Sunday, October 20, 2013

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

I wrote this article sometime ago before I came across Peter Enns' "Inspiration and Incarnation". So what do I think of that? While Dr. Enns focuses on different issues (showing how "incarnate" can Scripture be), he indeed draws and works from the Old Amsterdam as well. I do think that the book could have been written better to deliver a more positive message and cause less turmoil among the evangelical community. Despite my disagreement with him -especially on his later work- I personally think that Dr. Enns attempts to share a similar struggle that many of us -children of God in Jesus Christ- have.

So yes, accepting the authority of Scripture is indeed an article of faith. It is a presupposition and such faith grows with familiarity. Yet we may gain some insight into the genesis of the presupposition. Am I saying something new here? In some sense, not really. Who doesn't know about the faith part? Yet I am saying more. If you can accept the mystery (and the irony) of the incarnation - the Word becoming flesh, the eternal impinging time, the necessary meeting contingency, and glory in shame - you should be able to accept the mystery of inscripturation. So if you happen to have faith in Christ but struggle with accepting the authority and infallibility of Scripture, I hope this reflection may help you. In one short sentence, the answer is "Look at the cross! The utmost glory in such an accursed state!". Often times, that's the case with Scripture - that is, if you study it long enough and are honest to yourselves ...

SDG, Eko Ong

PART 3/3
Having established the analogy between the incarnation of Christ and the inscripturation as well as recognizing the inherent absolute paradox in both, we are now ready to apply the Kierkegaardian notion of faith to the authority of Scripture. Such authority ought to be personally appropriated through a divine gift of faith upon one’s encounter with the paradox of the existence of the eternal Word of God in such an earthly form. The faith, having acknowledged the limitation of reason and the available evidence, is subjective, passionate, a leap from one category to another. Note that we do not argue that such appropriation must come instantaneously. It often takes place through a process of investigation which involves reason and evidence. However, such process may be viewed as a preparatory stage for the subjective “leap of faith”, a total commitment to the authority of the canon despite the limitation of (neither in light of nor in the absence of) reason and evidence. Once such leap of faith occurs, one may study Scripture with a proper presupposition. Here is when we may apply the aforementioned presuppositional argument. Such presupposition is not merely an intellectual axiom for the task of hermeneutics. Instead, we subjectively embrace its infallibility and “take every thought captive onto the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5) as we embark on such an exciting enterprise. A total commitment to the paradoxical truth is possible without intellectual certainty since our faith is subjective. The infallibility (hence authority) of Scripture is an article of faith. Now we may apply the insight from the externalist epistemology. As we keep appropriating truth from the canon with the aid of our reason and interpretation of evidence, our intimate knowledge of and experience with God (Gal 4:9) grows as he consistently reveals himself in Scripture and witnesses how scriptural truth plays out in our lives. Consequently, our faith upon Scripture is strengthened in quantity and quality. Indeed, having presupposed its infallibility and authority, our faith in Scripture increases as we experience its reliability. Having said this, we reiterate that such faith is a gift from God as Kierkegaard maintained. While Scripture is self-authenticating, we are able to accept its infallibility and authority only through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the authority of Scripture rests not upon us, but upon God.  

