I was censored. And as a blogger who has occasionally deleted comments (I generally contact the commenter to explain), I understand why. I did not read the commenting policy, and perhaps I would have adjusted my comment if I had.
But over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog, Ms. Evans took aim at the clarity of Scripture, and I felt compelled to respond. “Feeling compelled” is not sufficient justification, I know, but I hope the content of my comment will justify my choice.
The content of my comment, however, caused Rachel to delete it, in accordance with her comment policy against negative comments. That’s her prerogative, and I truly mean that.
[Update: I checked several times, and my comment had not been posted (and it seemed that more recent ones had), but a reader has informed me that I was wrong. My apologies to Rachel, I wasn’t accusing her of wrongdoing with regard to the comment anyway. I, too, like to help keep my commenters civil.]
You can read Rachel’s post here. In it she says she’s tired of hearing people claim that “the Bible clearly says” X, Y, or Z. She brings out several damning quotes from evangelical racists of the (sometimes not-so-distant) past, all of whom claimed Scripture’s clear authority for their positions. But the central point of her post seems to be this:
Rhetorical claims to the Bible’s clarity on a subject do not automatically make it so. One need not discount the inspiration and authority of Scripture to hold one’s interpretations of Scripture with an open hand. (emphasis original)
I can agree with the first statement, certainly. But the second, in light of Rachel’s apparent doctrinal evolution over the last few years, is what occasioned my comment:
I commend this book on the topic of Scripture’s clarity. It’s a little demanding, but incredibly insightful.
Some commenters are right to caution college freshmen against claiming that “the Bible clearly says” something it doesn’t in fact say. It would be better for them to mature a bit in their Bible-reading skills before they proclaim God’s favor upon Republican tax policies.
And Ms. Evans is right to note that proper biblical interpretation takes account of the “general sweep” of Scripture (the forest) as well as specific statements (the trees). That’s precisely why the standard evangelical hermeneutics textbook is called “The Hermeneutical Spiral.” The Bible reader should constantly run from pole to pole (forest to trees, general to specific) in an ever-tightening spiral. And humility is a Christian virtue in all endeavors, including Bible reading. Jesus made that, well, clear (Luke 18:9–14).
But the hermeneutic displayed elsewhere on this blog, especially Rachel’s support for unrepentant homosexual practice, is simply an example of today’s culture (instead of that of 1860 or 1960) pushing her past the clear statements of Scripture—in the opposite direction to the racist direction she (rightly) criticizes in this post.
Clarity is sometimes “hard-won,” Thompson argues in the book I linked to above. But without the precious truth of the clarity of Scripture, there is no standard by which to say that racists or homosexuals—or bloggers—are right or wrong. Without reliable access to God’s thoughts, Rachel’s thoughts are only worth the number of subscribers she has. Her voice is just one among billions. The way to true social justice, to righteous sexual ethics, to true manhood and womanhood is through our access to the transcendent norms through Scripture.
It’s right to call people to greater faithfulness to the Bible. It’s wrong to hold all “one’s interpretations of Scripture” with such an “open hand” that some start falling out. Should I hold my opposition to racism with an open hand? As G.K. Chesterton said, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
Rachel’s path has already been trodden by the mainline Protestants, and it has ended (for them—I don’t know where Rachel’s will end) with a persistent refusal to acknowledge that God’s word is clear on anything. As for me, I will die before anyone takes from me the privilege of telling precious souls, created in the image of God, “The Bible clearly says that salvation can be found in no one else but Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly says that if you repent and believe Christ’s gospel, your sins will be paid for and you will be saved for all eternity.”
The comments under Rachel’s posts are often what disturb and even anger me the most. Many took up Rachel’s torch and ran with it, arguing against creationism and the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. At what point does humility toward one’s own views become arrogant contradiction of what God has (clearly) said? I’ve tried to find plausibility in alternative readings of Genesis 1, and I just can’t. And it’s not as if I’m just unable to follow sophisticated literary arguments.
I was also thoroughly unimpressed by the use several commenters made of the original languages in the discussion. One commenter repeated the fuzzy canard that
the Bible … was in fact translated, many times, by many different men. To say something that’s gone through this is “clear” totally refutes … logic.
I certainly don’t want to be guilty of a total refutation of logic (that would be quite a feat, one I’m not sure I could pull off!), but she speaks as if the Bible we have in our laps is the result of two millennia of a religious game of telephone—Greek to Latin to Middle English to Modern English, I guess. Instead of seeing our many translations (which work directly with the Greek and Hebrew) as the embarrassment of riches they are, an aid to clarity, she sees them as a proof that there is no clarity.
I’m driven by my non-Catholic ecclesiology to devote a lot of attention to hermeneutics—I also find the field very interesting. There’s no denying the massively wide breadth of opinion on what Scripture says, and I do find this troubling—though not unexpected in a fallen world. But there really is no alternative but to rely on the Spirit’s illumination as we read the Bible faithfully for ourselves, submitting that reading to our God-given authorities as much as possible because the Bible says so (1 Pet 5:1ff.; Heb 13:7). Catholicism doesn’t make the problem better by giving us authoritative human interpreters. Now we have to interpret their (voluminous) interpretations! And as I read today, there’s a breadth of opinion within the Catholic church. Rachel Held Evans’ incipient mainline Protestantism doesn’t help the problem, either, because it is so obviously a “Christ of Culture” position in which God is impotent to correct what everybody knows to be true. I’m willing to suffer through the fissiparousness of conservative Protestant reading of Scripture because, well, the Bible clearly says that every one of us must give an account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12).