Tag Archives: hermeneutics

God in the Wasteland

I want to do this one more time. My buddy Dwayne Polk brought this to our attention today.

In pointing this out, he hashed tagged with, #evangelicalwasteland and #disgusted. These hashtags are my biggest problem because by using these hashtags there’s a strong sentiment against evangelicalism or the evangelical community. You know, “The evangelical subculture is pretty #%+? up.”

Now, in a conversation with a couple of my scholarly friends on facebook last week it was assumed that if those on the side that say that Christians and Muslims DON’T worship the same God would simply read Feser’s piece here it would be self-evident that indeed Christians and Muslims DO worship the same God (correct me if I misunderstood). But here’s the point that I wanted to make and that I want to make again. Apparently, according Francis Beckwith, there are a number of scholars in which it is NOT self-evident that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

So. If that is the case, then:

A. Wheaton is not being THAT paranoid about it’s concerned over statements made by Dr. Hawkins. They fall within the “no” camp that these other scholars that Beckwith talks about. This is simply something they believe. This is something Hawkins DOESN’T believe.
B. Why then, are there these ad hominem remarks? Are we to say that McKnight and Molher , Wheaton et al., are the purveyors of an evangelical wasteland or merit disgust? Christianity IS tribalistic. Especially in its Protestant and evangelical manifestations. I HIGHLY doubt that it is ever going to be the case that it won’t be. So why the ad hominem? Why can’t we just accept this tribalism for what it is? Why can’t we just accept that there are different camps and leave it at that?

Let me throw another issue out there. Baptism. Nobody makes a deal out of the fact that there are different schools of thought on it, that, well, we have not been reconciled on it and we have learned to live with differences while carrying on with the work of the Kingdom, not in spite of those differences but THROUGH those differences.
You do realize that there are people who believe that children and infants should be baptized right? You do realize that there are some who believe in “believers baptism” right? There are some who believe in in both. And then there are folk like myself who believe that non-believers can be baptized! Yes! There are those of us, who deep down believe that!
I’m not worried that someone doesn’t believe what I believe. I certainly don’t worry about what they believe. People evolve over time with regard to much of what they have come to believe. I simply, walk in that belief and carry out the work of the Kingdom through it. Maybe someone was baptized as an infant and will switch over to believers baptism as they get older because that is what they genuinely and sincerely have come to believe and they don’t think that their earlier baptism was in a sense, “enough.” Can God, through the revealing of the Holy Spirit not lead people down a particular pathway? And especially can God not work through what is now seen formally as an “error” to bring people to him/herself, ie., God using less than ideal theology ie., health and wealth gospels, modalism, theonomy, YEC, ECP (eternal conscious punishment) etc? Yes, God works through broken vessels-always has-to bring us to greater and greater light and even still we may move yet again.

So, I say, let the tribalism be. Recognize it for what it is. God will sort it all out in the end but quit the whining and bemoaning. Serve God by the lights you have received and don’t worry about the guy beside you.


Red Letter Christians And The Rest Of Scripture

I have, for the most, part when doing theology (on the laymen’s level that I do it) have relied on two major sources, reading and talking to others. But there is also what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In other words, I use other authoritative sources to reach as much of a sound moral/ethical decision as I can. I am not a Red Letter Christian–giving Jesus’ words priority over the rest of scripture. That just sounds weird to me. Stan Guthrie wrote a critique about Red Letter Christians at Christianity Today here. Tony Campolo responded in the same online article–though I think Campolo can be easily refuted here. With just one word: Justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Red Letter Christians ACTUALLY do give priority to Jesus and his words that you find in those older renditions of the Bible. The justification for this is rather simple. Let’s go through this.

Stephan Jarnick says this:

“Another thing some Christians say that needs to be challenged is “I read the WHOLE Bible” as if giving the Old Testament and the New Testament equal weighting somehow makes them better Christians. Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament is important when he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” but he also said several times “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” whenever he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s found in the Old Testament. The law said “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” I don’t want to accuse anyone of intentionally ignoring Jesus but it’s sometimes tempting to do an end run around him to find a sound bite in the Old Testament that will support our agenda. I often encounter this kind of thinking when talking to people about Jesus’ peace teachings. Reading the Old Testament to learn about how God interacted with people prior to Jesus coming on the scene is a good thing. Using it as an optional guide for how to live when we don’t like what Jesus has to say to us is…not Christian.”

