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Monday, November 14, 2005

Through the Looking Glass

I started working through Richard Bauckham's James tonight; he opens his Prologue by talking about Kierkegaard. As someone who has spent the past three years in seminary, I find his comments particularly relevant for us today...
Christian Scholarship is the human race's prodigious invention to defend itself against the New Testament, to ensure that one can continue to be Christian without letting the New Testament come too close [or to ensure that one can continue to NOT be a Christian by not letting the New Testament come to close].
- Kierkegaard (1)
Looking at the fruits of the academy, Kierkegaard realized that "far from fullfilling its professed aim of assisting Christian reading of Scripture, [biblical scholarship has] functioned rather to impede it" (2).

James 1:11-25 tells us that Scripture is like a mirror - Kierkegaard says "the Christian who reads Scripture as Scripture, as God's word, must first observe himself in the mirror of the word, and must then put what is heard into practice... (3)

"The first step, therefore, must be to see onself in the mirror. Kierkegard detects in his own age [and much more so in ours] a possibility the parable of James does not explicitly envisage: that of observing only the mirror and not seeing onself in it. This is what happens when biblical scholarship intervenes between the text and its hearers... in fact biblical scholarship raises so many questions about the text that it can never conclusively answer... its effect is to postpone faith and obedience to God's word indefinitely." (3)

The academic enterprise, with its quest for objective certainty, "is a way of avoiding the subjective encounter with what is perfectly plain in the text" (4)

Kierkegaard is really combining two complaints against biblical scholarship... One is that the process of reasearch and interpretation is never done.(4) ... For scholars, "the temptation [is] ti substitute study for faith and action" (5)

The second is the idea of objectivity itself, not in the same way that postmodernim does... "Kierkegaard's complaint against biblical scholarship is quite different... It is that in 'objective' study of the texts, one is not relating to them as Scripture at all... this is observing the mirror instead of seeing oneself in it" (5)
If you are a scholar, remember that if you do not read God's Word in another way, it will turn out that after a lifetime of reading God's Word many hours every day, you nevertheless have never read God's Word... (5)

If God's Word is for you merely a doctrine, something impersonal and objective, then it is no mirror... if you want to relate impersonally (objectively) to God's Word, there can be no question of looking at yourself in the mirror, because it takes a personality, an I, to look at oneself in a mirror; a wall can be seen in a mirror, but a wall cannot see itself or look at itself in a mirror. No, while reading God/s Word you must incessantly say to yourself: It is I to whom it is speaking..
- Kierkegaard (6)
"Kierkegaard insists that action need not wait on learned interpretation of the text. After all, there are plenty of requirements in the Bible whose meaning is perfectly clear." (7)

This is not to suggest that there are no obscure passages. "His point is that there enough perfectly clear ones to keep one busy without having to wait for the conclusions of biblical research before one can live as a Christian" (7)

With Kierkegaard, we should all take a good hard subjective look in the mirror, to see what God reveals, and to act on it in response.


At 8:13 PM, November 17, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

I can't believe everyone responded to the Bonhoeffer post, and no one had anything to say about this one. The people who read this blog must all be theology students... (that was a joke guys, you can laugh now - ha ha?)


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