Saint Hilda's House

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Filtering by Tag: The Bible

It's All About Obedience: How What We Are Depends on What We Worship

 I'm going to explore how Dean McGowan's theme of worship as obedience can be understood through a particular philosophical lens.  Specifically, I'm going to look at how we can understand the practise of worship in terms of obedience as determining our essential natures, once we have slightly complicated our understanding of obedience.  My belief is that such an understanding can help us to bring certain aspects of Calvinist and catholic (small-c) theology together, uniting Dean McGowan's sense of the 'giving and receiving of orders' with his sense of 'notions of dependence and love'.

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'A.D: The Bible Continues' Reviewed: A Triumph of Intimacy Over Spectacle

This year my housemates and I have had a lot of fun watching several different TV shows.  One such of these shows is the smash hit Game of Thrones.  So you can imagine our delight when NBC started to advertise its new show A.D: The Bible Continues as a combination of The Bible and GOT.  We marked our calendars for Easter Sunday- for no other reason of course than the premiere of this new show.  I was especially prepared to mock the show with my usual witty banter [witty banter? ed.] when the title sequences began to roll...

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St. Hilda's House Winter Quarterly: Voices of Young Adults for the Church

Editorial: About the Winter Quarterly

(You can download the whole Quarterly by clicking on this picture of the cover or by following this link: http://www.sainthildashouse.org/quarterly-winter-2015.)

Throughout this year, young adults have been writing pieces for the St. Hilda's House blog. The St. Hilda's Winter Quarterly is a collection of ten of those pieces, dealing with the questions which have most challenged our writers over the past three months. Leaving aside my own writings, I believe that they demonstrate how engaged, how passionate, and how informed the young adults of the Church today are. I believe they serve as powerful examples of how young adults can speak to and for that Church.

All of the pieces in this Quarterly have been written by people who either live or have lived in intentional community, serving with the disinherited as members of the Episcopal Service Corps. Megan, Will, Shancia, and I are current members of St. Hilda's House, whilst Jordan Trumble was a member of St. Hilda's for its first two years. Rosemary Haynes, meanwhile, is a member of Deaconess Anne House in Missouri. Our writings focus on the issues which this form of life confronts us with: poverty, racism, misogyny, what it means to live a Christian life, what it means to be a member of the Church.

Despite this diversity of topics, however, each of these ten pieces has one thing in common: they all hold Jesus Christ at the centre of their testimony. Whether it is Christ encountered in the Eucharist, Christ encountered on the street, Christ encountered in the Bible, or Christ encountered in the neighbour we find it hard to love, all of our writers point to him as the decisive factor. In this, these writings continue the theme of Father Robert Hendrickson's book 'Yearning', which gave young adults a platform from which they can describe how they have been formed by their encounters with God. And if this Quarterly does nothing else, I hope that it demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are young adults who are dedicated towards learning what it means to walk in love as Christ loved us.

The Winter Quarterly is divided into two sections. The first section deals with concrete issues of formation and service. Jordan writes about how her experiences living in the tabernacle and the slum shaped who she was in relation to God, whilst Will delivers a powerful reflection on how Christ can test us on the streets. Rosemary writes about her first-hand experience of protesting on the streets of Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown, whilst Shancia describes how racial prejudice in the presentation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prompted her to explore the theological underpinnings of his actions. Finally, I have written about how my relationship with Scripture was changed by moving from Oxford to New Haven, then on why we shouldn't talk about Church as if it's first and foremost something that we go to.

The second section focuses on more general debate, and features four longer posts by Megan and I (possibly because we're two of the more opinionated and verbose Hildans...). Two of these posts attempt to work out particular approaches to questions of religion and spirituality. The other two ask whether or not the Church of England should have consecrated the Traditionalist Bishop Philip North a week after the consecration of Bishop Libby Lane. Though these pieces are less explicitly focused on the nuts and bolts of living in community, the reflections contained within them were shaped and developed within community. In my mind, they show how important the life of intentional Christian community can be when it comes to informing general theological reflection.