Essentially, what Jarnick does is say that Jesus “peace teachings” is above the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (even though, pretty much, justice is not fully accomplished in this fashion: Do you think justice can be served by punching someone’s tooth out the same way that they punched yours out? For it to be a tooth for a tooth it would have to be done in the exact same manner and force and making sure you only knock one out and not others, etc. Not to mention, do you REALLY feel justice has been accomplished? Don’t you feel a just a little jaded? Really, the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a VERY JUST law as it had to do with the concept of proportionality. Which meant that you didn’t go overboard with a DESERVING punishment. If this interpretation is correct, then the “eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth” is not really all that contradictory to Jesus words.

So when Campolo responds to Guthrie in the above CT article saying:

“While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture.”

He begs the question. How would not going overboard with punishment (thus being a just punishment) be contrary to Jesus’ peace teachings? If we WERE to ask, “WWJD?” could we not say that Jesus would say, “Hey, don’t go overboard with punishment!” So why would we give priority of Jesus’ words over this Old Testament law?

If I were to add the Ten Commandments into the equation, we might ask, how is say, “Not making idols” (graven images) NOT relevant to Jesus’ commands to love God with all our hearts first and foremost? It should be obvious that not only is there no contradiction but the Old Testament could give us a “filler” so-to-speak (explanatory power) to the words of Jesus.

But let’s go further. Campolo says:

“You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way—or trying to influence our government according to these values—makes us the Religious Left:”

OK…this is where I have serious reservations with what Campolo is saying. The anti-war, pro-enviroment, deeply ending poverty are USUALLY the staple of the Left NOT the Right. I mean, after all, the right is more concerned with abortion and same sex marriage. So it really is not a far cry to say that Red Letter Christians fall to the left side of the spectrum. But, is not most in the evangelical community REALLY against war PER SE even though some on the Right may be more quicker to go to war than others on the Left?

However, let’s go back to that word I mentioned above–justice and it’s opposite, injustice. Is injustice not injustice no matter what? Let’s say, through some political educational policy, that we take taxes from citizens to pay for education because we as a society have seen fit to educate our children up to a certain age. However, let’s just say that someone wants to educate their kids according to their particular history or political science (as these last two are not neutral unbiased territory, who’s to say that the public educational system’s teaching on these subjects is the “correct” one?) or values or tradition. However, in order for them to do so, they must pay for it OVER AND ABOVE their taxes and in effect penalizing them financially for doing so as well as treating them like second class citizens. Is this not an injustice? And if it is an injustice, why would Jesus be any LESS concerned with this? Sure, we might prioritize “life issues” as more important than education but we would never say that it is not important and we especially would not say that treating others in society as second class citizens is not important.

So, what am I saying in bringing this up? I’m saying that all of these diverse issues are important as far as justice is concerned. Jesus would be concerned about war and whether we should participate in it. Jesus would be concerned about abortion. Jesus would be concerned about the enviroment. Jesus would be concerned about marriage. Jesus would be concerned about poverty and and homeless. And lastly, Jesus would be concerned about the ways in which we treat others as citizens. You do realize there is more than one way to treat people as second class citizens right? The human imagination for dehumanizing others seems to know no bounds!

So if it is the case (that Jesus is concerned about JUSTICE as a whole) then why the incessant need to differentiate between what Christ says in red and the rest of scripture? Should we not be concerned about reflecting idolatry (an Old Testament declaration of freedom) in our laws and policies? I don’t see how we should not be and thus I don’t see why we should prioritize one scripture over another.

In closing, I think this whole idea of being a Red Letter Christian is condescending. **I** follow the words of Jesus. While everyone else….what?


