The title of my post could just as easily be: A Theology of the Cross V. a Theology of Glory; that would make Martin Luther proud. My basic idea driving this post will be that Scripture’s primary intention, from God’s angle, is that it be a situation wherein we encounter his Last Word to us in Jesus Christ; a place where through encounter with Godself in Christ, we as his people cultivate an intimacy and relationship with him that has Godself foundations, foundations that run deep into the everlasting well-spring of God’s Triune life. I am placing this conception of scripture in juxtaposition with how scripture is usually framed and engaged in its critical form. In the bible’s critical form it is usually engaged as a place where there competition abounds; where tenure is established; and book deals are conscripted. The academic’s life is often one that is give shape by existential bursts of out-put; a place where his or her name becomes associated with imaginative ideation and constructive grammars abounding. It is this type of engagement of scripture that seems to foster an atmosphere of seeing the bible as an end in itself; an end that is ended by having one more notch on my CV, or an end that establishes me as the next best rising scholar. True, in this pursuit, even if vanity underwrites it, scripture can be given new heights; scripture from this attitude can still yield beautiful fruit for those who choose to reap from the cultivation of said scholarship—so there is a sort of ex opere operato, or objectivity to biblical scholarship that can still be useful. But the concern still is present; the concern is what difference does biblical scholarship make if it is not primarily given shape by an intimate Christian relationship with its reality; with Jesus Christ? Does not an academic shaping of the engagement of scripture orient scripture’s reception in such a way that scripture becomes an end in itself; thus never really reaching its heights in the heavenlies, in Christ?
This post isn’t one where I am trying to provide an anti-intellectual apologetic. Instead, I am trying to voice a concern I have about academic biblical studies. I have been parley to academic biblical studies for quite a few years now (my degrees are both largely shaped by it), and I can say from my own personal experience that if scripture is not come to through a properly dressed Christianly dogmatic ontology, that scripture can become an end itself; the study of scripture can become the occasion for self-promotion and unbelief instead of an occasion for self-denial and belief through encounter with scripture’s reality in Jesus Christ. This is how I read Jesus’ indictment of the religious leaders of his day when he said:
36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. [John 5:36-40, NIV]
These bible teachers (academics) knew the scriptures, but their knowledge of the scriptures served as blinders instead of spectacles for vision of scripture’s ultimate and true reality, Jesus Christ. They had scripture’s reality standing right before their naked eyes, but they could not see him. They did not read scripture by faith, they read it by sight; and thus they could not genuinely hear his voice or see his form in the invisible God made visible in Jesus Christ. This is what I am sketching above; and it is this that concerns me about the state of biblical scholarship (no matter what its expression; Evangelical, Liberal, Postmodern, Liberation, etc.). If Jesus is not, by way of theological order (chronologically and logically), the occasion, the inner ground of scripture’s growth and subsequent reception; then it can only serve as a place for self-promotion, and ultimately unbelief.
We either read scripture by faith or by sight.