So, where do we go from here? Obviously, right to Scripture. If we believe it is the Word of God, than perhaps it will give us a perspective that we could not discern otherwise, the one that actually fits with reality itself. This will help us analyze the so-called “tropes” in a more fruitful and positive light. Perhaps something meaningful can come out of it, rather than providing a revisionist narrative that fits our own predilections.
We need to take Scripture seriously on women first of all – not what I like, or what makes me feel good about aligning with modern culture, but simply taking its authority as a given (or for you philosophy buffs, a properly basic belief). What it says about women appears utterly baffling, misogynistic, and offensive, but perhaps we look at it from the wrong perspective. Maybe we do not respect the text enough to believe what it says, or apply an inconsistent criteria to the whole. I want to avoid those conclusions from the outset.
As many of you reading probably asked: Why should I take it as a given? That’s the real question here. Either Christianity’s based on ephemeral feelings or a solid rock of thought – you do not get by on good vibrations, my friends. So how do we establish an authority for said things in Scripture? This is a good question, and one I am eager to explicate.
While Scripture is inspired, and what it teaches and states is “true” in the objective sense, it is not always trivially true what, in fact, Scripture is actually teaching. As aptly shown by the entire history of Bible study, positions vary wildly. Given the variety of genres contained within Scripture, from stories to poetry to apocalyptic narratives, the canon itself does not present a proper, straightforward, and logical mode of thought with a giant list of declarative sentences.
Verses in Scripture seemingly contradict one another – I John appears, prima facie, to say that Christians do not sin, while Romans states that all persons sin. By that rubric, does that mean there are any Christians at all? What of those beliefs frequently contested as essential to faith: infant baptism, the understanding of eucharist, the structure of the Church, the necessity of glossolalia (more commonly known as “speaking in tongues”) to Christian life, the balance between Christian and contemporary culture, and the structure
of worship services?
Scriptural teaching on these issues is either 1. not clear at all or 2. non-existent. This is not to mention how Christians, over the years, have fought over these issues in literal conflicts with death counts in the millions, even with no solution in sight as to resolve the disputes. Certainly, that shows that the issues at hand are important – how can such conflicts, then, find a resolution?
Thus, Scripture is inspired and what it teaches is true, but it is not trivial to discover what it teaches. To understand Scripture at times requires deep personal reflection and thought. The emergence of what one calls”traditional Biblical commentary” arose as a palliative to help laypeople understand Scripture in that way. According to Alvin Plantinga, these display three specific characteristics. First, “Scripture is taken to be wholly authoritative and trustworthy guide to faith and morals; it is authoritative and trustworthy because it is a revelation from God, a matter of God’s speaking to us.” Once the teaching, meaning, or otherwise of that passage has become known, therefore, it becomes true by default; God does not need to defend God’s own teachings, after all.
Second, it is assumed that God is the principle author of Scripture. In that sense, the whole of the canon must be treated as a unified whole communication with a central theme. The message of the Gospel is that central theme; thus, Scripture interprets Scripture, and there is no problem with this particular rubric. Third, the fact that the principal author is, in fact, God means that one cannot always determine the meaning of any particular passage by discovery of the original author’s intentions.221 The suffering servant passage in Isaiah, generally, was taken to be a description of Jesus; Jesus states that this passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) refers to himself (Luke 4:18-21), and that the prophecy is fulfilled in him. Obviously, the author of Isaiah, whoever it was, was not thinking about Jesus; with God as inspired principle author, the meaning does not require a total equivocation with the original human author’s intent. One cannot even assume the same meaning will appear for everyone at every time, especially when it comes to God!
This interpretive framework provides a fulfilling, and interesting, system of Biblical interpretation. Through the eyes of faith, such impositions are not forced upon the text to “make them fit”; they tend to work naturally together. Issues with any particular passage require deep thought, reflection, and conversation with other Christians to get at the meaning more forcefully. Even then, some aspects of a passage remain a mystery (Revelation, from this perspective, is a good example), one that may or may not find a fuller explication – but God has not made this impossible.
