A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why the Bible is Important

As a liberal protestant ; here’s my stab at the question of why we ought to engage the Bible even if it's all too human origins has become apparent.

How is revelation determined? Presumably determining the good in life, the wise would be of a similar basis as how you would go about the same question. The difference is we’re engaging a particular story, the resources of a given tradition.

What is revelatory, we couldn’t be dead certain but whatever points to life, to community, to well being, etc. in the tradition tells us something about God. Could other traditions do likewise? Yes. But this is our story.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t other good stories. It does mean this is the one we’ve been shaped by, our imaginations caught by. And from it, we get the good the bad the ugly.

If you think of it like family, we can recognize the value of other families and recognize something uniquely valuable, important to our self constitution in our family. They don’t simply get replaced even if we recognize there are other loving families.

There is no “clutter free” zone, so that dumping the Bible doesn't place one in an "easy place." There's no place where we escape our history. It’s a question of what tradition to engage and why.

No story is not uncomplicated, problematic, including that of the western enlightenment. So there isn’t an easier route. There’s much to commend western humanism but being easier is not one of them. Nor should it be. Otherwise it wouldn’t be true to life and it’s own history.


At 8:57 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

Since the bible is a product of a community, every last word "points to community". Presumably all of it points to well being as far as the community which produced it believes.

If you think bits of it don't, then you must believe yourself to be higher than the community. That's rather non-communal of you, which isn't good for well being.

At 9:08 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I think I'm writing about the principle of community itself, not referencing one specific kind of community.

At 5:20 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

Here's where liberal thinking gets bogged down in contradictions.

You're going to reject parts of the New Testament community as bad based on your own personal ideas about what you see as a more ideal community.

You reject aspects of the NT community, and the NT community rejects aspects of other communities.

The difference is, the NT community is open about what it rejects, you pretend as if you live on some kind of higher plane where you are not rejecting things. But you are, and you do it every day on this blog.

At 10:23 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'm pretty open about what I reject. Where have I indicated a lack of openness on that score?

At 10:36 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

In any case, this conversation is based on a misreading of my claim. I wrote that what builds up community (among a long list of other things) indicates the divine.

That doesn't mean I will happen to agree with every position or action of every existent community. I'm not sure how one would begin to connect these two claims. Sometimes community life is made better by the person who is the contrarian to the community (Socrates, Jesus were certainly contrarians)

At 10:44 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

Ok let me restate it. You are open about what you reject, but then pretend to live on a higher plane where you don't discriminate against communities. You write here against fundamentalist communities every day complaining that they write against liberal communities.

This leaves you in no better place morally, and in a much worse place when judged against the standards of the Christ who founded the Christian community.

In other words, if you have no objective standard, you're in the same place. If you have a standard instituted by Christ (aka 'Christian') you are much worse off.

"I wrote that what builds up community (among a long list of other things) indicates the divine. "

Firstly - who said?

Secondly, if throwing virgins into the mountain is popular with the community and building up its cohesiveness, then its divine?

Thirdly, by what standard are you going to measure this "building up"? By week to week attendance at your little group? Or by 2000 years of church history about what standards have led to the building up and continuation of society? I could apply your "rules" and conclude that traditional Christianity is clearly the answer to your criteria.

At 4:14 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

How am I discriminating again? I haven't advocated heresy trials or throwing people out of the church. Nor have I proposed splitting the church. Those are all right wing solutions. If I make any stands this goes against community? As for 2000 years, yes and I do have continuity with that tradition and claim it. And I participate in the life of the church universal in similar fashion.

At 7:44 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

You discriminate against people who hold heresy trials and throw people out of the church.

All communities protect themselves against undesirable elements. In the secular world there is jail. In clubs there are rules, bylaws, dress codes, and so forth.

Liberal communities spend their time beating up on conservatives. Conservatives kick out liberals.

Given your apparent views expressed in this blog, if the pastor in your church or community started openly preaching against your views, I'm sure you would either try and push him out, or else you would leave and join some other community. I don't see you as the type who would just hang around having a message preached to you week after week that you are completely opposed to.

You're not against "splitting the church"? But I'll bet your church comes from splitting off from some other church.

"If I make any stands this goes against community? "

Uh yeah, if you make a stand against the community, then that is against the community.

"As for 2000 years, yes and I do have continuity with that tradition and claim it."

So in your future blog articles, I shall expect to see quotes from the church fathers supporting your contentions?

At 8:25 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Taking a stand does not mean taking a stand against the community. Disagreement is not discrimination. I do quote Augustine a bit through my site, he's a church father of a sort. My denomination has a broad range of conservative, liberal, and folks in between in membership and clergy and I take it as a strength. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was not started as a church split. It was started from scratch in the US.

