Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holding fast onto Scripture - Learning from Kierkegaard PART 2/3

[From part 1/3] So for Kierkegaard, the incarnation is the Absolute Paradox where the eternal meets the temporal, the divine meets human. This is indeed a mystery - how can Christ be fully divine yet fully human? Kierkegaard claims that this can only be accepted by faith. And indeed, true faith is a subjective acceptance of this Absolute Paradox. This flies in the face of the foundationalists. This is, Kierkegaard says, the true religion. 

For those of us who were raised in Christian family - who know about the incarnation of Christ as long as we can remember ourselves - we often treat the hypostatic union of Christ for granted. It is as if we had that doctrine in the palm of our hand. It ceases to be mysterious for us. Although there could be many reasons for this, I suspect it is partly due to our upbringing in a post-Enlightenment scientific era which has little tolerance for mystery or paradox. Any uncertainty must be eradicated. While science has brought us far and is indeed a priestly duty for every Christian, we often embrace scientism. And this affects our theology as well. Every tension shall and can be harmonized, and our theology has to "make sense" philosophically. Moreover, systematization is often preferred over a more "nebulous" category like narrative (which is unfortunately the main category in the Bible!!). Why? As someone says, "... because our God is a rational God." While I sympathize with such a sentiment, I find that an extreme adherence to this principle ends up choking the grandeur and beauty of the Bible, and often, irreverently forcing the Bible to answer questions it does not address.     

In this second part, we can see how Kierkegaard's category of the Absolute Paradox can help us cope with many problems we encounter with the Bible. Rather than fitting every "phenomenon of Scripture" (borrowing the term from Warfield) into a rationalistic straightjacket (i.e. every tension can be solved via logical argument), I personally believe that we may learn and be sanctified more if we accept tensions and problems we face in our study of the Bible. This is true as long as we hold fast onto the truthfulness of the Bible since God who utters his words is faithful. But how can Kierkegaard's category help us in fostering faith in the Bible? Here is an inadequate yet sincere reflection of someone who loves the Bible yet admits many apparent problems as he gets deeper and deeper into his study. Is it possible to face those problems as a source of strength rather than an ammunition of unfaith without subscribing to rationalism?        


PART 2/3
Despite Kierkegaard’s extensive use of Scripture in his writings, he did not attempt to establish the authority of Scripture which was threatened by the rise of modern biblical criticism. Lacking such insight from his writings, can we answer the following questions from Kierkegaardian perspective: 1. Does saving faith include personal acceptance of the infallibility (hence authority) of Scripture by faith? 2. What is the relationship between the two categories of faith of a believer?

The first question can be answered simply by appealing to the gospel content. The incarnation of Christ is an historical reality which is witnessed only in the canon of Scripture. Hence, saving faith – characterized in part by a total submission – certainly includes appropriation of and submission to the gospel truth. However, the canon includes not only the basic gospel message of redemption in and through the God-man, but also other doctrines that are important for faith and life. Most believers came to Christ by appropriating the gospel message without presupposing the authority of the entire canon. While some, upon their conversion, may reckon that the Bible is the Word of God, they may not apprehend its sense of authority and infallibility. Therefore, saving faith indeed includes personal acceptance of the authority of the basic message of salvation in the gospel of Christ which permeates throughout Scripture just as salt in the sea water. However, stating that saving faith includes personal acceptance of the authority of Scripture as a whole is unwarranted. Yet the same faith is the “receiving organ” of (possibly) later acceptance of the authority of Scripture. Having said that, we do not intend to argue that appropriation of the authority of Scripture in its totality is a necessary fruit of saving faith. Instead, we argue that such an authority may be appropriated through the same means.

To address the second question, one solution is to employ a presuppositional argument. The authority of the canon must be presupposed as an article of faith. A presupposition demands neither proof nor evidence. It stands as a subjective starting point of a quest for further knowledge of Scripture. While this solution is valid, it fails to address how such article of faith is related to saving faith. Another solution is to apply the so-called “externalist epistemology” which assumes that our perceptions are reliable and defines knowledge as how we are rightly related to the world outside us. Here, knowledge does not imply absolute certainty but resorts to qualitative reliability. From such perspective, one may claim that our appropriation of the authority of Scripture is simply a “reliable belief” based on the facts we know about Scripture through our experience. Such belief gradually evolves, either stronger or weaker, depending on the reliability of Scripture as our senses perceive it. It is comparable to other practical beliefs such as the reliability of our friends and cars. While such solution accounts for the subjectivity of faith and allows us to understand how faith grows, it fails to highlight the presupposed uniqueness of our faith in the authority of Scripture.

Alternatively, we may simply state that accepting the authority of the canon by faith is analogous to saving faith. However, such analogy is not obvious. A strong analogy can be established, however, if there is an analogy between the objects of faith. Therefore, it is sufficient to demonstrate an analogy between the incarnation of Christ and Scripture. Indeed, such analogy has been recognized by several Reformed theologians. Kuyper taught that “there is a necessary, intrinsic parallel between incarnation and inscripturation of the Logos which further necessitates for each the form of a servant”. Other theologians such as Warfield and Bavinck recognized likewise. Just as the Logos who is eternal, divine, and glorious, entered the temporary, contingent, and lowly world, the eternal Word of God entered the world, impinging upon the history of humankind. Just as the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word of God took a form of human language and was given to us. Just as Christ is fully divine and fully human in nature, Scripture is fully divine and fully human in its authorship. Fallible human authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to put Verbum Dei in an infallible written form. Christ became an obedient servant upon his mission on earth, suffered as a human, and subjected himself to rejection and contempt. Likewise, Scripture, taking a servant form, is subjected to rejection, severely and often unfairly criticized. Christ, being a human, was weak and “without form or comeliness”. Likewise, the canon did not visibly drop from heaven with trumpet sounds yet came in a humble process of inscripturation over two millenia. One may be easily captivated by the majesty of the cosmos –starry skies, the Alps, and the Niagara Fall– regardless of his belief in God. Yet it is much easier for him to ignore or simply not notice a book entitled “Holy Bible”, let alone for him to treat it as divinely inspired, infallible, and authoritative. While well-preserved through duplications and translations, the non-existent autographa has become a subject of criticism and an excuse when one stumbles in faith. Added to such weakness is the uncertainty of canonization as the Church is fallible. However, just as Christ is sinless and perfect, the canon is infallible and perfect in its purposes. Therefore, the absolute paradox that is inherent in the incarnation of Christ is also present and demonstrable in the inscripturation of the Word of God. Note that employing such an analogy does not negate but rather establishes the uniqueness of Christ through appropriating the infallible Christological testimony in Scripture.


No comments: