Scot McKnight has an excellent post on how the emerging church views the Bible, which is different than traditional evangelicalism. Scot explains better than I could, but in a nutshell, the traditional evangelical view says that because we have Scripture and we know it’s absolutely true, we can know what God is like by referring to Scripture. The emerging church view says that because we know Jesus’ teachings, we know what Jesus is like and therefore what God is like, and the Scripture is given to aid in this purpose.
I’m adding to what Scot says so I hope I’ve not gone off-base… but in the traditional evangelical view, if the authority of Scripture is undermined, you have nothing because you’ve lost your means of knowing God is true. In the emerging view, if the authority of Scripture is undermined, you only have Jesus, but you have a barrier to understanding the exact words of his teachings. For this reason, the emerging view may see inerrancy as a non-critical doctrine, which can tend to make the traditional evangelical set reach for the matches and kindling. But from the emerging viewpoint, inerrancy is perhaps not such a huge deal, as long as the overal tone or nature of Jesus’ teachings is preserved, which is possible without claiming absolute inerrancy.
We might sum it up by saying that if traditional evangelicalism attempts to understand God and how we are to live by considering the Bible, the emerging view attempts to understand God and how we are to live by considering the life of Jesus first and foremost. Given that John uses the metaphor of the Word for Jesus, we might try and reason that this gulf is not that wide… but it really is a hugely different approach to Christianity.
In fact, the emerging view will tend to approach Scripture by asking how Jesus might apply it. Coincidentally, but in a timely fashion, Paul Fromont has devised a set of questions for approaching Scripture with the specific intent of looking at it through missional eyes. On the subject of being missional as the primary call of the church, we return to Scot McKnight, who offers his thoughts on the subject, saying, “The emergent movement’s strongest asset and its clear prophetic voice is around this idea: the purpose of the Church, the local church, is to be a missional community.”
Even in theological seminary circles, there is an ongoing debate re: “exact wording” and “exact voice” — even the most conservative are stating that every “translation” of the Bible is really a paraphrase, where capturing the “exact voice” (meaning) of the passage is more important that a literal, word-for-word translation (which would actually lose its meaning in our present context).
nice add-on to Scot’s post. yeah absolute truth is going to be a sticky pinecone in evangelicals pants. anywho, appreciate these thoughts.
I see where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure I’m with you 100% – I think you’re actually hitting on two different issues here. One is hermeneutic – and there is, in my opinion, a clear difference between more traditional evangelical (particularly of the Reformed variety) and emerging church approaches. I think what you’re hitting at here is more the hermeneutic. Emerging church folks tend, I think, to interpret Scripture in light of Jesus – he provides the grid through which we read the rest of Scripure. Other approaches have tended to understand Jesus more in light of Paul, so that Jesus (in my view) tends to be reinterpreted to fit what is assumed to be the correct approach to Paul – which does some really odd things to both of them, but that’s getting a bit far afield. So the key difference in hermeneutic I think is in the starting point – maybe a simplistic approach but I think it’s fair.
As to inerrancy, I’m not sure that’s so much a question of how we understand Jesus as it is an approach to Scripture itself. I think there’s more of an affinity with an approach like NT Wright’s that says the authority isn’t so much in the text itself as it is in the Spirit speaking through the text. So inerrancy takes a backseat, because the authority isn’t in proving non-contradiction and historical accuracy so much as it is in scripture serving as the place where we encounter the Spirit. Also, I think there’s more of a willingness to let scripture be enculturated instead of timeless. For example, strict inerrancy might require a belief in a literal six-day creation, whereas a view that understands the parallels between Genesis and other Mesopotamian creation accounts might look rather for what the Spirit desires to say through this particular creation account rather than hold it up as a literal history. (There are more nuanced approaches to inerrancy though that don’t go this far, which I think have a lot more in common with an emerging church approach.)
Anyway, just a few thoughts…
Thanks for your thoughts here. One of the joys of blogging is that you can toss up an idea for comments before you’re even through turning it around, shaping and forming it… I think your distinctions/clarifications really help frame what I’m getting at. EC definitely uses a different hermeneutic, and one which, to a point, can live without inerrancy. Here I’m mixing the two thrusts of what I’m saying, but the point is that EC approaches Scripture so differently that it’s not as simple as the starting point or hermeneutic alone… it also includes a difference of opinion over the exact nature of what we’re interpreting.
