I was blessed this morning to attend the Theological Symposium
at Concordia Seminary
. While I know some of you may prefer a variety of torture scenarios to attending a theological symposium, I am having fun.
The primary topic of this morning’s presentations was the interpretation of Scripture. This is an interesting challenge that Tim Saleska took on in his essay, and it produced no small amount of debate in our breakout session which followed.
My read of Dr. Saleska’s key point in the first part of his presentation was that, at the end of the day, when we seek to interpret scripture we are trying to understand the author’s intent. As such, a key slide in his presentation read, “INTENTION = MEANING.” I cannot find fault with this assertion because any attempt to falsify it only proves its truth.
So, from this point we understand that when we seek to interpret Scripture we are really wanting to know what the author’s intentions are in a particular passage. As Dr. Saleska was speaking, my mind quickly jumped to John 20:31
where the author of the narrative says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John seems to be making his intentions clear.
Saleska, after demonstrating this and other important elements of his assertion, then moved toward the conclusion of his presentation. In doing so, he constructed the case that our families, our worldviews, our experiences and other similar important mitigating factors all have an effect upon the way we go about determining authorial intent. His point seemed to be that we are biased
. More importantly, in this fallen world, Saleska asserted it is utterly impossible to truly escape one’s bias.
I may be biased when I say this (ba-dum-pum), but I think Dr. Saleska is correct. How could all of these factors not
play a huge role in our view of texts that are so very important? We are certainly biased and that bias will most certainly taint our view of Scripture. There is no escaping this important point.
It is at this stage of the presentation that, through no fault of his own, Saleska lost me. My mind was swimming and like one of those scenes in movie where the director tries to have us see the perspective of someone losing consciousness, where everything goes blurry on the screen and the sound of the speaker’s voice gets lower and lower until...
There I was, sitting in a seat in Werner Auditorium wrestling with the implications of such conclusions. The kind presenter was likely at this point providing a nice and tidy wrap up to what so far had been a brilliant exploration of the topic, but I was off in implication-land.
I’m convinced that there are objective answers to the truths of the Scriptures’ most important questions that are not
held captive to my own biases. Why am I so convinced? Because there are objective truth claims in the Scriptures.
And, while I know that us Christians may differ on the answers on many doctrinal points, each of which are very important in the overall scheme of things, there must be
objective answers even to these! The mere fact that we struggle to agree on those answers does not in itself eliminate the possibility of objectivity. The mere fact that we do have biases and do have different interpretations does not in itself eliminate the possibility of objectivity.I was in implication-land.
However! The fact remains that we do
have biases and we do
differ. For example, my Calvinist friend may say that God elects some to salvation and some to damnation and I will declare—in love—my dear Calvinist friend to be wrong. My Arminian friend may say that it is solely Man’s choice unto eternity, and I will declare him (again in love) to be wrong. And they, in turn, will think their crazy Lutheran friend holds to a position that doesn’t make any sense to them. And I would say “Now on that you are right!” Perhaps we could all then go out for a beer and love our Lord together! Oh wait, there’s a good chance the Arminian is not allowed to drink beer. Its okay, beer messes up my stomach and I’m the only one of the three that can take both Romans 9 and 11 at face value with no theological gymnastics. But I digress.
The real question is this: In John 11
Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
When I landed in implication-land I could not help but think of Jesus’ question. He is not asking a hypothetical or abstract style of question. Nor is he making a wishy washy truth claim. He is stating an objective truth claim followed by a very real question of Martha (who he was speaking to at the time) and to us: Yay or nay? True or False? The answer to this question is a one or a zero.
Ah, you may say “Bah, Hunsaker, you’ve missed the whole point of the presentation! Saleska was asking us to consider the question of how do we know Jesus wasn’t just talking to Martha?!? Why do you interpret it in such a way to think that Jesus is talking to you?!?”
My response is to lay claim to Saleska’s main point: Intention = Meaning. Exhibit “A” shall be entered into evidence: John 20:31, where John says, “...these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John’s intention, or might I say the meaning of the passage, is clear.
Look, I know I’m just a padawan learner here (woe is me, the lowest of lows, a first year seminarian) and there is much yet to learn, but I am old and wise enough to know that “everything is just relative” is not
the answer. It is an illogical self-contradicting statement since it itself is an objective truth claim.
And, I certainly don’t think that’s where Saleska was going with his presentation when I went off to deal with the implications. However, in the breakout session that followed, some of my classmates were worried about that being a real possibility. Me, being a first year guy, decided to keep my mouth shut. Or, could it be that I hadn't figured all of this out yet...I don't know.
I think we should take a hard look at our biases. We won’t be able to spot our blind spots or they wouldn’t be blind spots, but when we engage our worldview and think about it and struggle with it we will be able to focus in on where the Lord is molding us and shaping us, teaching us to grow and learn. We know from history that Jesus can indeed break people out of their biases for His purposes (Reformation, anyone?) and we know that much care must be taken when interpreting Scripture. And so, from this we can indeed learn and grow.
I know I sure did today! In the mean time through my faith and my reason, I know this: By the power of the Holy Spirit, I do believe that through Christ, I will never die! If you share with me in this belief, what are the...implications?!?