Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leftovers

These days I am more and more appreciative of leftovers—the ones in my Bible not my fridge (I’ve always enjoyed those). The idea of “leftovers” comes from Christian Smith. 

Leftover texts are outliers; they are incongruous and glitchy. For whatever reason, they are uncomfortable for the believers of the paradigms for which they are anomalous.  . . . those that are anomalous for one paradigm often turn out to be core texts in a different paradigm. What is leftover to one framework is fundamental to another (Christian Smith, “The Bible Made Impossible,” p. 44).  

In other words, whichever system one adheres to (Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism—or any other “ism”) there are multitudes of verses and/or passages which do not seem to “fit” within the system—leftovers 

Unfortunately, folks who become intellectually and even emotionally committed to a specific theological framework, tend to ignore, downplay, explain away, or “shoehorn” leftovers in the name of systematic consistency (this is affectionately dubbed “sola systema”).  

I’m presently at a place where I don’t feel compelled to “synthesize” or “reconcile” every single text to other texts or to any particular theological paradigm. I’m increasingly comfortable with letting the texts of scripture speak for themselves.  

Said another way, I feel no compulsion to (as my friend, Charlie Harris, says) "flatten" scripture. I'm trying to purposefully let the sacred text speak in its own bumpy terms, with its own unresolved tensions. I'm not concerned to try to tame the text or to wrap everything in a nice, neat little bow. Life isn't like that. Neither is scripture. 

We have to deal with antinomy in the biblical revelation . . . An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together. . . . Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy mind, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.  

 . . . An antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible. . . . It is unavoidable, and it is insoluble. We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. . . . What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. . . . This is how antinomies must be handled, whether in nature or in Scripture. (J. I. Packer, “Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God,” p.p. 18-19, 21). 

Thus, the Bible leaves us with tensions. It puts forward antinomies. It has been said, "A religion without mystery is a religion without God." I think this is true.  

So rather than solving mysteries I’m savoring antinomies—and the leftovers ain’t bad.

9 comments:

  1. I find myself having arrived at a very similar place in my thinking as well Steve. A lot of the major controversies we see in Christendom today seem to boil down to our attempts at forcibly trying to reconcile the antinomy between different passages -- rather than learning to allow such tensions to exist.

    I'm not sure how familiar you are with the "Hebrew" vs. "Greek" worldview discussion, but your article reminded me of a quote from a Messianic Jewish scholar (also a Calvinist):

    "[The] Hebrew perspective expected certain tensions and even apparent contradictions within the revealed truth about God and His purpose for mankind, as well as a willingness to live in the face of such tensions. Rather than constructing a philosophical theology that attempted to explain away all conflicts, the Hebrew worldview allowed differing viewpoints to exist within the larger circle of truth." - http://bit.ly/1p7OR9w

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    1. Excellent. Thanks for reading and thinking, Rob.

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  2. Interesting. As the many tensions in the Abraham/Isaac story show --as you said elsewhere.

    And we notice on that, that the lesson the New Testament summarizes is "Faith". We see that in Romans, where Paul says "Abraham believed God", and again the writer to the Hebrews: "By faith Abraham..." Heb. 11:8

    RobRoy interesting comment/comparison of the Hebrew Worldview/minset vs. the Greek. This is on my short list to read:

    Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

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    1. I haven't read that one yet Charles, but I'm glad to see Kaiser's name on the list. I added it to my (obscenely long) reading list. ;o)

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  3. OTOH, it is also important to not go too far the other way, as our friend Michael Bauman wrote in Pilgrim Theology: Taking the Path of Theological Discovery:

    'Fortress Theology and the Mirage of Paradox
    ...I admire those theologians who, once they reach a dead end, back up the bus and try another route. That theologian may find himself in a dead end once again, or he may find the one route that leads out of the maze. That route does exist. God, at any rate, seems to have found it. While it may be that we never will, we ought to con­tinue to try. Some theologians, however, being either unable or unwilling to pursue their quarry any further, become entrenched in paradox.

    They learn to tolerate un­remedied paradox when unremedied paradox should be shunned. Perhaps they do so because to them the prospect of going back (perhaps even to the beginning) is too unsettling and too daunting....'

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    1. We do need a balanced approach. Incidentally, Packer in his "Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God" differentiates between "paradox" and "antinomy."

      Thanks for reading and thinking, Charlie.

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  4. RobRoy, what struck me as especially relevant about the book I linked, as it relates to this thread, is Peter Enns makes much of the phenomena of the NT writers using OT passages in ways we would not expect them to -- given our "modern" way of thinking (and therefore how WE would use the OT) . Granting the mere claim as true, what accounts for this unexpected way the NT writers sometimes use the OT?

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  5. I'd have to see which examples Enns uses and the conclusions that he draws from those passages. I'm not very familiar with his work. Just cherry picking a quote out of his book though, I did find this quote problematic:
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    "Jesus was a surprise ending; a crucified and risen messiah wasn’t something Israel’s story was set up to handle. Yet, for Paul, this is how Israel’s God was now moving in the world.

    To get this radical idea across, Paul had to reimagine his Scripture, transforming it from a local and ethnic story into a universal story around Jesus. Paul even wound up declaring parts of Israel’s story null and void.

    If you are expecting Paul to read the Bible like it was set in stone, you will find yourself getting pretty nervous. For Paul, now that Jesus has come, the Bible was more like clay to be molded."
    ------------------------

    Something tells me (just based on this quote, and not having read the book) that Enns and I are going to have some big disagreements on this front -- I think it *would* be problematic for Paul to declare parts of Israel's story "null and void" (especially if the "parts of the story" he refers to are based on unconditional promises that God gave to Israel).

    For me, and the journey I've been on, I've found it much more beneficial to attempt at reading Paul as a Jewish Pharisee living in the first century, among the 1st century Jewish community -- and who took the Tanakh as divinely inspired and authoritative in matters of faith and practice, from beginning and end. Every time I try to read Paul outside of this framework, I run into too many hermeneutical problems and double standards (for example, if a Pastor today stands up and contradicts something in the Bible, his congregants would rightly rise up and reprove him for his error -- yet very often, we don't apply this way of thinking to Paul, and his letters, as they related to the scriptures of his day -- i.e. the Tanakh).

    I'm probably rabbit trailing here, but all of that to say that I think Enns and I are going to have very different views of how Paul (and most likely Yeshua/Jesus himself) should and shouldn't be read.

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  6. To be clear, I haven't yet read this book. But, this sort of thing is a pervasive refrain with Enns throughout many of his writings, (a hobby horse that he beats -- if I may mix metaphors).

    But, Enns aside, the premise of the book --it seem to me--- would be much lacking if there wasn't this general perception that the NT uses OT allusions, and even putative "quotes", in ways that we in our day find not within our natural obvious way of explaining and invoking Scripture.

    We are often rather forensic, literal, and direct in our handling of all Scripture, whereas it is claimed by some of today's re-interpreters, like Enns -- but there are others-- that sometimes the NT writers seemingly use OT quotes more creatively than we would expect they should be used.

    Enns explanation does seem problematic. One reviewer on another book called Enns participation "toxic". Whether that is too harsh and too emotional, I don't know. But, his contributions do seem decidedly deconstructionist.

    Clearly, Paul and others had something positive and instructive in mind when they use OT scriptures in their writing. So, I remain optimistic that there are salutary and instructive explanations of what the NT writers were up to. Something comparable to the classic view, but (in keeping with the spirit of this thread) maybe not as tidy as we would prefer, given our perceptions of what constitutes "tidy".

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