It is an absolute honour to be able to make this collection of writings available for the wider public. We don't have the full resources to do a full print run, so I hope this digital publication suffices for now. I apologise for how many of the pieces are mine: I hope this is less to do with self-indulgence, more to do with the fact that my job as Digital Missioner requires that I write about 2/5s of our posts anyway. Whichever way, I cannot commend highly enough the writings of my fellow authors, and I hope they prove as spiritually enriching for you as they have for me.

[This is not in the published text, but needs to be added: I should also give enormous thanks for our Program Director, Seth Reese, without whom this would not have been possible.  Quite apart from the fact that he is responsible for making the Quarterly look so good, he makes sure that the members of St. Hilda's House can actually live and work in safety and comfort.  He does all this whilst still technically being a young adult himself.  For all of this, we can't thank him enough.]

Ed.

Download the Quarterly here: http://www.sainthildashouse.org/quarterly. If you would be interested in receiving a print edition, please email us as sthildas@christchurchnh.org.

If you want to read more from St. Hilda's House. then you can visit our blog at www.sainthildashouse.org/blog, join our mailing list, or like us on Facebook.  The blog updates on Mondays and Thursdays.

You can also support the ministry of St. Hilda's House at www.sainthildashouse.org/donate.

My Strange Relationship with Scripture (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bible)

Reading the Bible on the Maundy Thursday vigil, 2014.

Reading the Bible on the Maundy Thursday vigil, 2014.

By Ed Watson

 You can also read this piece in the St. Hilda's House Winter Quarterly.

My relationship with the Bible has been an interesting one.  I have moved from treating it as an ancient and irrelevant artifact to according it a central place in my faith life.   I used to try and discount its authority: I now lead a Bible study geared towards discerning how its most abstruse contents might inform our Christian living.  I used to think of it as nothing but a collection of historically unreliable and contingent writings; now I believe it to be a collection of historically unreliable and contingent writings through which the Word of God can speak to the Church today.  

I can see my younger self rolling his eyes in despair at these changes, and, to be honest, I'm fairly confused by them today.  So, I thought it'd be worth writing a short piece about what it was that changed my attitude to Scripture, to try and figure out why I went from bashing the Bible to (sort of) Bible Belt.  I hope it's interesting, and not too self indulgent.

Back in the Day

Let's start close to the beginning.  About six months after I converted to Christianity, I preached my second ever homily in Oriel College Chapel, on the subject of Biblical authority.  You can read it in all its glory here, but the key excerpt is this:

'[I don't wish to advocate the wholesale rejection of Scripture]. I wish to advocate the rejection of the authority of Scripture. I don’t believe that we should root our faith in the letters of a misogynist (by modern standards) and the fragmented accounts of unknown men. Of course, I do not claim there is no truth to be found in the Bible: I simply claim that what truth there is is not enough to justify the Bible’s status as the ‘the source of all saving truth and moral teaching,’ and thus the foundation of Christian faith.' 

It's fascinating re-reading this sermon (and I imagine this post might make amusing reading for one James Crocker, if he happens to be perusing these words, as he delivered something of a Homiletic smack-down against me in the same chapel the next week!).  Aside from the youthful brashness of my tone (not that I'm not still youthful and brash) coupled with a basic ignorance of the nuances in Biblical interpretation, my overriding concern was with whether or not Scripture cohered with modern sensibilities, with whether or not Christianity had undergone the necessary paradigm shifts to bring it into the 20th Century, with emphasising personal acceptance of personal faith set against subscription to centuries of tradition.  

These concerns are, in and of themselves, easy enough to explain: I was newly Christian, moving from what I'd thought to be a hard-headed rationalism into a realm of faith I'd never considered worth considering before.  I didn't want to abandon the standards I'd held before, and I was overjoyed to find prestigious theological writers who felt the same way.

