Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Liberals, liberation, and another Elvis sighting*

While reading a book by Eugene Peterson a few months ago, I came across some quotes on eschatology from the Lutheran theologian Juergen Moltmann, one of Europe's foremost 20th-century philosopher-theologians, along with Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Rudolf Bultmann, several of whose theology bears some flavor of existentialism, liberation theology, or marxism. Now I'll be the first to say that I'm a huge fan of Bonhoeffer, but I've always had an uneasy response to his involvement in an assassination plot on Adolf Hitler in 1944. Moltmann and Niebuhr were strong political and social activitists, whose theologies were largely developed around the practical outworkings of the "Christian faith".**

Then, last month, I read a wonderfully thought-provoking little book by some leading evangelicals in the field of hermeutics (the process of interpreting Scripture for modern contexts) titled Beyond the Bible: Moving From Scripture to Theology (Baker Academic, 2004). It has helped me to become aware of how incredibly important thinking about theology is for every decision we make today (and by what methods we go about doing that). Pepsi has produced new cans printed with the Pledge of Allegiance, but without the words "under God." Most evangelicals would raise a stink about this, but I'm not really one to waste my energy in such an inconsequential and unwinnable battle. But what I did begin wondering is whether or not I can even honestly say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands." After all, Paul writes that our "citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). And how would I go about forming a biblical theology concerning pacifism/involvement or euthanasia or capital punishment or contraceptives or stem cell research? My personal jury is currently hung on all of these issues.

In the midst of this, part of me begs the difficult question, Is it possible to have pure interpretation of Scripture apart from any philosophical presuppositions? Take Bultmann, for example: his NT theology developed strongly from the existentialism of Martin Heidegger. Or Moltmann with marxist Ernst Bloch. I look at my own opinions regarding the Bible and see clearly that I believe certain things: the Bible contains absolute propositional claims and is a factual record of God's work in history. This stands opposed to much of the liberal theology built around the Bible as personal or community records of their own experience of God, as communicated through images and metaphor. (But what do we do with the ends of history and the Scriptural communiques concerning creation [Genesis 1-11] and re-creation [The Revelation]? After all, even Bonhoeffer wavered over the literal existence of an Adam and Eve [see his Creation and Fall]. And I'm still not sure about Jonah.) Likewise, I know I have presuppositions governing my view of science.

And then what do you make of Barth, the champion of neo-orthodoxy, who says that the Bible is not actually the revelation of God (for Scripture is finite and the product of fallen, finite man), but rather the record of the revelation of God to men whom he inspired? Barth says that because God is "wholly other" and transcendant to mankind and creation, although Scripture can express God in human concepts, it does not truly reveal God himself. However, in his sovereign freedom and love, God does reveal himself through this human expression in the preaching of the written Word.

Anyway, this has left me with a lot of questions that hang uneasily in my mind right now, forcing me toward prayer and gratitude that my acceptance and security before God rests in his might and love in Christ rather than in my strength of faith. "Faith, if it ever is to be a noun, is properly the whole play, from the first scene to the last" (Walter Wangerin, Jr.).

*For a primer on proto-liberal Christianity, please see Rob Bell's new book, Velvet Elvis. From what I've read of it so far--and I'll admit it's not much--Bell is well-intentioned but wrong.
** I say "Christian faith" because some of these men are considered to belong to the "liberal" camp, with Christologies and/or views of Scripture that diverge from orthodox Christianity.

1 comment:

halfmom said...

First, how many people do you think - out of the general blog community - understand how and then actually do use footnotes? Humm, what does this tell me about your personality - coach, teacher, theologian - English major?

I think as to stem cells, contraceptives, etc.... you must decide what are the underlying principles. For example, in the instances above, how do you decide what you think theologically if you haven't first decided what you think the definition of life is.