Absurdity unveiled?


Many conservatives paint themselves into the lonely corner of an echo chamber, mistaking the repeated assertions of inerrancy for objective justification of their claims.

This has a terribly negative effect on the possibility of a biblical ethic. “For all its homage to the authority of Scripture,” writes George Stroup, “conservative Christianity continues to confess the regional, parochial interests of the American middle-class with the promises, claims, and demands of Christian faith.”[1] So, any reading of the Bible which not only attributes inerrancy to the Scripture itself, but by intellectual neglect, reinforces the gravity of the culture and preferred socio-economic realities as well.

Stroup is equally assertive in challenging progressive Christianity by demanding they “offer a compelling description of what it means to live and understand one’s self in the contemporary means of Christian faith.”[2] The routine American experiences of wealth, social-standing or mobility, and progress impact our considerations of the Bible. So too do they lead to that condition which Stroup identifies as a Christian “identity crisis.” Because Christians avoid or ignore theological resources that would enhance their understanding of Scripture, if not provide for a recognition of how hermeneutics are important to our faith, Stroup believes we continue to clothe ourselves in an identity formed by culture rather than faith. “Their identities – who they are, what kind of people they understand themselves to be – are shaped by other communities and other narratives.”[3] If Stroup is correct in his assessment, revelation has lost its impact and also its ability to shape a biblically derived Christian ethic that is in fact Christ-centered.

Revelation might be the primary means of making known the plan of God, but there is something more important to this. Revelation is how persons of a specific faith make sense of the world within the boundaries of that specificity. The truths of revelation are contingent truths. Stroup challenges the common concern for universal meaning that marks contemporary religious belief. “What one knows in revelation,” he writes, “is not an idea or proposition that is universally true without reference to time and circumstances in which the event takes place… revelation cannot be separated from the event in which it makes itself known.”[4]

There is an important matter that follows Stroup’s statement. Revelation is not initiated by human activity. Created beings are not “so much the subject as the object of” revelatory events. God does not reveal the effect that sins has on us, but reveals that we are sinners and we must repent of sin as a witness to others and the ways we impact one another. Revelation is not the means through which humans will someday gain the basic knowledge about righting the ship but a basic truth that we won’t, and must be vigilant of the ways in which sin presents itself so that we can experience a deliverance from a state of simple acquiescence to such brokenness. “What one knows in a revelatory event is not something that could have been discovered given enough time and ingenuity.”[5]

[1] Stroup, 23. Stroup believes the Bible has come to hold a “curious place” in Christianity. “The relationship between Scripture and the world has nothing to do with teaching children to memorize the Bible in order that they learn a proper morality…” Stroup recognizes “biblical illiteracy” as a “serious problem at all levels of the church’s life.” He laments a “hermeneutical gap” between the first and twenty-first centuries that has seemingly become “unbridgeable.” He also believes that, on the other hand, there is such a drive to make the first century familiar and domesticated to our contemporary sensibilities that it is no more than a “mirror reflection of contemporary cultures and its values and worldviews.” 24, 27.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid, 36.

[4] Stroup, 42.

[5] ibid, 43. Italics added. I find this comment to undergird aspects of the gospel, if not most of the ethics I will claim below are biblical ethics, which contend that non-violence, voluntary sacrifice, and emptying of privilege are all revealed in the cross and the life and death of Jesus, yet are in no way indicative of timeless universal truths or “spiritually evolved” behaviors.

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