Why am I starting this journal?

Why am I starting this journal?

Some background.

  • In recent years, I have regularly taught general education courses in Bible (BIB 101 Old Testament History and Religion and BIB 102 New Testament History and Religion).  I’ve thus had to think hard not only about the Bible, but about the Christian idea of scripture and how to help undergraduates understand that idea.  These are the kinds of situations in which you discover that, while you thought you had a firm grip on some idea, your grip was in fact pretty weak.
  • I have also taught adult Sunday School classes for most of the last 30 years.
  • Several years ago I wrote a small book on the idea of scripture for my denomination’s publishing house.  This forced me to try to get clear about ideas such as revelation, inspiration, and authority as they relate to the Bible.  Whether I actually achieved clarity is debatable, but the book got published–I would say to rave reviews, but I’m sure that no one has reviewed it.
  • I noticed that there are few book on the idea of scripture, in contrast to the tidal wave of books on hermeneutics and interpretation.  A notable exception is John Webster’s Holy Scripture.  It’s a great book, but Webster and I have differing perspectives on the idea of scripture.
  • So, having had to think about these matters because of my teaching and given the lack of other books on the subject, I decided to write my own book.

Why a public journal?  Mainly because the book that I want to write will be for pastors and laypeople (i.e., it won’t be aimed primarily at the academic community, although I certainly hope that they buy the book when it comes out).  With this audience in mind, it’s important to try out ideas in a public forum, to see which kinds of argumentation and presentation work and which don’t, and to identify assumptions and jargon that are unfamiliar to that audience.  Additionally, from a promotional perspective, I wanted to make this book known to readers who might otherwise not learn about it.

So, please feel free to leave a comment.  I’m eager to hear how people think about these matters and what sorts of questions people have when it comes to the idea of scripture.

5 thoughts on “Why am I starting this journal?

  1. Good stuff, Sam. I have a mutual colleague of ours with whom I have been engaged in a conversation about the relation of science and Scripture. He is keen to point to the ‘content’ of Scripture as revelation, which for him means something similar to what you talk about as information. I like it a great deal and am in firm agreement.

    I wonder, however, whether there might be ways to revalorize the concept of information. That is, it seems to me that when we communicate with words we are passing along information in the way that you talk about it, but that it always comes with something more. I communicate the information to my children that I love them when I put them down at night and say ‘I love you.’. But it’s not merely something cognitive that they are receiving, but always something more. They are receiving ‘me’ and (I hope) it is transformative. But, it’s also information, isn’t it? If it weren’t, it would be nothing, a kind of incoherent babbling. All of which is to say that I wonder if the real problem is not just the way that we think about ‘word’ but anything that we communicate as relational beings. Perhaps we have an altogether too flat (univocal) understanding of information.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.
    Mark

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    • Mark,

      I don’t have a problem with your analysis of information. What I’m questioning is whether 1) the content of revelation is best thought of in terms of information and 2) (implicitly) God is best conceived as a mind possessing and communicating information. There is undoubtedly information conveyed in the Bible–the number of apostles, Paul’s traveling companions, and so on. But I’m claiming that this is not what is being revealed, at least by God.

      How do you think about revelation?

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  2. So, I am in agreement with your basic point, Sam. I think about revelation in a fundamentally Trinitarian way: God reveals Godself to us through the Logos by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Logos is, of course, most quintessentially manifest as Jesus Christ, but not in a way that is completely distinct from the universal expression of the Logos as the fundamental ordering principle of the entire cosmos (I’m drawing on John 1 and Col. 1 here, and Justin Martyr’s appropriation of the logoi spermatakoi). So, I see everything as revelation in so far as it is an expression of the Logos. The heavens declare the glory of God because they have been created by God via the Logos. So do trees, grass, birds and even mosquitoes, in a certain sense. This is why, I think, I want to press the point about information. In so far as the Logos is an ordering principle it is a kind of information, as it is information that gives order to things. I have something like DNA in mind as a kind of metaphor for such information, or the laws of gravity, and so on, with what you are calling the ‘informational content’ of revelation being another dimension. So, that ideas and language are just another level or form of information.

    Which is to say, I think, that I am in complete agreement with you, except that I might qualify the problem with the view of revelation that you are criticizing as being too one-dimensional, too flat, too univocal. So, while I would want to agree with you in saying that God is not a mind merely conveying information, I’d also want to say that God is very much a kind of mind conveying information. So, perhaps my criticism here is of your use of the word ‘merely’. I recall Bob Neville (commenting on Tillich) once saying that there is no such thing as ‘just’ a symbol’. Symbols in certain respects participate in that to which they ‘point’–there is a depth and richness to them that the word ‘just’ simply ignores.

    Again, I don’t think I am in fundamental disagreement with you here.

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    • Mark,

      Thanks for these thoughts. I’m generally sympathetic, but I’m curious about this: “The heavens declare the glory of God because they have been created by God via the Logos. So do trees, grass, birds and even mosquitoes, in a certain sense. This is why, I think, I want to press the point about information. In so far as the Logos is an ordering principle it is a kind of information, as it is information that gives order to things.”

      If the immanent logos is a sort of information, of what does it inform us? Is it telling us something about trees, grass and birds? Or about God? Or both? And how do you avoid simply identifying the logos with physical laws and structures?

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  3. I’d want to say that it informs us about both creator and creation. And, while I’d not want to reduce one to the other, I’d also not want to overly distinguish them either. I think I’d want to say something like ‘the Word of God as Creator is revealed in creation wherever we discern the good, the true, and the beautiful’. In part, I’m trying to nod to Chalcedon here (and, honestly, draw upon it as a way of thinking about Jesus as a kind of working out of the Logos through the evolutionary process) in the way that it affirms both the singularity of the person of Christ and the two natures, and especially its rejection of both Eutyches and Appolinarius.

    So, I’d say that the Logos is the ground of the order (structures and laws) of the physical world and manifest in it as well. I think the doctrine of the incarnation helps us both to see the unity of God and creation, but also the difference–Christ is a kind of icon–the icon of all icons. He is fully human and physical but also the divine Son of God and fullest expression of the Logos that points us to the infinite transcendence of the One who is the ground and source of all that is.

    Does this answer your question?

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