The easiest and most obvious target for all of this was, of course, Scripture. There was and is no religious document more vulnerable to criticism.  It wasn't written by accredited scholars and it doesn't attempt to argue its case; it frequently fails to meet even the lowest standards of philosophical, theological, and historical rigour; it contradicts itself on numerous occasions; it makes frankly unbelievable claims; it says many things which run directly counter to what we in the modern day take to be unquestionably true; it contains enough horror and violence to make almost any Christian blanch.  Yet this collection of books was supposed to be authoritative within the tradition I now felt I had to be a part of?  'Not on my watch,' I thought to myself: 'let's try and bury Scripture once and for all.  After all, it's not like it hasn't been tried about 2,000 times before...'  

Offering an explanation as to why I took this stance, then, is not too hard. The interesting thing is to look at what changed and how.

Changes

The first strange thing is how little of my mindset back then has changed.  I still believe all of those Biblical frailties listed to be true, and will vehemently argue for each and every one of them.  I still brashly and arrogantly tend to try and find the intellectual high-ground in almost any disagreement of which I am a part, and I still have to resist the temptation to try and pick apart things which don't seem to measure up to what I take to be the stringent standards of rational thought (though there are those that might chuckle at the idea that I currently have stringent standards for rational thought,).  This is far from my most attractive quality, but it is still constitutive of the person I've grown to be.  

If these factors have not changed, however, then what has?  I think the answer itself is quite simple, though it contains complexity: I left Oxford to start living in community and working with the people of New Haven.  In other words: my relationship with Scripture was not altered by a change of attitude, but a change of context.  

At Oxford, my concerns regarding faith were almost all intellectual.  The conclusions I felt I started to reach certainly had practical effects, both in my outlook and in the way I conducted myself towards others, but these practical effects were almost always answerable to prior reasoning.  This makes sense: Oxford is a place of thought and intellectual endeavor (among other things), where any theory must be subjected to rigorous criticism by both peers and professors.  It's not that none of us are practically minded people (as evidenced by the ever inspiring friends I made during my time there); it's just that the so-called life of the mind tended to come first, for me at least.  

At St. Hilda's, however, facts were always too fast for my theories.  Coming into community was a disorientating experience: even a year of teacher training in British classrooms hadn't prepared me for the diversity of personal approaches to community living or the constantly fluctuating mode of living they informed.  The same was true of working at St. Martin de Porres Academy: I was experiencing a word that I had theorised about at great length, but never actually ventured into  (not, to clarify, a world of poverty, but a world of proper necessity).  And though I still relied to a great extent upon my ability to intellectually process data in order to navigate the joys and sorrows of this particular form of living, the limits of this ability (both in itself and insofar as it is mine) were very clearly revealed.  

This revelation of limitation was, of course, a long process, and it is still ongoing.  Running parallel to it, however, were the community practises of Morning Prayer, Didactic, and Spiritual Direction.  In all three of these I was being exposed to Scripture in a new way: not as a text to parse or analyse historically, but as something to listen to.  

Now, for my first six months or so at St. Hilda's I was very conscious of not listening: I would just switch off during the readings at Morning Prayer.  As my abilities to sustain myself really did begin to reach breaking point, however, I found myself suddenly paying attention.  I found the lectionary hitting upon the exact difficulty or joy that I was tackling with that day.  I found Psalms I detested reflecting feelings in myself that I had wanted to ignore, showing me that suffering and anger are a visceral part of any human life, even and especially a Christian life, and that these aspects of existence too have their place in the book of God's salvation.  I heard Paul speaking not just of whether women should have spiritual authority (they should), but what it means to be gentle with each other; and I felt myself both reprimanded and built up by him in a way that I had closed myself off to before; reprimanded for the pride with which I approached certain relationships, reprimanded for my modern sensibilities.  For the first time I started hearing the prophets, the epistles, and the Gospels recounting a story of which I was a part. Before long I started reading Scripture as a spiritual resource of my own volition: it set a context within which I could read extended passages of Scripture as the Word of God.  I'm undisciplined in this, and I don't turn off my critical faculties to do so (I hope not, at any rate), but it happens.   

