A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Character of God and the Nature of Scripture: Reading the Bible Incarnationally #5-- Fundamentalist and Progressive Interpretations of Scripture are Simply Two Sides of the Same Coin

I've been meaning to get back my series on reading the Bible Incarnationally, but I have had other obligations that have prevented me from doing so. The via media Methodists have published a post on rejecting both the fundamentalist and progressive options in reading the Bible. They quote Stanley Hauerwas:
…the debate between fundamentalists and biblical critics is really more a debate between friends who share many of the same assumptions. The most prominent shared assumption is that the interpretation of the biblical texts is not a political process involving questions of power and authority. By privileging the individual interpreter, who is thought capable of discerning the meaning of the text apart form the consideration of the good ends of a community, fundamentalists and biblical critics make the Church incidental.

 The power of this text shows up in an excessive theological conservatism that has transposed fidelity into certitudes that are absolutes about morality as about theology, as though somewhere there are rational formulations that will powerfully veto the human ambiguities so palpable among us. The power of this text also shows up in overstated theological liberalism in which every woman and every man is one's own pope, in which autonomous freedom becomes a fetish and all notions of communal accountability evaporate into a polite but innocuous mantra of "each to her or his own."

Indeed, and in so doing both fundamentalists and progressives end up with their own brand of civil religion. James Hunter writes that civil religion is
a diffuse amalgamation of religious values that is synthesized with the civic creeds of the nation; in which the life and mission of the church is conflated with the life and mission of the country. American values are, in substance, biblical prophetic values; American identity is, thus, vaguely Christian identity" (Hunter, To Change the World, p. 145).
The truth of the matter is that both fundamentalist and progressive readings of Scripture have become all too predictable and all too uninteresting. There is indeed a better way. The via media post states it well. "A focus on the person and work of Christ as the primary hermeneutic lens through which to read Scripture thus upends the Pharisees on the left and the right, for whom the only lens is The Agenda.  The teaching and the way of Christ are best determined and lived out in the community of faith, the Church."

As I have said before, if there are modern day Pharisees, they are not the legalists. They are the fundamentalists and the progressives who functionally reject the way of the cross (Philippians 2:1-11) in favor of the kind of power that marginalizes and seeks to eliminate those who refuse to get with their agenda. Their hermeneutic is indeed determined by their agenda.

Hauerwas is correct. Both approaches to Scripture have corrupted our use of the Bible.

I will address the Incarnational lens and the Old Testament in the next post.


James W Lung said...

Yes, and no. Fundamentalists (and most evangelicals) have the same modernist goggles on as they read scripture as progressives. One parameter in those lenses is autonomous individualism -- every man her own Pope and professor of ethics.

Fundamentalists critique modernity but operate within modernist presuppositions (with a good dose of Gnosticism thrown in). The progressive is a liberal protestant who learned how to say post-modern. Same lenses, different filter.

I can't spell hermanyutic. I do know that the community formed by the story of the B. I. B. L. E. is the people of God in time, beginning at the Beginning. That is the community we look to tell us story and our place in it.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I appreciate your interesting comments.

I would slightly disagree in saying that progressives are just as taken with modern assumptions as are fundamentalists, and that all too often progressive understandings of postmodernism are often modernism regurgitated in postmodern garb.

But I must say I like your idea of same lenses different filter. I think that is helpful.