Ethics: Attempting To Sort Through The Maze

Three of my favorite areas of study are: religion (theology), politics and ethics. I’ve read a number of good books on ethics. Mouw’s, “The God Who Commands” while it is not an applicable piece, he does approach ethics from a theological, philosophical angle. “Readings in Christian Ethics” Volumes 1 and 2 (one is theory the other is practical). “The Moral Quest” by Stan Grenz. “Ethics,” by Arthur Holmes. Wyndy Corbin Reuschling,”Reviving Evangelical Ethics.” Richard Longenecker’s short book on Christian social ethics and a few others.

I’ve ALWAYS thought that there was no such thing as an “ethical-less” Christianity. With W.D. Davies and Longnecker I came to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t only the Saviour but that he was also a Rabbi and a teacher. Being that Rabbi and teacher he also gave us ethical imperatives to follow. On the other hand, on Greg Boyd’s Open Theism boards years ago and with the reading of Vanhoozer and his quote from David Clark, the idea of being guided by “principles” was brought into question with the this: “What happens when one principle “tops” another? Are they no longer absolute?” And of course, we see this sort of questioning going on with the whole picking and choosing of ethical principles and scripture and whatnot that progressives consistently point to. This, seemingly, goes the route of relativism.

Now, there is an area of ethics in which ethics are situational. I don’t doubt that. But there are areas in which ethics are, no matter how much one may claim otherwise, “absolute.” They are for all times and all places. It is on that broad strand that ethical principles do not cross or “top” the other. On the situational level, yes. On the broad categories, no. And let’s remember something, to live ethically is to live in loving relationship with God and others. It is to love God AND my neighbour.

David Gill’s book, “Doing Right” has been very instrumental in helping to put this all together right in the beginning of the book. The failure to understand what he means by “cover principles” and “area principles” is, I submit one of the reasons for mass confusion about hermeneutics (why we pick and choose this scripture over that) and in ethical deliberation within evangelical and progressive circles. I’ll have more to say in the future.


Evangelicals: On Reading History Sympathetically

I was reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog about the Bible here.

My buddy, Brent L. White deals with her hermeneutical approach here. See also, Glenn Peoples post here that Brent refers to.

My approach is going to be slightly different in this post. I’m not going to deal with her hermeneutical approach but more with her historical approach or lack thereof and her point of hindsight. In her blog, Evans makes several quotes on different issues found within the Church in general, as well as evangelicalism and more specifically fundamentalism. She has quotes about inter-racial marriage, slavery, science (specifically the Galileo controversy ie., the terra centric and thus a anthropological view of the universe), the annihilation of North American tribal peoples, women’s suffrage, and lastly segregation.

The whole project of RHE’s is that she wants to show that we cannot have certainty as certainty about something has not only been shown to be wrong upon further enquiry but has also been the condition that is present wherein we commit atrocities in the name of God. It also seems to be the case that if we can be shown to be inconsistent in one place, we may be inconsistent in another. Personally, I’m rather sympathetic to the certainty issue and not so much with the inconsistency one.

Regardless, there seems to be an inconsistency on her part because, well, she is a product of evangelicalism itself and as a result could be even more charitable than she makes herself out to be (“Look at the history of the church! [in those quotes] Terrible!”). What I mean by that is this. Evangelicals are notorious for being ahistorical. For example, this is seen in our churches when we come together to worship. Our buildings are rid of liturgical artifacts and we don’t realize when it comes to Bible reading that we read with rose coloured glasses– ie., that our biblical approach is not “objective.” And the same could be applied to what RHE is bringing up in her post. That is, she basically takes history out of it’s historical context. It’s not all about hindsight or progress. What we might want to do is ask about RHE’s and those who look at history the same way she does if they make a proper “distinction between those who love(d) history and those who use(d) history” for their own ideological purposes.

In other words, LOOKING BACK on history we might see what we think is an inconsistency but it is only an inconsistency with OUR times and not necessarily with their OWN times. History is a complex art. Not only must we get our facts right (which I’m not so sure RHE’s does even here on some if not most of those quotes) but we need to balance those facts against the wider backdrop of the times in which those acts took place much of which can come up with significant different interpretations which is ultimately why we have different volumes of books on specific events and persons of history.

