The Nag Hammadi Library, among which the Gospe...

Image via Wikipedia

Allow me to direct your attention to a blog post over at the wonderfully named “Hobo Theology.” Full disclosure: the blogger is my brother-in-law. That influences this response in two ways: the first is that I love him more than I love most other bloggers with whom I disagree. Second, I know that the conversation that happens here is one we have been having and will continue to have for years and years to come. God save our poor children.

The main argument of the piece, entitled “Why Liberal and Conservative Christians Can’t Dialogue,” is that the Rob Bell controversy (I know, sorry) is a “case study in conservative-liberal dialogue.” I think this is partially true. He issues the following theory by way of explanation:

For those with a higher view of scripture, this controversy of doctrine is a matter of exegetical engagement and interpretation.  For those with a lower view of scripture, this controversy is more of a social, relational issue.

This is where I have a couple of disagreements, one is relatively minor and the other is a bit more serious. First, I think in this particular instance, the lines cannot be drawn so evenly in terms of liberal/conservative. Rather, there are those who saw Justin Taylor’s initial post about Bell’s unreleased book as an opportunity to discuss the theology they believe it professes, and others who, rather than speculate, chose to consider what the controversy says about contemporary evangelicalism. I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think it is wrong to launch into a theological discussion based on an unreleased book – it is wrong, I think, to make judgments on an author based on what we think he is going to say, but to say his book seems to be about universalism and then have a discussion about universalism, is perfectly appropriate.

But I’m not sure that the choice of which angle to take on this is drawn along conservative/liberal lines. The post looks at Sessions’ piece here at Patrol as an example of the liberal side, but fails to acknowledge that we hardly ever discuss theology in posts on this site, as our main concern is the way that religion exists in culture. In my couple of ruminations on the issue, I also left the theological discussion alone and viewed this in a more “meta” way. I would argue that I did this based on what I’m primarily interested in, and not because I’m liberal.

Secondly, I take more serious exception with the categorizations of a higher or lower view of scripture. I definitely fall into the liberal camp, obviously. But do I have a lower view of scripture? Absolutely not. The insinuation is that if one’s view of scripture doesn’t align with another’s, one view is higher and the other lower. This value judgment can not stand.

With so many ways to actually talk about interpretive methods when it comes to scripture, to confine these to high or low really misses something huge. True, I don’t believe the Genesis story should be read as science, nor do I think we must read Paul’s words written in a specific time to specific readers as generally applicable to contemporary Christians (Of course, many of those who claim a “high” view of scripture don’t actually believe this either, but that’s another issue), but this does not mean my view of scripture is low.

I have a tremendously high view of all literature. I’ve spent six years of my life studying it formally. I love stories. How much more then – how much higher – must my view be of the book that contains the greatest story, the story that has the power to literally save lives?

Certainly some classifications like liberal or conservative are useful in order to quickly understand – generally – where someone is coming from. But let’s be careful how and when we use them, as often situations are far more complex than this easy delineation let’s on.

Oh man, I can’t wait until our next family vacation!

About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

Editor | Follow him on Twitter.

0 Responses to That Liberal, Low View of Scripture

  1. Kat says:

    Hey, so I’m sitting in a jacuzzi after 3 days of “the sinus” thing going around, sipping the dregs of my flask and trying to get my head back. I’m not fluent in christian jargon but what from what I do get, I want to throw in my 5cts.

    Rob Bell opened my mind and heart so that Jesus, Our Father, and the HS could step in. what’s the controversy in that?

    Btw – You have no idea how much alcohol I have in my bloodstream? Just a few sips or near saturation? It doesn’t matter, by association, my credibility is shot. The value of my intentional words; easily dismissed.

  2. Jim Jacobson says:

    Kat, that was a clever comment. I’ve often wondered why those who put themselves in the liberal camp of Christianity are often talking about their alcohol consumption. Do I just notice because I’m in the conservative camp? “Just a few sips, or near saturation” does matter if you have a high view of scripture. 🙂

  3. Derek says:

    Fitz,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, and for the kind introduction. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I believe that has always been the nature of our dialogues. I look forward to many more such conversations!

    Onto your post…

    You went right after the weakness/danger of my post: the use of loaded terms. And as usual, you defy the categories of my categorizing mind, which is always a good thing.