A third factor within all this is that my more abstract theological and philosophical thought was undergoing a radical shift.  I was reading a philosopher I'd always relied on in argument (Wittgenstein) and seeing how the very claims I'd been reliant on in fact ran directly counter to my prior sensibilities.  Through re-reading Wittgenstein I arrived back at Barth, a theologian I'd either ignored or derided as an undergraduate, and was humbled to see how catastrophically wrong and arrogant I'd been in my first estimation of his writing.  Without going into an in-depth account of my current philosophical stances, they began to both inform and be informed by this new sense of dependency: dependency on prayer, dependency on Scripture, dependency on God, dependency on my community (which includes those of you who might be reading in Britain, who I miss more than words can say).  And within this new scheme, I came to believe without realising that the paradigm shifts I'd called for in my second Oriel homily weren't required of Christianity, but of me as a Christian: that if I wanted to walk the walk of all these high ideals, what was required was not a reimagining of the tradition I so feared before, but an acceptance on my part that the standards I had so highly valued before should be dependent on the Word of God as well, such that they too were answerable to the double love commandment.  And this in turn meant that it became my responsibility not to try and change a tradition, but to listen to and live into the life and love of Christ as it had been carried down in that tradition.

Now

Which brings us more or less to the present day.  I still argue against a certain type of Scriptural authority, but this time it is against the claims of individuals to claim Scriptural authority as theirs; this time it I am trying to argue from the assumption that Scripture really is authoritative (for more of which, c.f. this piece on Biblical Literalism).  I'm writing a spiritual commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, when I have the time, a practise which is proving of immensely spiritually fruitful.  I'm leading a Bible Study at Christ Church, where I have been privileged to witness first hand how much wisdom can reveal itself in different people through reflection on Scripture.  I now believe that philosophical theology must be answerable to Scripture before an abstracted notion of reason, and that Christian practise must follow from Scripture before it follows from a sense of secular justice. Most remarkably, I am constantly returning to the Bible in the hope that I might encounter the Word of God, and with the genuine belief that there's every chance I will.  In this (and this is, I think, the biggest change) I am actually hoping to have my eyes turned to Christ, where before I had claimed the name Christian for myself without ever paying much attention to the reality of Jesus Christ, very God and very Man, who became incarnate and was crucified for the sake of my salvation, then on the third day rose again.

Again, I can see my younger self rolling his eyes or responding indignantly.  Honestly, he might be right: it may be that I have surrendered the better part of myself to a blind tradition founded upon a criminally unreliable source of teaching.  It may be that my current position is just plain irresponsible.  All the same, I hope and pray) that I am today a kinder person than I was then; I pray that I am a more responsive (and thereby responsible) person; I pray that I am more loving; I pray that I am closer to living out the values I had tried to proclaim back when I thought my own reason to be the measure of value.  In short, I hope that I am doing a slightly better job of being a Christian than I was when I took to the pulpit in Oriel Chapel four or so years ago.  If I am, meanwhile, I believe that it is in large part down to the shift of my relationship with the Bible.

 

The Secular Nature of Biblical Literalism

By Ed Watson

 Introduction 

The letters which begin chapters in  Makoto Fujimara' s illuminated  Four Gospels  (displayed at Yale Divinity School).

The letters which begin chapters in Makoto Fujimara's illuminated Four Gospels (displayed at Yale Divinity School).

I think I'm correct in saying that, in public consciousness at least, the greatest controversies between Christianity and secular society seem to come down to arguments between the Bible and humanity's own discovered truths. I'm thinking here of such frequently rehearsed debates as Genesis vs science, or Paul/The Torah vs movements for LGBTQ and gender equality.  To paint in the broadest of strokes, in both cases we have on the one side the faithful who represent the Biblical view, on the other scientists and social activists representing human reason and compassion.  

