Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Because we cannot study the future"

I am an admirer of C.S. Lewis and so, reading this article by Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, adapted from his book, Reading Scripture with the Reformers, I particularly noticed this:
.... C.S. Lewis noted: “We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present.” For the present can become imperial, seducing us into imagining that the assumptions that reign today have always defined what it means to be reasonable, sensible, and mainstream. Against the tendency toward presentism, Lewis observed that “a man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: The scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”

We can suffer from a biblical presentism. It is all too common to think of biblical interpretation as answering the question “What is the Bible saying to us now?” This approach, which one finds both in liberal mainline churches and in conservative evangelical ones, owes a great deal to the liberal Protestant theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. ....
That justification, "... we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present," has application to every area of knowledge and, once said, seems obvious — and yet is resisted in practice. There seem to be a great many people who honestly [and ignorantly] believe that there can be something new under the sun.

The article, and the upcoming book, are, of course, about a great deal more than that. George later indicates five principles that guided the biblical interpretation of the Reformers. For example, his third principle:
Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires a trinitarian hermeneutics. The rule of faith demands that Scripture be read as a coherent dramatic narrative, the unity of which depends on its principal actor: the God who has forever known himself and who, in the history of redemption, has revealed himself to us, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Athanasius and the other fathers who struggled against the Arians for the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity were embroiled in serious exegetical arguments. How could the Old Testament affirmation, “God is one,” be reconciled with the New Testament confession, “Jesus is Lord”? What was the relationship of the eternal and unchanging God to the Logos who became flesh, Jesus Christ? Among many other things, the struggle for the doctrine of the Trinity was a debate over the meaning of the Bible.

At the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity once again emerged as a major point of dispute, especially between the mainline reformers and certain evangelical rationalists among the radicals. The doctrine of the Trinity could not be surrendered because it had to do with the nature and character of the God whom Christians worship. This God, the triune God of holiness and love, was not a generic deity who could be appeased by human striving but rather the God of the Bible who had made himself known by grace alone through the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, “for us and for our salvation.” To enter into the mind of Scripture with a trinitarian hermeneutic is to come to know this God and not another. As Todd Billings puts it, “The Bible is the instrument of the triune God to shape believers into the image of Christ, in word and deed, by the power of the Spirit, transforming a sinful and alienated people into children of a loving Father.”.... [the bold emphasis is mine] [the essay]
Reading the Bible with the Reformers