One of the things that irks me about evangelicals deals specifically with the ahistorical and thus uncharitable view of that “bastard child” fundamentalism. Yes, there is progression. Yes, we move on to other questions. But I’m not referring to that. I’m referring to looking specifically at the HISTORY of fundamentalism with charitable eyes. Let me provide an example of this.

The other day I was reading a bit of a book called, “The Sword of Lord” by Andrew Himes. The book is an excellent part biography (as Himes was related to some of the big names within fundamentalism as a movement) part history book of fundamentalism. The nice thing about Himes’ book, is that it is sympathetic towards fundamentalism. It’s not that he agrees with fundamentalism it’s that he seems to realize that nothing occurs within a vacuum of sorts especially, in this case, a historical vacuum. Here are a few paragraphs I found interesting in the book.

“In general, a fundamentalist outlook made a lot of sense in a world in which you needed to be certain where to stand in order to survive the next day and to defend the lives and welfare of your family. Fundamentalism was a rational, and emotional, response to a dangerous world where you needed to know who was a sheep and who was a goat, who was for you and who was against you, who might slip a blade between your ribs and who would love you back.

Likewise, fundamentalist religion has reflected the absolutism of fundamentalist politics. Historically, Christian fundamentalists in America focused on identifying and proclaiming the set of doctrines or beliefs that have been held by orthodox Christians since about the fourth century the blood atonement, the virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, the resurrection of Jesus, and his awaited return. Fundamentalists then militantly defended those doctrines against perceived heretical threats from liberals and modernists in the early twentieth century. It is striking, however, that those doctrines deemed “fundamental” did not include such core Christian doctrines as the Triune nature of God. They did not include the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace (the heart of the Protestant Reformation). And they included nothing from the revolutionary teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry.

It is evident that the selection of ‘The Fundamentals” a century ago was time-bound, driven by the specific terms of a battle over doctrine fought by two groups of people bitterly opposed to each other.

But what happens to fundamentalism when its original enemies have succumbed to the passage of time or have been replaced by new opponents and the specific terms of the debate of a century ago become irrelevant? How does fundamentalism remain relevant in a world of evidently breathtaking diversity an array of different spiritual practices, philosophies, and explorations of the meaning of God and spirit none of which can seemingly claim to be authoritative? What does fundamentalism evolve into when the children of fundamentalists turn out to be more interested in following Jesus and practicing Christian, love than arguing over arcane points, of doctrine?”

I think RHE could not only be a better historian (not someone who uses history for ideological purposes) but someone who realizes the complexity of history and tries to balance it with a more charitable and sympathetic understanding.


Certainty? Or Confidence.

I just finished reading Greg Boyd’s newest book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty

There are pros and cons to the book and hopefully, I can unpack and parse out some more in a future blog after I’m done reading Lesslie Newbigin’s book, A Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship as I want to compare both. So in short itinerary fashion I will just point out both the positives and negatives I find in the book.

Pros:
A. Instrumental in showing how doubt actually works in the life of faith and is not actually an enemy of faith. Greg does this via an autobiographical sketch of his marriage to his wife Shelly.
B. Shows problems of a particular approach to the scriptures–what Greg calls, “The house of cards” analogy. You build a structure out of cards. If you pull just one card out, the whole house falls. So for Greg, our faith should not depend on this approach to the Bible. I think some Catholics would take some issues with this with their belief that God encapsulated the Gospel message in writing and guaranteed it in such away that it would not lead us astray but bring us to saving faith. Which just so happens to be through the Church a historical reality. For Greg, the Bible confirms his faith in Jesus. Though, the problem with what Greg is saying, of which not only one person has pointed out, is that the place you learn about and have faith in Jesus is FROM the Bible! So there seems to be this sort of, “Which came first? The Chicken or the egg?” thingy going on. I think there is something to be said for both approaches and it starts off with the existence of God. That is, if there IS a God and that God sought out writing and language as a means to communicate with us (this all starts out on an existential basis, without the guarantee that we have an accurate Bible) then he could have guaranteed that message was accurate and now that we have the Bible, we are very much dependent on it to substantiate our faith in Christ. This is not to say that “pagan saints” of the Old Testament as Pinnock referred to them were not worshipping the true God. But God revealed himself clearly enough even back then, such that people were not to worship false gods and he did see fit, even then, to write some demands down as well. But the thing is that we DO have the Bible NOW and the work of the Holy Spirit has finished the canonization process, though questions of how many and which books belong in that canon is a question I won’t respond to now other than saying that whether you believe, as Protestants do, that we have everything we need in the 66 books of the Protestant Bible or the extra books which are found in the Catholic Bible, eitherway, we surround ourselves around those 66 books and so that book ( The Bible) is vitally important for our faith.

