Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The incarnational nature of scripture

Sadly I am becoming a blogger who does little other than quote people at the moment. If I had a little more time and energy I would not be, but here is another quote-based post.

Rick Phillips is complaining about the recent concern of some to propagate a 'incarnational' doctrine of scripture. This approach (recently, and slightly controversially, espoused by Peter Enns book) is concerned to emphasize that Scripture is both fully of God and fully human.

I think I will record my various thoughts on what he wrote...

It is true that God's Word is both divine and human, but that does not make "incarnational" an accurate description. The message is a divine message, not a divine/human message. Its origin and content derive not from man but from God (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

It seems to me Phillips is setting up an antithesis 'incarnationalists' would not accept. Being a good Calvinist I believe everything that has its 'origin and content' in humanity has its ultimate origin in God's will. Really the question is whether it it's content is after God's heart, and so whether it contains freedom or slavery; truth or lie. The humans writing scripture like any preacher today believe they are speaking in accord with the longings of God's heart, they claim that both the origin and authority for their content is God (agreeing with Phillips) but that does not mean that they would deny the 'origin and content' did not belong to them too. So when Phillips argues that: 'Warfield labors to point out that "what the prophets affirm is that their messages do not come out of their own hearts and do not represent the workings of their own spirits" (p. 93).' he is manifestly wrong. If the biblical writings did 'not represent the workings of their [writer's] spirits' they would never have bothered to put pen to paper.

Phillips then, after affirming the divine accommodation of scripture (which in fact is very similar to the 'incarnationalists' approach), says some interesting things.

But it is noteworthy, I think, that current Reformed scholarship's emphasis on the humanity of Scripture (following mainstream academia) is exactly opposite of the Bible's strong emphasis on the divinity of Scripture over against its humanity ("Thus saith the Lord," etc.). In doing so, we also de-emphasize those perspectives on the Bible that most reflect its divine nature, such as its unity, its authority, its clarity, and its power. Instead, we emphasize (and glorify) human factors, most especially the priest-academics upon whose critical-scholarly techniques we will increasingly have to rely as the Bible is more and more seen as a book of man.

I feel the sting of this comment. I want to both defend the Reformed scholarship I often follow, and follow Phillips criticism of it, and of myself with it. In its defense I would say that Reformed Scholarship is right to emphasize the humanity of scripture in the light of views such as Phillips (which as Enns points out often do as much harm as good) for reasons I have hinted at. On the other hand I feel the force of his appeal to scripture. But after a little thought I think that the reason for this can be found in the differing contexts of the two. The 'incarnationalists' emphasis on the human is right in the context of unhelpful views like Phillips, the biblical writers however were I suspect reacting against the opposite view. Perhaps the differing approaches are due to different understandings of the threat to the truth, scripture with a much more outward-looking concern, than the largely in-house argument of the 'incarnationalists'. I think of the all too few occasions I stand to defend the truth of God's word to the world, compared to the many times I think over the pros and cons of various doctrines in my own home.

I do not think it a sin to look to God's appointed teachers in the church for understanding I cannot receive alone on a desert island with my bible. However, I do confess that I too often emphasize the human part of the bible because of my fleshly desire to avoid a confrontation with God. But bizarrely this is also avoidance of the human authors own challenge!

I have disproved myself there! And when I think about it I can emphasize the divine aspect in my thought and still avoid the confrontation. I am confusing myself so I will stop.

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thes 2:11-13)

I cannot separate the divine and human origin of scripture in my head, but sadly I can hold it at arms length however I imagine it so that it cannot work in me, as it did in the Thessalonians.

...Please pray for me. This is after all the root of all Christian life.

PS sorry for the confusingly written post, I hope you got the gist of it. I would rewrite if I had the energy, but I do not. I am glad I thought about the issues though


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