At 7:43 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

Disciples of Christ began when 5 persons announced they were withdrawing from the Presbyterian Church to start a new Church. That's called splitting off from a pre-existing church.

And in fact, the Disciples of Christ split off from the Churches of Christ, with Disciples being the liberal faction in that split.

"Taking a stand does not mean taking a stand against the community."

You mean if you take a stand _with_ the community instead of against it? Except you take many stands against various communities.

"I do quote Augustine a bit through my site, he's a church father of a sort."

He is indeed a church father, but he would have excommunicated you, if you'd been around at the time. So I'm not sure how you can cite Augustine as evidence you belong in a 2000 year old tradition.

"My denomination has a broad range of conservative, liberal, and folks in between in membership and clergy and I take it as a strength."

Then there must be a ton of fighting and arguing going on in your denomination, because if someone in my Church did some of the things they do in Disciples of Christ, there would be out . Which is not very conducive to holiness or even getting anything done.

I see recent news articles about moves afoot for conservatives to split:


It's a characteristic of liberals that they claim to be easy going about what everyone else believes. But it is this very attitude which _causes_ distress to conservatives, who do not believe that any old belief is acceptable.

It's like the old joke about claiming "I haven't had any car accidents", but with the retort "yeah, but how many have you caused?". Liberals may not initiate many schisms, but they cause most of them.

So what might we conclude? Despite the lip service you pay to saying community is more important than traditional doctrine, you'd rather split the church with radical doctrine, than hold traditional doctrine to maintain community. Your actions speak volumes more than empty words.

It's a bit like beating your wife, and when she divorces you, proudly proclaiming that it was her that left you, and not vice-versa. The claim rings hollow and screams hypocrisy.

At 2:49 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Few quick notes:

5 people a split? I think you're stretching the meaning a word a bit. And as for the Disciples and Churches of Christ, the split was mutual and happened over so many decades (as in there was no vote, they simply ceases to associate much with each other, it took over 20 years before the census had even made note of this movement). Thankfully the Churches of Christ and Disciples are in dialogue, have had conventions together, do a number of joint work. That sort of ecumenism is important (and it's been important for the Disciples understanding of what the church is)

As for liberals causing splits because they are liberal and what else can conservativesdo but kick them out, that reminds me of the wife beater who says the wife gets him upset, so what can he do?

Also I think you think that we have had some uniform history. We haven't, not even within Catholicism. There's been a lot of doctrinal and other changes in the church and indications of some plurality. The difference is that I think such a thing can be good, can be a divine corrective. To build community is not the same thing as to lose individuality or shut off the room for dissent.

The conservative split came to not, your article is over 10 years old. The reason we can allow for such a diversity is no one side is able to enforce their understanding on everyone else. I consider that a good thing. And I'm just as aggrieved when I see liberals in the Episcopal Church mandate their will as much as when conservatives do it in the Methodist church. I think John Stuart Mill gives us a better way of relating to dissent then what many churches have come up with.

I find a great amount of continuity with Augustine but you're right. There is discontinuities as well. We're over 1500 years later now. I doubt everyone mirrors all his thoughts today. But I think there a better compliments we can pay to our history then simply repeating the past. The question is how to relate Christian faith so as to be intelligible today. In that a lot of outreach has been done to relate to folks who would never have walked into a church before. That's evangelism and I count it as a good thing.

At 12:56 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

After 5 people split, they proceeded to poach people from other groups.

5 or 5000, what's the difference? There was one church for 1000 years, now there are thousands of churches, several of which are attributable to those 5 people.

"As for liberals causing splits because they are liberal and what else can conservativesdo but kick them out, that reminds me of the wife beater who says the wife gets him upset, so what can he do?"

I don't see the analogy. The analogy is more like this: the wife marries the husband, and then says sorry, I never loved you, but I'm going to hang around anyways and make your life a misery. Then hopefully a judge will give me the house and I'll go get another husband.

"Also I think you think that we have had some uniform history. We haven't, not even within Catholicism. There's been a lot of doctrinal and other changes in the church and indications of some plurality."

Okay, well I'm Orthodox (Eastern). Please document these changes. Then we'll have something to talk about.

At 1:05 AM , Blogger Dwight said...


The first split of course is the Orthodox and Catholic church. I don't think having different denominations need be a scandal. It has been but that says more how we've related to dissent (and our poor history with that) then anything else. I'm not familiar with eastern orthodoxy enough to comment on it's history and more had in mind the various movements within Catholicism (Hussites for example to the early church debates and church fathers who established orthodoxy only to be considered heretics themselves later on)The issue of diversity find itself in the earliest debates (over the gentile mission for instance). Odd that we're still wracked with this same issue in different forms today.

At 8:40 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

From my limited knowledge, the Hussites were more catholic than their papist opponents. I'm not sure what fathers you think established orthodoxy and then were heretics.

