Friday, February 24, 2012

Incarnation and the Bible

I started reading Peter Enns recent book: Evolution of Adam, The: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins. In chapter 1 he references that he operates from an incarnational view of the Bible. (I think this is the theme of his book Inspiration and Incarnation, and a brief introduction can be found here. I really find this language attractive!

Theologically we say that the incarnation of Christ (his coming to earth as a human) means he was fully and perfectly human, and fully and perfectly divine, yet remained one person. (Two natures, one person). How this actually works out can be very complicated, and to some extent is beyond my comprehension, but it makes for a very powerful metaphor for Scripture. What I mean is the Bible is both a human and divine. Sometimes we evangelicals like to make it mostly if not entirely divine, (as in “these are the very words of God”), and I’m sure many have a knee jerk reaction to the “humanity” of Scripture as mere liberalism.

But the truth is it is both, and that is a good and necessary thing.

I think a good starting point to define these could be:

The humanity of Scripture

  1. Language - Language is inherently symbolic, so the humanity of Scripture means it includes our metaphors, symbols, language, and so on in order to communicate its message. I think this is really important because sometimes we look at “divine texts” as very abstract, proverbial statements that require a lot of interpretation, and even more so because of human finitude often result in a wide variety of interpretation. But I think the humanity of the Bible means that there is a message, and it’s intended to be understood because it uses our language. There still might be some differences of opinion, but it’s not because there is no message but because we are moving closer to that message

  2. Context - Our humanity in a large part is defined by context. We inherently see the world from our perspective, our emotions, thoughts, ideas, and dreams are all shaped to some degree by our various contexts in life (whether career, relationships, geographic, demographic, etc.). I think the Bible has the same context because each author speaks from a unique perspective with a unique voice. We’d be at a huge loss if we didn’t have four different Gospels with very different personalities. I don’t mean they contradict one another, but they do offer unique perspectives on Jesus that I think complement one another very well to give us a fuller picture of Jesus. So we have to acknowledge that the Bible is written from a particular context, just as we have to acknowledge that we read and study it from a particular context. One important question that has to be wrestled with is how we distinguish between historical context and timeless message, but this is in many ways the heart of why we study the Bible!

  3. Narrative - This is a popular buzzword, but I think narrative is another essential attribute of humanity. Our lives are an unfolding story, and story is a primary way we communicate. (I am often amazed at how much of our conversation is telling stories!) I think story is how we express deep emotions, abstract ideas, and how we work through various conflicts and difficult scenarios (like ethical dilemmas)

The Divinity of Scripture
  1. Authority - If this is really an inspired message from God, then it must carry the full authority of God. We might differ on what inspired means, but at the end of the day, I think it’s important to acknowledge that if the Bible is at all true, then it must stand with the full authority of God behind it.

  2. Unity - While the humanity pushes us towards diversity, I think the divinity of the Bible pushes us towards unity. While there are some beautiful differences in the Bible, at the end of the day it does tell a unified story, with a unified picture of God, his love for humanity, and his story of redemption. I do think however that those who overemphasize the divinity will often overemphasize this point (e.g. proof texting).

  3. Truth - I could have used the word inerrant, but that word is just too loaded to accomplish anything productive. What I mean here though is that the Bible, as a message from God who is the creator of the universe, communicates a true message. Some might disagree on whether this should include the details of the narrative, but in my mind the very least we can say is it must include the message. I believe this demands that if we want to accept this message, we cannot just compartmentalize truth in our minds: we cannot have the “truth of science”, the “truth of psychology”, the “truth of my experience”, and the “truth of the Bible”. Truth simply means what really exists. Since God is the God of truth, it is therefore important for us to have a unified view of truth and work through some of the tough questions when our different worlds of truth disagree.

I think this is a good starting point for our view of the Bible. We might think ourselves more pious if we emphasize the divinity, or more sophisticated if we emphasize the humanity, but we need both. Honestly, overemphasizing the divinity strikes me as a form of idolatry, and overemphasizing the humanity really empties the Bible of any useful substance. Just as Jesus’ incarnation means the uniting of two very different natures in a profound and mysterious way, I think the Bible is a uniting of the divine and human to result in a profound and true message.

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