Cons:
A. Greg’s “cruciformed hermeneutic.” Greg wants to say that the cross is the quintessential expression of God’s love for us. That that looks different from the ugly portraits of God in the Old Testament. He wants to say that we really don’t see this loving God in the genocide narratives. Though they may be exaggerated and use hyperbole, I don’t agree that those judgments, if they did indeed occurred were any less loving. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between the Testaments and judgment is one of the continuous motifs. No where else, do we see “innocence” being crushed than in Jesus on the cross. Is 53:10
B. I tend to note a pious thread in Greg’s work in part because, well he’s anabaptist and so even here it is no different. For Greg would want us to talk all about what really matters and that is Jesus. Social issues aren’t as important and are especially dangerous if talking about these things hinders someone’s faith. Greg doesn’t like the “package deal” Christianity. Let’s face it though. You can’t really speak about Christ without speaking about HOW to faithfully serve him. Sure, I get it. One doesn’t need to speak about gay marriage and accept traditional marriage POLITICALLY to be a Christian. Sure, I can accept that. And because Christians have bought into the “packaged deal” Christianity, many in the world want nothing to do with religion. But it isn’t all the Christians fault. Any time Christians say, “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” there are going to be some who bulk at that sort of confidence.

I want to end this with a couple of quotes from Greg’s book toward the very end of the book. Greg wants to feel confident about his existential experience with Jesus for he says:

“In these moments, I wonder to myself if I might be engaging in wishful thinking. It’s a perfectly reasonable suspicion. If the suspicion persists, I simply step back and reexamine the question I’ve explored so many times before: Why do I believe what I believe? Doubt isn’t a problem that needs to be overcome; it’s an invitation that needs to be explored. It is not the enemy of faith, but a friend. In any case, as I now bring this book to a close, I trust it is clear why my feelings of certainty or doubt are completely irrelevant to my faith walk, so long as I continue to remain confident enough that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God that I’m willing to commit to living my life as if this belief is true.”

And later on down:

“In fact, as people throughout the ages have discovered, I feel the closer I grow to Christ, the more fine-tuned my awareness of my sin becomes. I am acutely aware of how much of my moment-by-moment thinking and living is actually more reflective of a person who lives as though it were not true that Christ is Lord—what Paul calls living in “the flesh.” And this intensifying awareness consistently brings me back to my foundational trust in the character of God, revealed on Calvary. I am always brought back to my need to trust that God’s love is infinitely greater than my sin. So I offer up my sin, receive his forgiveness, and bask in his loving embrace. And as I behold the beauty of his magnanimous, relentless, unfathomable love and grace, flowing from Calvary, I am transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV). Though I don’t consistently manifest it, I know that I am, by the grace of God, a child of God. And as John so beautifully puts it, while I can’t imagine how I will appear when God has completed his gracious work in me, I know I shall “see him as he is,” for I “shall be like him” (1 John 3:1-3).

Correction: I don’t actually know this. I can’t be certain. But I’m confident enough to live as if it’s true, with the confident hope that it’s true, and with a profound longing for the glorious day when, I trust, it will be proved to be true.”

From my perspective, I really don’t know, how, in these post modern times, one can get away from the allergic response (bulking at) at this sort of confidence.