It seems rather revisionist history to couch the debate about the gentile missions in terms of "diversity". If you're talking about the Jerusalem council, never was the argument put forward that "diversity" is a moral principle.

As you must know, the apostles do not seem to value this concept as some kind of foundational principle. Verses like 1Cor. 11:16 "But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God." seem to indicate the opposite, that conformity is a foundational principle rather than diversity.

Again.. 1Cor. 1:10 " Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you,"

Conformity is a praiseworthy state, not diversity.

You've said that you think liberal and conservative all mixed in together in diversity is "good". But conservatives value conformity, and therefore consider that bad. You don't have a leg to stand on to say your foundational principles are superior, since you simply made them up.

At 9:07 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

Presumably fascism must be the most divine since conformity is of the highest value in such a system. I'd appeal to Paul's use of the body, it's diversity in mutual relation, working together and thankfully I've had the experience in this democracy of ours of living in diverse communities which were stronger because of it. I think that's a stronger leg to stand on then what you've got.

At 4:47 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

Obviously Paul is advocating conformity to his teachings, and not just conformity to any random idea at all. But fascism became very powerful very quickly because of conformity to something, albeit a bad "something".

Paul's theology of the different parts working together is that they should become "one" in Christ, that they should "all agree", and that they should be "perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me" (John 17:23). He doesn't have a theology with different people working against each other through conflicting ideology.

Re "your experience of people living in diverse communities".... what precisely is your experience of people living in one community with one faith and one church? Are you comparing something, or just ra-raing the USA?

You've got all these fights going on in America, Christian vs secular, left vs right, pro choice vs pro life and so on. Never ending war and conflict is your Christian vision of utopia? It sounds like a demonic vision to me.

At 6:19 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Well yes, if it's just folks at odds that isn't Paul's vision or one that works in any case. It's folks in diversity who are able to live together, love or at least respect one another and believe in some measure that God is found in the other. I've seen instances of that and when it happen it's divine.

At 7:40 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

As I think you've observed, this happens already between conservatives and others, at least in some if not many cases.

But it's not the issue we're talking about.

Whether I can live with, love or respect certain people does not mean I can't observe that they are false teachers,

Let me ask you something - do you believe there is truth? You've already said you only believe bits of the Christian tradition are truth, not all of it. Do you believe that with the bits you disagree with, that there is a God in heaven who knows what the true answers to these disputed points are? Or does truth simply not exist?

At 1:22 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I think if one had the God's eye view one could have a more comprehensive truth. But given our finitude, that as Paul says, we see in part, our claims will always indicate the marks of our finitude even if they can be corrected by experience and engagement with a wider world (more data?)

At 6:10 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

If one had God's view, you would have a more comprehensive truth? Only more comprehensive? Not the whole truth? So you're saying God himself doesn't have the whole truth?

At 6:13 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I take the future to be genuinely free and truth to be related to the situation. That's why you would have a more comprehensive truth.

At 7:12 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

I could grant all that, but it doesn't answer the question asked: Does God know the truth in full?

At 7:35 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

If the past is open then future situations have not arisen by which we could affix truth value to. So what would it mean for God to "know" the truth in that context?

At 10:21 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

Leaving aside the fact you seem to be contradicting Is. 46:10 and others in saying God doesn't know the future, not to mention the long Christian tradition dating back to the Fathers that God is outside time, not to mention science which says time is a created thing...

.... are you at least able to affirm that God knows the full truth about the past and present?

At 12:03 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

To your last question, yes, to your first how does God interact with us if we're in time if God is not in time?

At 1:12 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

Read any scientific article about the big bang, and they will say both time and space came into being at the big bang. If you can explain to me what it feels like to be outside time, I'll answer the question for you. Other than that I can only speculate it like being surrounded by video monitors all playing the same movie, but at a different spot. Depending on where you look, you see a different part.

So we make progress that God at least knows past and present in full.

You stated above: "What is revelatory, we couldn’t be dead certain but whatever points to life, to community, to well being, etc. in the tradition tells us something about God".

How is something revelatory, when you yourself determine which bits are true?

It's kind of like this as an analogy. You receive a letter purporting to be from the King. However, you don't believe it is from the King, although you think the King's wishes might be occasionally expressed in the letter. But you're going to decide which bits those are.

Where is the revelation here? That's about as revelatory as pointing out a stopped clock is right twice a day. If I'm the one deciding when the clock is right out of my own head, then the clock has revealed nothing. There is no revelation.

You claim that anything that points to life and community etc we should assume is revelation. But if not all the bible does this apparently, why did the authors not see what you see? Why are you convinced you are more spiritual than Jesus, Paul, Peter, John or whoever? I mean, even ignoring the theological implications, you've got some serious hubris in thinking you know more about what God revealed to Paul than what Paul knew. How can you know that? Why should conservatives think you are anything other than prideful and self-deluded?