Still, modern Christians of the conservative/liberal stripe make cases for many different sources of authority, as wide-ranging as experience and as far ranging as tradition. In the feminist sense, experience becomes a large framework that wholly absorbs all other interpretations. For example, a male cannot comment on a female’s personal experience – he has not been one (unless…), nor could he ever. Thus, his opinion matters little in the experience of being a “woman”. On the other hand, the Catholic Church has a tradition of excluding women from leadership roles in its various facilities. They cannot be priests, that’s for sure; even when the Anglican Church recently voted to allow/not allow women clergy, somehow a progressive country voted against it. We might also use our rational, logical faculties to show that the Christian ethic really promotes egalitarian status for men and women; there’s no functional difference in our society, so what’s the problem? How does Scripture get a place of authority, whereas these other ones do not? Or, to put it more clearly, why should Scripture gain the upper hand?
Other than being a resource accessible to all, objectively observable, and not dependent on human constructs of logic and reason, there’s a pretty good idea. I’m going to use the modern “apologetics” enterprise as a resource for this.
There is a force and a grip that has led all Christians to faith, quite inevitably, because there is something I need, an ineffable quality that my speculative mind cannot grasp – that is why we attempt to justify, shape, and correct it, even if that task is futile per se. See for example, the modern and extremely analytic enterprise of modern apologetics – it adopts, much like the early Christians, the language of philosophy and rational thought to attack the critics of Christianity from their own high ground.
As Robert C. Neville says, when sources of authority are in conflict, “one must make a case’ for the best authority, and the ‘case’ decides the issue without itself being an authority”; in that sense does the modern apologetic exercise tend to fall flat. One could make the case, however, that persons such as William Lane Craig or Plantinga are not, by definition, attempting to “convert opponents”, but stating their own reasons for belief, not faith, as in 1 Peter 3:15’s incredibly universal interpretation.
They are making a case for the epistemic validity of those beliefs, and are speaking on that ground. Perhaps they, also, assume that rationality and reason are part of being in the imago dei, and accept it as valid that reason could become a proper tool. Still, they do not allow for multiple sources of authority because they believe God revealed Himself through Scripture, and by result all other sources are secondary – in other words, other “sources” of authority are rolled into the larger authority of God, and by definition as God’s Word, Scripture.
Or, imagine it in another sense, as Craig does: “New Testament scholars have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God’s place.” Furthermore, Craig cites Wesley Salmon: “there are correct uses of authority and well as incorrect ones. It would be a sophomoric mistake to suppose that every appeal to authority is illegitimate, for the proper use of authority plays in indispensable role in the accumulation and application
of knowledge…The appeal to a reliable authority is legitimate, for the testimony of a reliable authority is evidence for the conclusion”
Thus, Craig sees Jesus as a proper, reliable authority, and Scripture as well, to place his trust. The reasons, it would seem, are ancillary to the real source of authority as Scripture – the intent is to confront those in opposition to the “truth” of Christian faith and thus its source of authority.
Furthermore, authority has a different definition: that is, authority is the right to demand belief and obedience. God, as such, is a reliable authority based solely on the belief that God is the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe; by that token, God equals a reliable and dominant authority above everything else, the right to demand obedience to His Word. In this, the argument is not that they are, in fact, correct, but merely to show that a singular source for authority can be achieved regardless of whether hermeneutics
rears its head.
Rather, hermeneutics exists for the purpose of clarifying that authority, not establishing others. Neville believes that the various sources for authority, such as Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, are all equally valid points to “jump off” in a Tillichian method of correlation. But that is certainly not the conclusion of a traditional believer; the authority of God, assuming omniscience, omnipotence, and all those traditional characteristics of God stated over the years, the authority of the text is not disputable. Authority is not a matter of will, but the understanding is that one who rejects Scripture “ignores” that component and creates their own authority instead, or what they claim as authoritative – a matter of obedience.
And this is exactly the jumping-off point needed to see Anita Sarkeesian’s videos in the proper light: as products of a culture obsessed with all the things we should not. A culture obsessed with perpetual analysis, fear of offense, and avoidance of sin is one ultimately destined to its own doom. Just take a look at the Roman Empire – it was nominally Christian, but no different from our postmodern path.
Onward, to Part 3 …coming soon.