Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chess Match

As mentioned in the previous post, I've been camping out in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy & Titus) over the past few weeks, and aside from being encouraging and uplifting, it's also sparked some ponderables.

For example: the past decade and beyond has seen an increase in the number of voices decrying the lack of a "chastened epistemology" or in plain English: a humble approach to saying how we know something is true.

In this chess match back and forth between those defending an evangelical approach to the Bible and those who, well... don't, the most derogatory name-calling label seems to be "arrogant".

And the first side to label the other arrogant, wins. Not sure how or why this is so, but it is. And somewhere in recent history, some a priori assumptions have been introduced:
  1. Saying anything definitively about the Bible = Arrogance
  2. When it comes to theology, Humility and Conviction are mutually exclusive
I'd like to suggest that both of these assumptions are untrustworthy.
I remember learning about "Reader-Oriented" or "Reader-Response" Biblical criticism around the turn of the century. The basic premise was that when the Apostle Paul labelled some people as "false teachers" or "false apostles", he was clearly out of line. Proponents of the Reader-Oriented approach (ie. Postmodern Use of the Bible) would insist that all voices are welcome at the table of Biblical interpretation, and that historical orthodoxy is merely an arrogant power trip by rigid evangelicals. (At times, I found myself wondering if "reader-oriented" should be called "agenda-oriented" instead.)

I think that it's profoundly unhelpful to conflate an evangelical view of the Bible as the Word of God with the stereotype of rigid, unloving arrogance. Look at the phrases found in 2 Timothy 2:22-28 where Paul instructs Timothy on how to deal with "false teachers" (whose voices would not be welcome at the table):
  1. Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace
  2. Not quarrelsome; kind to everyone; able to teach; not resentful
  3. Gently instruct

Photo source: Wikicommons
These are not the words of oppression, arrogance, rigidity or power. These epistles from Paul are rightly called pastoral because the attitude Paul wants to instill in his young protegé is that of a caregiver, a shepherd. A pastor.

Paul even adds another reason for Timothy to be pastoral, even as he opposes false teachers, in hopes that they might: "escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul instructs Timothy with words like "teach, warn, be strong" as Timothy "correctly handles the word of truth". To Paul, truth could be handled correctly. Truth could be confidently taught, and appealed to in order to warn other disciples against false (erroneous) teachings.

And yet the attitude that Timothy is instructed to cultivate is one of pastoral concern -- not just for the other disciples, but also for those who have been caught in false teachings by a spiritual Enemy.
Humility can walk hand-in-hand with strong Biblical convictions. And for us to be faithful disciples, it must.

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