Here's the bit I seriously don't get: How can conservatives and liberal have a long term future in the same church? If the King really did write the letter, then you are in defiance of God's revelation. You can't seriously expect that the Church can be agnostic about defying God's revelation. The two positions simply cannot co-exist in the long term.

On a purely practical level, if the bible lists certain criteria for leaders, which conservatives recognise and liberals do not, then you'll have churches led by people that the members do not recognise as leaders. That's simply self-contradictory. Surely you must see this.

At 7:56 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

A few comments. I don't determine what is true. But as a church, we seek to discover, as best we can, what is true. The letter doesn't purport to be from the king. As Paul says, he sees in part. So do we. It's a condition of being human and finite. Hubris comes in when we imagine that we've escaped that condition.

At 5:48 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

"I don't determine what is true."

"Determine" has a wide range of meaning. When I say you determine what is true, I mean that you decide what you believe to be true independently of revelation from God. Do you deny that? You did after all say that nobody can know for sure what is revelation.

"The letter doesn't purport to be from the king."


"For I would have you know that the gospel which was preached by me, is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12).

"As Paul says, he sees in part. "

He sees in part, but he does see. Nobody made the claim that the Church has all knowledge. The claim made is that the Church's knowledge is true. The issue has never been about finite humans needing infinite knowledge. The issue is about a particular set of knowledge - God's revelation to man, being true.

Your answer in no way addresses the issue.

At 6:58 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

1 Corinthians ends up being an exercise in relativizing the church, some of this is done in the section I referred to. There are any number of factions (many of which appear to be in fact, theologically driven) in the church. Paul never agrees to any one of those factions. Instead he reduces their claims to a.the infinite God and b.to the project of living well together. I think in that case, it's not just that we are finite, it's that therefore that which we hold to and mark ourselves over and against otherwise is likewise relvatized as a result. One flows from another. You seem to suggest that instead, Paul may be finite, the NT authors may have been but on everything they did propound uon, they give no indication of their finitude. That's a proposition that assumes at least on certain religious maters (ex cathedra?) they are *not* finite at all.

Whatever revelation is, (and I take to be a real engagement with God) it happens as fintie, time bound, fallen creatures in relation to a certain context. We may learn something of God and yet in doing so, the human authorship of such texts are never far away. That should produce in us some sense of humility as we reflect on what it means to be faithful to God's call in our time and place.

At 5:29 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

I just read through 1 Corinthians, and I can't see any mention of these factions. Maybe you are thinking of some other book. But I found some interesting things on the way:

1Cor. 14:37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.

Hmm, that one that must hurt.

2:12 "we may know the things freely given to us by God".

Not "we may make educated guesses", but "we may know".

There's a certain amount of farce in you quoting the bible at me to try and prove a point since you don't accept its authority anyway. What if I took the liberal route and simply denied those verses? Nothing would be resolved.

But your response is logically fallacious anyway. Even if some things are matters of opinion or mystery, it does not follow that all things are that. Nobody can read Paul honestly and claim that Paul leaves all things up to private judgement.

As far as I see, it's not like you affirm the fundamentals of the faith and simply have an overly expansive view of what is relative. I mean you can't even seem to affirm the bodily resurrection for crying out loud, and there is nothing more central to the Gospel than this point.

Nowhere do I see Paul engaging in reductionism to the extent that it all comes down to living well together. We'd have a very short NT if that was the case.

Concerning the finitude or otherwise of the apostles and prophets, the issue is summed up by Paul "all scripture is breathed out by God". This is the Judaic / Christian tradition for at least 3500 years, this is the attitude of Jesus, and the apostles. Jesus cited scripture as if it settled the matter. Jesus citing scripture by saying "God said to you...." If you want to dispute this, then why not admit your religion has nothing to do with Christianity? Either agree with Christ, or stop trading off his name.

At 10:50 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

1 Corinthians 1-11-15 indicates the parties. He doesn't say which is right. He relativizes all of them "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"

Also I believe in scripture, not it's inerrancy nor as an object of worship, but it has a power..one useful for teaching, for reproof. It provides much of the categories that we are discussing.

Also you took up Jesus in a curious way. He didn't say "God said to you"...he said, "God said to you, but I say to you". He adds to scripture or modifies it or expands the logic of it.

In the end the sabbath was made for man not the reverse, and scripture is made for us, for life..when it ceases to be, when it becomes a tyrant, we've lost the point. The more power it claims for itself, the less power it has (something we've experienced in real life with other people).

Let's at least claim the same interpretative role the early church, Jesus, and people throughout church history has claimed in making sense of scripture and the tradition in a way fitting for the world we live in.


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