The Church As A Garden: A Metaphor And Some Practical Advice

Roger Olson has a great blog concerning all of the different interpretations within evangelicalism here. The e-mailer he refers to in his blog sees this as problematic. Personally, I welcome this state of affairs.

Anyone who is aware of James K.A. Smith’s work would recognize that he wrote specifically about this state of affairs in his book, “The Fall of the Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic” where he speaks of truth not as being uniform but rather pluriform. This has been talked about for years now by folks like Robert Brow, here.

If it is the case that there ARE serious differences within Christianity in general, I would still agree with Goldingay who says that Christians have much more in common than they do differences. But this commonality also means something else. It seems that a lot of Christian, when they speak about “the church” (usually some sort of negative criticism) they speak about it monolithically. This happens mostly among evangelical Protestant types. And so, all, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox are bunched together to form a single whole and then the church is criticized for having a blind spot here or there or what have you.

When this happens, I see this as having a “thin” theology and not a “thick” one (to borrow from either Mirsolav Volf or McGrath, I can’t remember). By that I mean that there are distinctives between the different branches of Christianity plus distinctives WITHIN the branches themselves so as to result in different schools of thought, denominations, etc. That is, they are thick enough such that there are deep theological/philosophical roots to these differences, not differences that are not that important. This is why I would refer to the Body of Christ as a garden. There are roses, daisies, orchids, tulips, iris’ and so forth. This is God’s desire. So one flower or set of flowers in God’s garden can’t say to another flower or set of flowers, “We don’t need you” or “You don’t belong here.” That’s God’s business not yours or mine and He’ll sort out who belongs in the garden and who doesn’t.

That being the case, I get more than a little perturbed when someone from one tradition bemoans what is going on in another tradition because:

A. They are not a part of the particular tradition they are at odds with (which is probably why they are in another tradition altogether anyway). It’s really a family feud, not an outsider’s.
B. Each tradition should be allowed to exist without criticism. What I mean by that is
i) NOT that I can never look at another tradition and say, “I don’t agree with that.”
ii) What I mean is that I can look at that tradition and say, “I don’t agree with that but that is _____ tradition.” and fill in the blank with whatever particular tradition you may be referring to.

So there are a couple of things to say about the individual and (their relationship to) particular religious traditions.

A. I would say that it is not so much a case of, “Hey, why all the differences?” as much as it is a case of jumping into the deep end of a particular tradition. That is, in large part, find out why a particular tradition does what it does–teaches what it teaches. You just may find out that things can get pretty complex. Commit yourself to a particular tradition while being open to the idea that you don’t have the corner of truth on theology. That you may have something to learn and possibly change your position (no matter how strongly felt) on from/concerning another tradition. In other words, it is faith seeking understanding (which pretty much means growing in a pietistic faith not mere head knowledge). At the end of the day, you are responsible for your faith. You stand before God and are responsible for why you believe and practice what you do.
B. When you realize that there are “thick” differences between traditions, that is cause to be a little more understanding than offering some possible misdirected complaint about said tradition. Each one will be allowed to exist in the world without your shoving the so-called, “dirty laundry” before an unbelieving world. I put dirty laundry in quotes because many times what is perceived as “Christian Culture” and what doesn’t belong to “truth faith” is actually an outworking of a deep theological understanding of faith. It allows you to recognize the differences for what they are and that fellow Christians can live out the Gospel (as they perceive it), in different yet refreshing ways.


The Rule of Countercultural Witness: Analyzing What Warrants It Pt. 3

This is the last in this series of postings on this subject and more can be said, ie. the problem of trajectories in scripture, but I’m only keeping it to these issues so as to not overload the reader with details.