    Regarding the loaded language, I tried to soften the terms by using them comparatively (e.g. high-er view, more liberal) instead of simply labelling someone (you) Conservative/Liberal or a Low/High Viewer.

    So let me react to a couple of your thoughts and make some clarifications in the process…

    1: “The post looks at Sessions’ piece here at Patrol as an example of the liberal side, but fails to acknowledge that we hardly ever discuss theology in posts on this site, as our main concern is the way that religion exists in culture.”

    I realize this is the aim of Patrol, but as my excerpt from DeYoung suggests, that angle is perhaps more than coincidence. DeYoung quotes Dorrien as saying, “The idea of liberal theology is nearly three centuries old. In essence, it is the idea that Christian theology can be genuinely Christian without being based upon external authority. Since the eighteenth century, liberal Christian thinkers have argued that religion should be modern and progressive and that the meaning of Christianity should be interpreted from the standpoint of modern knowledge and experience” (xii). In other words, liberal theology would not be interested in scripture as authoritative, and would rather speak from the standpoint of modern knowledge and experience (read: culture). This sounds a lot like the perspective Patrol takes. Coincidence? (Cue dramatic music). But seriously, I’m just wondering if there is a connection between Patrol’s interest and its convictions/assumptions. That link sounds reasonable enough in my mind. Honestly though, it doesn’t matter; I’ll concede this one if you insist there’s not connection.

    2: “I take more serious exception with the categorizations of a higher or lower view of scripture. I definitely fall into the liberal camp, obviously. But do I have a lower view of scripture? Absolutely not. The insinuation is that if one’s view of scripture doesn’t align with another’s, one view is higher and the other lower. This value judgment can not stand.”

    I agree this judgment cannot stand without clarifying the term. So let me clarify the term. A high view of scripture sees scripture as: 1.) Authoritative: The words of the Bible are God’s words, which act as the final authority for life and faith. To disobey the scriptures is thus to disobey God. (2 Timothy 3:15-16), 2.) Inerrant: The Bible in its original manuscripts affirms only what is true and factual. (Isaiah 40:8; Luke 16:17; 1 Peter 1:23; Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 30:5), 3.) Perspicuous: The Bible is understandable to all who seek to read and obey it with the help of God. (Psalm 19:7; 119:130), 4.) Necessary: The Bible is necessary to know God’s will for life and faith and to know his Gospel. (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Romans 10:14-17), 5.) Sufficient: The Bible is enough…enough information, enough revelation, and enough direction for life and faith. (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

    You may or may not agree with those points. I’m not here to convince you of those beliefs. But these concepts would characterize what an evangelical means by “a high view of scripture” (See Grudem’s Systematic Theology, a modern, representative compendium of evangelical doctrine). If this is what is meant by “high view,” I’m curious where you would put yourself on the spectrum.

    Well, as always, I enjoy the thoughtful exchange. Peace brother!

  4. Courtney says:

    I read both posts and wasn’t sure where to put this. Coin toss won it:

    For clarification, as I’ve not read DeYoung’s book: Is his definition of liberal theology general, and to be applied for all time, or just as he perceives it to be during the dates in the title of his book?

    The first thing that caught my attention in the Hobo post was the sentence: “…it seems the two groups are speaking different languages entirely.”

    Then #5 in Deyoung’s list put this issue of language squarely in the liberal camp.

    It seems that before you even get to theological interpretation and politically-colored descriptors you have to address the language issue.

  5. […] out Jonathan Fitzgerald’s response, and join the conversation! /* Share this: Pin ItEmailPrintDiggShare on Tumblr In […]

  6. Jay Potter says:

    Thanks for speaking up on this topic. I find too many people like to use terms like “high” and “low” in regards to scripture, praxis, theology, art, etc., use it to vilify “the other” which is really unfair and what lends itself to furthering the non-discussion that we cannot have with those whom we may disagree.

    I like to use the terms “strict” and “loose” construction. That is that some view a much more strict writing and adherence to scripture and some have a more loosely held interpretation of the original writings and perceived adherence. These words still have their own connotations, but I find even just a bit less judgmental towards one another’s theological outlook.

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.