I am not interested in rehashing these debates. I am interested instead in exploring the nature of the position taken by those claiming to represent the Biblical point of view.  Specifically, I am interested in exploring the position of those who argue, from a belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture, for a view of Scriptural inerrancy which then grounds Biblical Literalism (I don't think I'm sketching non-existent straw-men here; they may be straw-men, but a quick Google search is enough to demonstrate their pervasive existence, as well as their frankly terrifying influence).  

My belief is that the position of Biblical Literalism is just as secular in nature as those it inveighs against. I believe that those who hold it rely upon the same premises as those whom they accuse of sacrilegious abrogation of divine sovereignty. I believe that the proponents of Biblical Literalism are engaged in rebellion against God, and especially against the authority of the Word of God in Scripture.  These beliefs are not original, and probably not all that controversial.  They are, however, new to me, and so I thought it worth setting out some of the thought behind them.  

I am going to rely throughout this piece on the work of Karl Barth and Ludwig Wittgenstein (I'm also going to try and keep things as non-technical as possible, so please don't be absolutely put off by these famously abstruse and inaccessible names!). This might seem surprising: after all, Wittgenstein barely wrote a word on Biblical exegesis (though he did write some: e.g. Culture and Value, 31), whilst the authority of Scripture as the Word of God stands right at the centre of Barth's Dogmatics.  All the same, I think that they can, when taken together, provide a simple and clear argument for the secular nature of Biblical Literalism. 

Wittgenstein

We begin with a particular notion of machinery.  Wittgenstein was not the biggest fan of the place of machines in society, and he frequently despaired of the fact that industrialisation and mechanisation were seen as signs of progress.  More importantly, however, his later writings were aggressive attempts to argue against the view that words ideally function like machines. 

What does this mean?  As referred to here, a machine is something which has a concrete, constant, and prescribed function (as long as it's working properly!): so long as you use it correctly, you'll always get the same (correct) result.  So, for example, if you type 2+2 into a calculator, you'll get 4; if you turn the key in a car, the engine will ignite; if you scroll down on your computer, the words you're looking at right now will move up the screen.  There is, Wittgenstein believes, a view that properly defined words must of necessity function in this same way (or, more precisely, that the fact they don't is a defect of our language which needs to be remedied).  Under this view, if you say a word correctly then it will/should serve to mechanically communicate a specific meaning.  

A great cartoon from  Paul Noth , riffing off Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit.

A great cartoon from Paul Noth, riffing off Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit.

Now, this view is obviously not entirely false: words quite often do work in just this way and it's obviously not always great when they don't.  What Wittgenstein argued against, however, was the idea that the performance of this function was therefore the essence of language; that the fact that words often do function in this way entails that it is either possible or desirable that they should always do so.  He argued that the life of language was far more diverse, and more importantly fallible, than the ideal put forward by this mechanistic picture.  Specifically, he argued that the 'output' of a word in language is not and cannot be predetermined in the way that the output of a well built machine is; that, for many reasons, even the most precise statements carry the possibility of ambiguity insofar as they can be correctly employed in different and (sometimes) divergent ways (sometimes even in the same sentence).  Most importantly, he did not believe that this was a defect of language; rather, he believed that it was a proper reflection of the fact that language arises out of our living in this world, and that both our lives and the world we live in are intrinsically messy

How does all this relate to Biblical Literalism?  In two ways: first off, Wittgenstein believed that the effects of this messiness pertain to all languages.  He most famously said this of the languages of mathematics, but it is also true of the languages of Scripture.  Second, because he believed that human attempts to overcome this messiness were attempts to lay claim to a 'forms of expression... tailored for a god.'  'For us, however,' he goes on to write, 'these forms of expression are like vestments, which we may put on, but cannot do much with, since we lack the effective power that would give them point and purpose.' (Philosophical Investigations, 426.)  This is not just a matter of language: it is a matter of our presuming to claim a power which we simply do not possess.  In this, Wittgenstein identified the impulse towards these kinds of ideal languages with the stereotypical impulse of the Enlightenment to survey and subdue creation by mechanising it in the name of man's truth and man's light. 