The main outworking that gave rise to my post was the observation of some fundamental differences between EC and TE (traditional evangelicalism), which lead to TE’s asking things like (to stick with the example) how on earth we could be so out-to-lunch as to say that creation might not have been 6 actual days because pretty soon we’ll be believing in evolution… and EC’s not clueing into what the big deal is. It isn’t that EC would be arguing that scripture is not inerrant (or literal or historical) so much as they’d be arguing that it doesn’t really matter, because it still teaches us.
Well said – my thoughts exactly. It starts with a different view of authority – not that scripture is or isn’t authoritative, but rather in what way is it authoritative. Hence the whole question of inerrancy, and why it doesn’t matter as much, as you said. That’s also, as clark says, perhaps one of the reasons that the whole nature of truth is such a big deal to traditional evangelicals – if you mess with how they’ve framed truth, you’re messing with their understanding of authority (among other things). On top of that are the hermeneutical issues, and suddenly we’ve practically got a bar fight. ;) Great thoughts.
“We might sum it up by saying that if traditional evangelicalism attempts to understand God and how we are to live by considering the Bible, the emerging view attempts to understand God and how we are to live by considering the life of Jesus first and foremost.”
I’m lost. What do we know about the life of Jesus that we did not get from the Bible?
I could suggest that we have the works of Josephus etc. but that’s not what you’re after, and it’s not the primary source anyway. What I’m saying here is not that what we know of Jesus outside the Bible is important, but what we know of Jesus from all sources that’s important though that’s not quite it either, we’re still looking to the Bible pretty much exclusively. The main difference is the view that even if (and I’m not saying I or EC does) we view the Bible as a historical document that contains errors and inconsistencies, it tells us enough about Jesus that we can recognize the pattern and message of his teaching and follow that. Basically scripture as we have it doesn’t need to be inerrant for us to understand Jesus’ message, his divine nature, or the significance of his death and resurrection.
The practical difference would be to say that it really doesn’t matter so much which particular Greek word Jesus used here or there… what matters most is the overall message he presented and the way he showed us we should live.
All that said, most within EC don’t hold anything like a liberal or heretical view of scripture.
OK, at least I now understand what you are saying, although I think to say that the original Greek does not matter is a pretty dangerous stance. Things DO get lost in translation, and what was originally said DOES matter. Having said that, though, I would grant that if the real meaning of a certain Greek word or phrase has been obscured over the centuries and can now be transated several ways, then it makes sense to look in the direction of a translation that meshes with the “overall message.”
Right… it’s not that the original Greek doesn’t matter at all, but there are times when evangelical theology gets stymied over a single word.
For example, some understandings of divorce and remarriage all hinge on the meaning of the Greek word porneia, which is unfortunately not a word that occurs with any frequency so that we can properly understand its range of meaning in context. The cruel thing is that some people can sit around waiting while the theologs discuss what the word probably means so that they can find out whether or not their church will remarry them. Then they come back and say, “Yeah, I know your ex-husband beat you senseless, but that’s not what porneia means. Sorry.” Somehow, I can’t see Jesus saying that.
Another example: Jesus said the mustard see was the “smallest seed”, which it isn’t. If faith hinges on inerrancy, then this statement must be somehow explained and various cultural, scientific, contextual, and linguistic gymnastics have been attempted to do so. And evangelicals must, because if the Bible records Jesus saying something that isn’t true, we have a problem, because the Bible is inerrant and God is omniscient. otoh, if we can “relax” on this just a little, it no longer matters whether or not the mustard seed is the smallest seed, and we move onto what his message was in that passage.
I do understand the fear that this is the “thin edge of the wedge” or a “slippery slope” but at the end of the day what lies at the heart of it is a concern for the centrality of Christ and not “Bibliolatry” where the Bible becomes in a sense an idol that keeps us from Christ. We can come to love the interpretation of scripture more than we love the message of scripture… and that’s the real “thin edge of the wedge.”
Gosh, if nothing else, this is an interesting board to read what other people think that people like me think! Educational to say the least.
Opie: no worries, I really don’t know what “people like you” are or think, as I still haven’t figured you all out yet you keep bursting out of the box! ;^)
Sometimes I go a bit overboard in trying to be clear, especially if I’m saying something that some people might find a bit “dodgy.” In context, those following along will probably get it without any problems… so maybe I’m trying too hard not to be misunderstood. I just don’t want DA Carson to misrepresent what I think in a book criticizing me harshly!
The examples I gave are not based on what I think you believe (that would be unnecessarily and pointlessly argumentative); they are observations I’ve made from my own past, and in part they inform my current positions… which is why I selected them to illustrate the position I’m trying to clarify.
Didn’t mean to offend… but on that note, I can’t have offended you too badly I notice you blogrolled me today, which I appreciate. Thank-you for your kind words in the announcement, my Methodist friend.