Finally, it is fitting to address the notion of infallibility. The infallibility of the canon means that Scripture does not err and cannot err in its purposes, that is, in the matters of faith and life. Moving beyond the issue of modernistic inerrancy of the non-existent autographa, we argue that if our faith in the infallibility of Scripture is as previously described, such faith will not be tossed up and down by the waves of modern biblical criticism. Since we reckon that our faith entails a subjective leap, we passionately appropriate and are totally committed to the truth despite the limitation of our reason and the available evidence. The contingent and worldly cannot prove the necessity and eternal. The evidence that supports the infallibility of Scripture cannot offer any absolute certainty. Likewise, the evidence for the contrary is incapable of disproving the infallibility of Scripture. Any assessment of high-degree of certainty is indeed subjective and based upon a certain passionate pre-commitment, be it pro- or anti-infallibility. Related to such notion is as follows. First, we ought to responsibly define infallibility. While reason and evidence have their limits, there are certain matters that can be demonstrated reasonably and evidently. For example, to dodge historical criticism, one insists that to be historically accurate, the gospel narratives must be written chronologically. Hence, the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and the Johannine Gospel in the account of “Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple” is taken to imply that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice. Does infallibility demand historical accuracy in the sense of chronology? While subjectivity plays a role once one recognizes the limitation of reason and evidence, an overtly selective application of reason and evidence simply demonstrates a subjective pre-commitment to foundationalism. Second, armed with unwavering faith in the infallibility of Scripture, we may have the courage to engage the discipline of biblical criticism with God-honoring presupposition. Unlike those who assign an a priori “guilty-before-proven-innocent” verdict to the Bible, we approach the Bible with reverence and awe, with fear and trembling, reckoning that the Bible is the Word of God, yet it is decreed to live in such a humble earthly existence. It is given to us in the form of a canon, full of profound wisdom yet largely written in the language of commoners, univocal in theme yet microscopically multi-vocal in many places. Such paradox is supra-rational and to be appropriated with God-given subjective faith. Therefore, we may gain additional insights from the discipline, yet with an utmost discernment, and engage over-critical scholars with gentleness and respect.

So what have we accomplished? We wrestled with the doctrine of infallibility and authority of Scripture. We found that many persisting biblical difficulties, be it “inerrancy” or the history of canonization, may shake our faith in the Bible if we insist on a foundationalistic notion of faith which has its basis in reason and evidence. However, the 19th century Protestant philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argued that reason ultimately fails us since rational uncertainty is a part of our finite and contingent human existence. Furthermore, evidence, being contingent and temporary, cannot be used as a proof as proof deals with necessity and eternity. Faith is by nature subjective and a “leap”, a cross-over from one category to another. For Christianity, this is evident in the absolute paradox –or better termed ‘the absolute mystery’– of incarnation. Utilizing the analogy between incarnation and inscripturation –the mystery of glory in weakness, eternity in history, and treasure in the jars of clay– we arrived at a description of faith in the authority of Scripture and its relation to the saving faith. As students of Scripture, we often ask why God, in his sovereign good pleasure, did not give us an ‘ironclad Bible’. Instead, we are left with a modest Bible, majestic in its content yet full of apparent weaknesses. The more we study the Bible, the more we behold its genius yet at the same time we discover more unaddressed problems. Here, Kierkegaard helps us reflect what it means to have faith in the infallible, and hence authoritative, Scripture. We have a choice: to approach the Bible with a suspicious Nietzschian attitude or with an utmost reverence of a child longing to passionately listen to the voice of his Father. Regardless of the attitude we choose, it is subjective in nature. For us who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts so that we may hear the voice of our Father as we flip through the pages of the Bible. Furthermore, the Spirit enables us not only to know the truth but also to submissively live in it. As we keep in step with the Spirit, his Word lights our path (Gal 5:25, Ps 119:105). If we stumble upon the weaknesses of Scripture, we may do well by looking toward Christ. As he hung upon the cross to bear the punishment of our sins, he “had no form of majesty that we should look at him”, “was despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:2-3). But at that very moment, he was glorified and drew all people to himself (John 12:23, 31-33). The climax of the mystery of incarnation, the most magnificent glory and victory (John 16:33) in such an accursed weakness (Gal 3:13), happened on the cross through which God executed his divine plan of salvation. Likewise, God gave us his Word in the form which is foolish to the world to “shame the wise” (1 Cor 1:27-28). If we are able to accept the mystery of the incarnation –God in the weakness of human flesh– how shall we escape if we neglect the mystery of Scripture –the Word of God in the frailty of human language?   

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