We come now to the crucial point in relation to Biblical Literalism.  Biblical Literalism relies upon this self same picture of an ideally mechanised language: for there to be a 'literal' interpretation of a Biblical passage, there must be a rigid, eternal deposit of meaning contained within it which the correct application of mechanised language both can and will unearth.  This correct application, meanwhile, is correct interpretation, and this correct interpretation is a gift of grace given to those who have faith (that same faith which, by the by, is usually unearthed...).  In the hands of a Biblical Literalist, the Bible thus becomes a machine. It becomes a machine of ideally rigid outputs, all the more rigid because there is no apparent room for human input.  Despite this, however, any divergence in interpretation can only be because the reader is misusing the Bible; and the only way that this can be possible is if they have closed their minds to the truth of God's sovereignty.

According to Wittgenstein, however, this view of Biblical language is not only false from the start since it relies on a false picture of language, but also contains within itself the same idolatrous impulse which Biblical Literalists accuse secular society of: to subdue all before it by mechanical means.  Biblical Literalists say that they know the truth of the Spirit as it is given in the (mechanical) Biblical word: Wittgenstein's retort, however, is that 'you cannot lay hold of the spirit with a machine.' (Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, 3-81)

Barth

Now, this argument alone might not seem to pose much of a problem from the Biblical Literalist point of view: after all, from that perspective Wittgenstein was a man lost in sin who never committed himself to Christ as his risen Lord and Saviour.  What, then, could he have to say (even indirectly) about the inviolable authority of Scripture?  And even if his philosophy were true of most language, Biblical language is different: it is inspired by God Himself, and so immune to the criticisms of a mere human being.  

Enter Karl Barth.  Barth was adamant that Scripture stood at the head of the Church in a position of authority.  It could not be made subject to either tradition or reason; rather, both must constantly find their measure in the Word of God as spoken through Scripture.  He is not, then, someone that I would have necessarily expected to launch a scathing invective on Biblical Literalism.  Yet not only does he launch such an invective: he launches it for remarkably similar reasons to Wittgenstein, and also because he believed Scripture had to have authority over the Church.  

We should begin by noting that Barth's account of the Bible is Christological; he believed that just as Christ was very God and very man at the same time, and that Christ's humanity remained humanity because of His divinity, so too the Word of God which speaks through Scripture speaks through a human word which remains a human word. In Barth's own words: just as 'we necessarily allow for inherent differences [between Christ's human and Christ's divine nature], it is exactly the same with the unity of the divine and human word in Holy Scripture... Even here, the human element does not cease to be human, and as such is in itself certainly not divine.' (Church Dogmatics, 1:2, p499.  All Barth quotes are from the same text unless noted.)  Or, in other words: 'if God speaks to man, He really speaks the language of this concrete human word of man.' (p532) 

Barth does not budge from this position for a second.  Elsewhere he writes that 'there is no point ignoring the writtenness of Holy Writ for the sake of its holiness, its humanity for the sake of its divinity,' (p463) then again that 'it is quite impossible that there should be a direct identity between the human word of Holy Scripture and the Word of God.' (p499)  Neither this concrete human word nor the ideas it might seek to express, moreover, are 'automatic machines put into our hands for cranking out automatic conclusions.' (CD 3:1, 411) 

The consequences of this account of the human words of Holy Scripture are not ones a Biblical Literalist will welcome.  To take an extended quote; 

'If we are serious about the true humanity of the Bible, we obviously cannot attribute to the Bible as such the capacity to reveal God to us by its very presence.  It is there and always there as a sign, as a human and temporal word- and therefore as a word which is conditioned and limited.  It witnesses to God's revelation, but that does not mean that God's revelation is now before us in any kind of divine revealedness. The Bible is not a book of oracles; it is not an instrument of direct impartation.  It is genuine witness.' (507)

