Monday, March 28, 2011

Authority of the Word of God II (finally!)

[comment]  But what about the authority of Scripture? –or, How do you know Truth?

Your question on authority of Scripture is one I keep coming back to myself. I don't place any greater value on the Bible as the final arbiter of Truth than anything else--not because God couldn't assure that every version in every language said exactly what he wanted it to say, but because quite clearly He didn't since the various versions, translations, and manuscript copies disagree with each other and with themselves. The argument then usually comes back that only the original manuscripts (or the King James’ Version, which is scholastically absurd) were inerrant. That logic defeats the purpose, I think, of placing any authority in documents.  What is the point of having non-existent documents be inerrant when the documents we do have are full of errors (or at least questions and contradictions)? Ultimately, in practice, inerrancy lies then in picking the right interpretations of the Bible and whose interpretation do you choose and how?

Determining a “correct” interpretation comes down to a rational decision, made either personally or by assuming that your religious guru made the decision.  Since I don’t like to leave these sorts of things up to anyone else, I study the resources myself and determine what interpretations of Scripture to accept. Then, using the same logic that I apply to choosing a reasonable interpretation of the Bible, I realized that the authority to determine Truth must reside in myself—I have come to know the Divine beyond reason and logic and I hold that visceral knowing as my arbiter of Truth: a doctrine or interpretation of doctrine or Scripture must be for me both intellectually rational and congruent with what I know of God. Or actually the other way around congruent with my mystical knowledge of God and, secondarily, intellectually rational—because there are definitely things I am sure I know that I can't explain.

There are in German (and many other languages) two words that translate into English as "knowing": wissen and kennen. I wish that English had a similar differentiation between rational intellectual knowledge and experiential personal knowledge—the difference between book knowledge and knowing a person.

I kenn God through personal experience therefore I can weis (work out intellectually) doctrine and theology.

It is important to note, however, that kennen, experiential knowledge, is not just some touchy-feely emotional response. It is more like in physics class there are two ways to prove a theory—the least preferred method is to work out a conclusion logically, to derive it mathematically from a previously known law. The most preferred method is to demonstrate a conclusion through replicable experiment. To know experientially is the gold standard of scientific knowledge.

When I know God experientially, it's not a one-off feel-good warm fuzzy in a worship service or a touching sermon; it is a reliably replicable experience of the Divine—my experience replicates the knowledge and it is replicated over and over in the experiences of mystics in every religion from every era.

As a fundy evangelical, I was taught to doubt strenuously my own experience, my own knowledge in favor of "the Word of God", which in practice came down to the interpretations du jour of my dad and/or church. I had to walk away from Christianity entirely (for a very long time) and learn about seeking and weighing Truth from all kinds of secular and heathen sources before I could accept that the same rules applied to spiritual Truth as well. And that they applied universally whether I accepted it honestly or disguised it with doctrines of inerrancy that required the same work in practice.

(Part I of this two-part post can be found here)

Monday, March 7, 2011


I am, you anxious one.

Don't you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can't you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn't my longing ripened in you 
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am that  wanting:
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.

--Rainer Maria Rilke
from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics