This is the word of – well – someone

I attend an Anglican Church, and the words “this is the Word of the Lord” float past me following any reading from the Bible apart from the gospels, in which case the formula is “this is the Gospel of Christ”. But in what way can this conceivably be true for me, a panentheist? This question arises from a private response to my two previous posts.

Well, I assuredly do not think that a separate and personified God dictated the words to the various writers of sections of the Bible, nor do I think that inspiration from whatever source is guaranteed to be rendered by any writer in a form which is correct, sufficient and complete.

That is, except insofar as any words, just as any actions whatsoever, emanate from a part of the whole which is God. Although that could possibly be an adequate piece of mental gymnastics for someone, I need more than that.

I hear the words, and would sometimes really like to substitute (for instance) “this is the word of Paul”, or “this is the word of an unknown psalmist”. In an extreme case, I might want to say “this is the word traditionally ascribed to Moses but actually of an unknown redactor of around the third century BC working on material of the Yahwist source“. I am reasonably convinced by the Biblical scholars who have reached such conclusions; I’m certainly in no position to argue against them, except perhaps in some details of method which don’t impact on the general conclusion.

But I do actually have more than that. For most purposes, I treat scripture as something of fundamental authority in a way in which I assuredly don’t treat (say) the words of the editorial writers of “The Times”, which of course also qualifies to me as words emanating from a part of the whole which is God. If I swallow really hard, I equally have to include the words in “Hello”magazine, thus indicating the limits of usefulness of systematic theology.

This emanates from tradition. In the Wesleyan quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason and experience, the fact that the Bible as we know it is scripture is a matter of tradition. Various works which might well have been in the Bible, such as the Epistle to the Laodiceans, the Didache or the Gospel of Thomas don’t appear in current versions; Luther questioned whether Hebrews and Revelation should actually be part of the Bible, but eventually bowed to the pressure of tradition.

A sizeable amount of the impact of that tradition, to me, is the fact that I was brought up with scripture. It was the tradition of my family, the tradition of my early schools, the tradition of what was then a sizeable proportion of the population where I grew up. It is a part of my thinking at a very deep level (which the contents of “Hello” are definitely not!). (A level, indeed, sufficiently deep that I have some suspicions that at some emotional level I may be verging on being a five point Calvinist – but I’m working on that; I don’t find it a particularly healthy emotional stance). In the sense that it forms that imbedded tradition, therefore, I consider “this is the Word of the Lord” to be accurate.

What I do not do is consider this in any absolute sense. I don’t really do absolutes, as witness part of my “Childish Thoughts” post; I consider taking things to extremes to be the best way of causing any system of thinking to break down. It is, however, the bedrock on which the praxis of most of my spiritual life is based, including making the response “thanks be to God” after the declaration in the service. It really isn’t helpful to be thinking “well, actually it’s the word of someone traditionally thought to be Paul but actually writing some years after his death in the context of a theology which had developed somewhat beyond Paul’s actual position”. So I try not to do that any more.

3 Responses to “This is the word of – well – someone”

  1. Rob Saunders Says:

    Five-point Calvinism: not sure that perseverance of the saints adds anything of value to the other four, but if one assumes the limiting case where the scores in God;s sealed envelope are “Saved: 100% ; Damned: 0%” I wouldn’t argue with it. Christ, after all, came into the world to save sinners. Not SOME sinners, or a kind of Schindler’s List of sinners, but “sinners”.

    Though it hadn’t occurred to me until now how close to Calvinism my own beliefs were. There must be a moral there somewhere.

  2. Chris Says:

    Blame it on the parents, that’s what I say!
    More seriously, I have a large number of intellectual and moral criticisms of five point Calvinism of which the total absence of any semblance of freewill is by no means the least. Yes, I agree with you.
    What resonates best with my panentheistic stance is the Theologia Germanica’s “Nothing burns in Hell save self-will; therefore it has been said ‘Put off your self-will and there shall be no Hell’ “. I suppose there may be some for whom there is nothing BUT self-will, and I anticipate they could be in trouble, but otherwise I tend to think there’s ample scripture to support universal salvation.
    I may feel another post coming on…

  3. Eyre Lines » Blog Archive » More of the same S4… Says:

    […] I’ve posted before about my attitude to regarding Paul in particular as “the Word of God“. Paul was the main, if not the only, target of that post. However, Pete and Jared spent a […]

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