Within all this, the Bible remains the Word of God.  This is not because of any intrinsic quality on the Bible's part, however, least of all its inspiredness.   It is instead because, precisely insofar as the Bible serves as a witness to His revelation, 'God is the Subject, God is Lord.  He is Lord even over the Bible and in the Bible.  The statement that the Bible is the Word of God cannot therefore say that the Word of God is tied to the Bible.  [This Word's] content is always a free decision of God, which we cannot anticipate by grasping at the Bible.' (513)

This free decision is, for Barth, the true mystery at the heart of scripture.  It is the miracle of revelation.  'If,' however, 'we are serious about the fact this miracle is an event, we cannot regard the presence of God's Word in the Bible as an attribute inherent once and for all in this book as such.' (530)   'By damping down the word of man,' meanwhile, 'by transmuting it into a Word of God which can be grasped in human speech, the whole mystery [is] lost, the mystery of the freedom of its presence both in the mouths of the biblical witnesses and also in our ears and hearts.'  This loss then has untenable consequences: 'The development and systematisation of the traditional statements concerning the divine authority of the Bible meant an actualising of the Word of God by eliminating the perception that its actualisation can only be its own decision and act, that our part in it can consist only in the recollection and expectation of its eternal presence. The Bible was now grounded in itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  It became 'a paper Pope.'' (525)

By reading the words of Scripture in a mechanical fashion on the basis of a doctrine of inspiration, then, Biblical literalists are failing to respect Scripture's authority just as seriously as their opponents (if not moreso!): they are according to themselves a place which God alone can occupy, one which can see through and dissolve the mystery of grace.  In this they are not just forgetting that, though God might speak, 'human hearing..., whether that of the Church or our own today, is [always] a human hearing, and therefore not outside the possibility of error, or incapable of being improved.' (476): they are forgetting that 'it does not lie- and this is why prayer must have the last word- in our power, but only in God's, that this event [of revelation] should take place and therefore this witness of Scripture be made to us.' (531)  Finally, they are forgetting that 'to say 'the Word of God' is to say the Word of God. It is therefore to speak about a being and event which are not under human control and foresight.  Our knowledge of this being and event does not justify us in thinking and speaking of them as though they were under our control and foresight.' (527)

This then sets the stage for Barth's most pointed criticism of the Biblical literalist position: that 'every time we turn the Word of God into an infallible biblical word of man, or the biblical word of man into an infallible Word of God, we resist that which we ought never to resist, i.e., the truth of the miracle that here fallible men speak the Word of God in fallible human words- and we therefore resist the sovereignty of grace, in which God himself became man in Christ.' (529)  On this basis, Barth bluntly writes that 'to the bold postulate that if [the word of the prophets and the apostles] is to be the Word of God they must be inerrant in every word, we oppose the even bolder assertion: that according to the scriptural witness about man, which applies to them too, they can be at fault in any word, and have been at fault in every word.'  In this light, 'it is mere self-will and disobedience to try to find some infallible elements in the Bible.' (531)

Conclusion

We can see, then, how Wittgenstein's account of human language can be read as highly relevant to our understanding of the word of Scripture, even and especially as Scripture is read as the authoritative Word of God over and within the Church.  We can see how, by taking Barth and Wittgenstein together, the mechanistic account of language employed by Biblical Literalists on the basis of a doctrine of inspiration can be shown to be inappropriate on the basis of both philosophical and theological considerations.  And finally, to bring this piece back to its title, we can see how this mechanistic account of Scriptural language belies the secular character of Biblical Literalism: for in this light it appears to be merely another manifestation of man's impulse to mechanise and subdue the natural world, only this time rearing its head in the sphere of Christian religion.  On this matter, however, let us leave the last word to Barth;

'The gradually extending new understanding of biblical inspiration was simply one way in which the great process of secularisation on which post-Reformation Protestantism entered was carried through.  This new understanding of biblical inspiration meant simply that the statement that 'the Bible is the Word of God' was now transformed from a statement about the free grace of God into a statement about the Bible as brought under human control.  Thus the Bible as the Word of God surreptitiously became a part of that knowledge of God which man can have without the free grace of God, by his own power, and with direct insight and assurance.' (523)


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