.

The rest of your post consists (i) of trite truisms that I wouldn't dispute and haven't disputed, and (ii) reactions to things I never came close to saying.

Keeping the serious note here, what does your Spirit-given illumination tell you regarding the passages I mention?

Sunday, August 07, 2005 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous greg said...

Your sarcasm is neither clever or funny. It's angry. As for fallacies (something I'm not as in love with cataloguing due to the fact that I have little interest in sophistical dialogue using accusations of fallacies and demands for correct argumentation as tactics to disguise positions that are empty to begin with (yes, without the Word and the Spirit all you do and say is empty), nevertheless, look into this string of words:

"reactions to things I never came close to saying"

Good projec-, hm, point.

Monday, August 08, 2005 12:39:00 AM  

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