So, overall, what we have in the rule as Cosgrave states is this:

“The rule of countercultural witness depends on two basic theological judg-
ments: (1) that the Bible is a human witness to the divine word in which
God’s revelation is communicated but also distorted and (2) that God is
against ideology, that is, opposed to those cultural norms, values, institu-
tions, etc. that serve the interests of the more powerful at the expense of the
less powerful. These two judgments support the following two inferences:
(1) that one of the ways in which the Bible faithfully communicates the di-
vine revelation is by witnessing to God’s protest against ideology and
(2) that one of the ways in which the Bible distorts the divine revelation is through ideological distortion. The rule of countercultural witness dis- I
criminates between ideological assimilation and counter-ideological pro-
test in scripture. The rule accords special weight to those voices in scripture
that advocate for the socially powerless or marginalized against dominant
cultural value systems. The rule presumes that these marginalized voices
have a greater claim than culturally-affiliating voices to speak for the God
made known in Jesus Christ who, in order to save both oppressed and op-
pressor, joined with the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the power-
less, the weak.”

Essentially, one of the problems of the countercultural witness rule is what I hinted at in the previous post but want to look at a little closer here. Though the rule does not consider everything that is countercultural as good or its opposite, that everything culturally normative is bad it, as Cosgrave says, it “focuses on culture as a vehicle of asymmetrical power relations.”

As a result, it is presumed by most everyone that works with the rule that everything that “every countercultural interest or value of the disenfranchised is morally good. Well, you can already see where something like this goes. There may be some moral practices that are treated good that shouldn’t be. Now, if those working with the countercultural rule respond to this by showing that something must be “manifestly unjust or immoral” the problem with this is, manifestly unjust and immoral to whom?

An example that Cosgrave uses is that of chattel slavery. For slaveholders, the emancipation of slaves meant a “signified loss of ‘property’ and being placed on equal footing with blacks.” And for those who do not adhere to the countercultural witness rule? They do so on the basis of what THEY consider as manifestly unjust or immoral.

In our age of liberation people working with the rule of countercultural witness wonder how people at that time could have thought that slavery or patriarchy was morally good. They work with an “ideology as a vindication of the theory of ideology as an explanatory system”–a sort of circular argument. In other words, they use ideology so as “to map the moral landscape today in order to position themselves against ideology.”

Now, if you are on the “receiving end” of those who adhere to this rule they more than likely will see you as not giving greater credence to those with less power. For them, if you are to have moral knowledge of the powerless, it HAS to come from the powerless. They are the best voices. The minority voices.

But there is a problem with this. There is the question of whether a potential ideology is EVER GENERATED FROM BELOW. And the reason why this is, is because it is questioned that those who ARE disenfranchised are ever really able to do so in a way that is countercultural. In other words, do the disenfranchised produced ALTERNATIVE VISIONS that are either:

A. variations of the ruling ideology and hence not really countercultural (though they may potentially be)?
B. are genuinely utopian?

Now, if the disenfranchised produce potential visions that are both alternative AND a variation of the dominant ideology that are POTENTIAL then it is very well possible that this will be so for “B,” utopian visions. And to the extent “that advocates of utopian visions make their case from dominant traditions (including a revered past) they show their visions to be in some sense variations of the dominant tradition.” In other words, “Revolution must borrow from what it inevitably wants to destroy.” (Roland Barthes, “Writing Degree Zero”). So, even though there is always continuity with the past, a sort of paradox and dialectic, one should still be cautious in the use of the rule as such.

Lastly, according to Cosgrave, because the rule depends on a general moral hermeneutic of the oppressed, is it not really repeating what one knows through ideological critique? If such is the case, then one is really not APPEALING to scripture but rather, is appealing to an hermeneutic so as to provide a way of validating or invalidating the voices of scripture. There are many influences that bear upon us as we read the Bible and even an ideology has a place. However, when it comes down to it, the “church’s understanding of the Bible as a whole can appropriately shape the church’s hermeneutical approach to the Bible in any of it’s parts.” Thus, even if you are a feminist theologian, the Bible will have an authority based in “scripture’s overall redemptive purpose which would include redemption of scripture from the bondage of patriarchy.”

In the end, Cosgrave says that ideology, while providing a basis for a rule, the rule is presumptive at best and not final or absolute force. As a presumptive force, the rule would/should be “controlling UNLESS and UNTIL countervailing reasons are adduced against its application in a particular instance.”