Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Teaching the Authority of the Bible

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Teaching the Authority of the Bible

Article excerpt

In teaching theology in the theological seminary context, I engage the Bible's authority in at least two ways. One way is in its church-- acknowledged function as the supreme norm for Christian teaching. In this way I want the Bible to function as an authority by being the final norm, warrant, or test for what I teach that Christians today should believe and practice. If I am teaching about the Church, for instance, I look for ways to let the Bible be the supreme-not the only-- norm for what I propose Christians should believe the Church is and how Christians should live as members of the Church. Biblical authority here refers to the Bible's functioning as a source and warrant for the content of Christian beliefs.

This first way of engaging the Bible's authority involves the problem of how to interpret the Bible, the problem of interpreting the content of the Bible. The dominant paradigm today for textual hermeneutics is that interpretation of any work involves merging the horizons of the contemporary reader's world with the world projected by the text. At the least the interpretative task involves understanding each unit of meaning-word, sentence, up to the whole body of the Bible, i.e., the canon. This process of interpreting involves inquiring about the genre of the texts I would deem relevant for a doctrine of the Church, the author's intention, its historical context and the history of interpretations of the relevant texts. The interpretative process also involves my becoming aware of my world as a reader and interpreter. I become aware of my world by asking critical questions of the text and how it has been interpreted in the past and by letting the text imaginatively challenge my self-understanding in my world. The "turn to language" in modern philosophy has greatly enriched our understanding of the complexity of interpreting texts.1

A second way I engage the authority of the Bible in my teaching is by addressing the question of the authority of the Bible. Here the question is: Why should the Bible serve as the supreme norm and source for Christian faith and life? Addressing this question becomes unavoidable as soon as a theology teacher offers a normative answer to any question about what Christians ought to believe and do. If the theologian's task were limited to describing what the Bible teaches about a topic, theologians would not need to give reasons why the Bible should serve as a source and warrant for Christian teaching. Or if the theologian's job were limited to comparing and contrasting the Bible's teaching with the teaching from another source, then theologians wouldn't need to support the claim that the Bible should serve as source and warrant for Christian teaching. But because the theologian's office includes providing normative or constructive proposals about what Christians should believe and do, the theologian must face the question: Why should the Bible be given the status of the supreme source and norm for Christian teaching? The theologian's duty to be a normative teacher in and for the Church requires that he or she engage the question of the authority of the Bible.

At this second level, the Bible itself becomes the topic of theological reflection. That is, the Bible is viewed from the perspective that renders any topic a theological topic, the perspective of its relation to God. Regarding the Bible, the question is: What is God's relation to the Bible, such that the Bible can and should serve as the supreme norm and source for Christian teaching? Or, more exactly, the question is: What is God's relation to humankind, and specifically the Church, that especially through the Bible God wills to teach and guide human beings? Precisely in this theological perspective, questions about the Bible's authority must be raised and answered.

To the question of why Christians should regard the Bible as the supreme norm for teaching and practice, theology has answered by a doctrine of biblical inspiration. …

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