In This Issue
In the October issue we printed the first of a series of articles which are to focus on the interpretation of Scripture. One reason for reopening this “old” problem is that changes in the world of thought make a fresh assessment necessary. There is a “new” question, one that will affect our churches whether or not we try to ignore it.
A rather poor joke that went around in certain circles some time ago may illustrate the shift of thinking that is taking place. “Dear Mother,” wrote a collegian, “I now see that there is no God.” Later, wishing to comfort his distraught parents and having had the benefit of a course in modern philosophy, he wrote, “Dear Mother, I now see that it is nonsense to say that there is no God.” End of joke. He has comforted his parents, he has been “honest,” and he is no closer to faith than before. What he means is that the statement “God does not exist” is just as much nonsense as the statement “God exists.” His problem is not God anymore. His problem now is language—what it can and cannot do. How this emphasis has evolved is described in the article by Marion Deckert.
But though philosophers have long worried about these epistemological and linguistic problems, many other moderns have only recently discovered them. Even physical scientists have had to face the fact that the “real world” is different from the world that appears to us and that how we can know something determines what we will discover about it. And so we begin this issue with the article of Paul Hiebert, who illustrates this insight from the field of anthropology and shows some of the consequences for theology. Both scientific laws and theologies must now be seen as models of truth. They are not themselves “true” in a primary sense.
Both Hiebert and Deckert assume that there are “data” to which we go to “check out” the adequacy of our statements and our models. Deckert states that the data are given in “experience,” meaning sensory experience. Hiebert assumes that the data for theologies are given in Scriptures. David Aune shows that the New Testament “data” are given in a form that already represents reflection upon more basic data, the “basic” datum of Christian religious experience.” That is, the New Testament writers are creating “models” to express their experience with Christ. And these models were legitimately diverse even then.
Finally, Dalton Reimer argues that language is of such a nature that thought itself is essentially metaphorical. And this is especially true of religious thought. Language that attempts to point to the supernatural must be figurative and revelatory rather than literal and analytic.
These articles open up a set of questions which are new for many of us. They may not be the ultimate questions. But it is clear that they must be dealt with. We cannot anymore talk about the Scriptures and their interpretation unless we come to understand what it means to—talk.