A New Kind of Christianity – The Authority Question

Part 2 of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity addresses how we should read the Bible. It presented a fairly decent contrast of what I refer to as the clerical and journey views of the Scriptures.

  • Clerical View – the Scriptures need a professional caste of clerks who decipher the texts because the ‘laity’ couldn’t prossibly crack the code. Mclaren calls this the ‘constitutional view’.
  • Journey View – the Scriptures are a compilation of the journey with God. They reflect more than report and the same struggles exist in our context as did with the ancients. Mclaren has a variation of this he calls the ‘library’ view.

Unlike a lot of people I know, I do not feel that we need to treat all of the Scripture the same. The Scriptures are not a single, codified rule. It is a library, a collection of the writings of those who share our journey. Far from being some kind of absolute, consolidated document, the Bible is actually a varied collection with many different voices expressed in it.

These voices unite in a dialogue, pointing us toward God and the way he has called us to live; but we must not just assume that because something is in the Bible that it is normative. For example, huge passages of the Hebrew Scriptures are poetic. The book of Job has enormous tractates that espouse positions out of sync with the rest of the Scriptures. The entire book of Ecclesiastes is a mingling of half-truths and perceptions.

This however, is not the same as Mclaren’s library view. He holds to a belief in in a very loose inspiration. To him, inspiration is the dialogue between God and man, with man predominant. The Scriptures are the human record of inspiration. I disagree with this oversimplification. It is a continuing dialogue, which occurs not just in Scripture but in all world religions (more on that in next week’s post).

The Scriptures do not simply inspire us nor are they the record of God’s inspiration. They are the God-breathed words. Together, they form the canon of his witness of himself to us. They cannot be used willy-nilly for support of this position or that position. That much I will agree with McLaren about. But to then redefine inspiration as basically a discussion between God and man – it does not line up with that the Bible says about itself.

And that’s really my problem with McLaren’s position. I agree with his question; and I even agree with his rejection of what he calls the “constitution” view of Scripture; but I think his response is too human, too driven by literary theory to fit with the mystery of inspiration as it played out in the Bible.

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2 thoughts on “A New Kind of Christianity – The Authority Question

  1. This question is one that was really refreshing from my perspective. I have had such a difficult time attempting to employ the “flat-across-the-board” hermeneutic (perhaps with an element of wiggle room, allowing for some interprative flexibility, based on genre to an extent) that I was taught in seminary. This made the Bible an ugly and even horrendous book. While I don’t agree with everything he says, I believe John Shelby Spong has done an excellent job at critiquing this sort of Bible reading – the “innerant, infallible, sufficient” understanding of Scripture. Though I am still attempting to work out a more comprehensive and sound hermeneutic, I know in my heart that I cannot accept what I was taught.

    Erik, I wonder if you could expatiate on what you meant by asserting that McLaren’s view of inspiration is “too human”? Enns said that Scripture is like Jesus – 100% God and 100% man – but this seems rather silly in an attempt to be cute and clever. Certainly, I believe Scripture is inspired by God, but what factor does the human contribution play in this datum, especially in light of II Peter 1:20-21? Moreover, with the vastly divergent interpretations of Scripture found even within what is typically considered “orthodox Christianity,” what value does a doctrine such as inspiration hold?

  2. Hey Ian,

    I’ll point you to an article I just wrote that I’m fairly certain will upset everyone and anyone. I conclude that the Gospels were probably transmitted orally and then written down independently, so the fact that the manuscript evidence agrees at all is amazing.

    http://wp.me/p3xuM-81

    I believe that inspiration is BIGGER than fundamentalists want it to be – that it’s not just word-by-word inspiration but actually a massive, multi-site, multi-transmission, multi-generational thing that spanned so much time and space that human work does not explain it – that God superintended it in a way that transcends reason.

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