Friday, December 02, 2005

Christian Scholarship and The Authority of Scripture

I have just started reading “Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundations of Christian Education” by many of the faculty at Union University. The book is intended to be an engagement with the idea of higher education and its relationship to a Christian worldview. I must say, so far the work has been very thought provoking. One of the early essays tackles the problem of being a serious and rigorous scholar and holding to the authority of Scripture at the same time. Can believers in the ultimate authority of Scripture be academically rigorous and honest?

The author of the essay, George Guthrie makes a couple of helpful foundational remarks. First, the idea of any kind of authority from which scholars perform their work is more ubiquitous than many would admit. The accusation that Christians cannot perform scholarly duties honestly, leaves the clear implication that everyone else can because they are free from the fetters of a myopic authority structure. But, are they? What of postmodern deconstructionism, naturalism, Neo-Darwinian evolution, Marxism, etc.? Each of these paradigms acts as authority structures from which many scholars do their work and out of which many of them refuse (or fear to) stray. Christians are not the only scholars working from an authority structure.

Secondly, the implication is made that a Christian worldview and its authority structure is inherently at odds with the fruits of scholarly labor. Though much of fundamentalist isolationism in the past may have thought that and put that across to the rest of the world, good Christian theology has always taught the unity of truth: all truth is God’s truth. Christians can and should engage serious and honest work done in all fields of the academy with an eye to God’s truth.

Then Guthrie engages Grenz and the recent Postmodern turn in recent evangelical theology (so popular in many Emergent church circles). His critique of Grenz rests on a point I had never seen before. Guthrie states, “Grenz has moved his doctrine of Scripture out of a foundational position for doing theology to a subcategory of pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” (28) Fascinating insight. What that means is that no longer is the message of Scripture a starting point in a Christian worldview, it is a result of various interpretive communities.

This, of course, falls prey to all the straightforward critiques of postmodernism. Why choose one community over another? Why believe there is any inherent, cross-cultural message in Scripture at all when another community might believe it is so much debris?

But in Guthrie’s assessment, another recent development in hermeneutics by Vanhoozer has helped solve some of those problems. Vanhoozer’s theory is a speech-act theory of interpretation in which God did deposit eternal truth in Scripture as He interacted with it, and as we interact with God’s speech, so to speak, we interpret and live out God’s deposited truth. (Doubtless this is a simple version of Vanhoozer’s thesis.)

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