Rationalist Bible Study–A Mini-Critique

I thought this represented a particularly pertinent critique of theologians who go beyond Scripture in their constructive theologizing; ironically, the quote is in discussion of Hegel’s critique of rationalist theology and biblical exegesis. Hegel had certain folk in mind, in his critique; but I think, in general is still calls us to take some pause in our own theologizing. If we are going to be truly ‘Reformed’ Christian theologians and biblical exegetes, we will need to take our ‘material’ from that disclosed and given shape by Scripture itself; of course, the next question is how do we avoid collapsing our theologies into Scriptural exegesis (eisogesis) V. reading them out of it (exegesis)? This is something that Hegel is not naive to; note Hodgson’s recounting of Hegel,

Hegel attends in the 1824 lectures to both the exegesis and dogmatics of theological rationalism, as represented by J. F. Röhr, J. A. L. Wegscheider, and especially H. E. G. Paulus. Rational exegesis professes only to promote an understanding of the Word of God contained in scripture (1:122-3). But Hegel points out that where interpretation goes beyond a mere explanation of words to a discussion of the contents and an elucidation of the sense, it introduces its own thoughts and prejudices and is more than mere exegesis. Thus ‘the most sharply opposed views are exegetically demonstrated by theologians on the basis of scripture, and in this way so-called holy scripture has been made into a wax nose’, twisted into one shape or another (1:123). Theologians naively believe they are exposing scripture when in fact they are merely displaying their own presuppositions and interests. [Peter C. Hodgson, Hegel & Christian Theology: A Reading of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, 60.]

Is there a genuinely Christian way then to read Scripture? Or are we doomed to always and only reading our a priori (prior) theological commitments into Scripture? I would suggest that we follow what the Patristic Theologians (Church Fathers) called the Regula Fidei (the Rule of Faith). The ‘rule of faith’ should be what Jesus identified in his own understanding of Scripture, as found in John 5.39:

39 You studythe Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, …

This comes back to the points I have been making about canon & Scripture in some previous posts; viz. that Jesus understood himself as the reality of Scripture (both Old Testament and the Apostolic giving of the New Testament). This is how we can avoid the problem that Hegel rightly was wary of in his own day. The reason I said this was pertinent, is because I would suggest that most American Evangelical exegesis today (if it is done at all!) suffers from the same kind of rationalism that Hegel was facing in his own heyday of rationalism. Evangelicals, in general, have inherited this mantle of interpreting scripture through, ironically, the Fundamentalist rejection of so called ‘Liberal’ rationalist exegesis. Fundamentalists tried to counter rational exegesis by way of out-rationalizing their ‘Liberal’ counterparts; this is part of the American Evangelical inheritance from its founding fathers in American Fundamentalism.

*A repost, originally posted here.

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9 comments

  1. The “Regula Fidei” is just made up. It was nothing for the fathers but reading their current catholic theology and traditions back into scripture. Its not a real rule with any solid basis.

    The “Regula Fidei” is why despite Jesus speaking of God destroying both body and soul in hell, and despite Psalm 37:20 literally saying the “wicked shall consume, shall consume away into smoke,” and despite Paul never mentioning hell but only speaking of “death”–despite all this, the “Regula Fidei” steps in and convinces all modern Christians to maintain the doctrine of eternal conscious torment because its good ole catholic tradition. Yay! What a wonderful made up principle we have here! Whoohoo.

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  2. No James, you have this wrong. The rule of faith or canon of truth, repectively, was early recognition of early oral Apostolic teaching that was self-same with the Apostolic Deposit, or the New Testament, that someone like Irenaeus referred to as authoritative teaching against the Gnostics. It later developed, post-Augustine, into an ecclesial hammer that went beyond the Scriptures; but early on, it was simply identificaton of the oracular Apostolic teaching that was univocal and regulative with the New Testament. You ought to read JND Kelly’s classic and definitive work “Early Christian Doctrines,” he has a great discussion on the development of the regula fidei.

    Furthermore, you have unfortunately conflated essential Christian dogma (Trinity etc) with adiaphora which the latter is secondary dogma, like issues surrounding hell etc. which has no necessary relation between how the rule of faith was seminally used by the early patristics (ie relative to defendingfundamental and basic dogma relative to a doctrine of God vis-a-vis doctrines like hell which revolved around non-essential dogma within the household of faith).

    So I obviously think you have read the original rule of faith anachronistically, and thus in so doing have caricatured the regula fidei and its relative import.

    Beyond all that, I am actually appealing to a reification of the rule of faith wherein Jesus himself becomes the regulative canon and reality by which we engage with the text of Scripture. So on both fronts I think your understanding misses what the rule of faith is about; historically, dogmatically, and hermeneutically :-).

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  3. My understanding of the rule of faith comes straight from my reading of Tertullian. Its clearly an ill-defined thing, and I don’t buy your assertion that its nothing but a list of which books are canonical.

    “Furthermore, you have unfortunately conflated essential Christian dogma (Trinity etc) with adiaphora which the latter is secondary dogma…”

    Peter in Acts preaches Jesus to the Jews as “a man approved by God by many signs and wonders among you” not as “God Incarnate and Second Person of the Trinity.” So I think its you who’s got it wrong. Paul teaches that–after the cross–“God highly exalted him and gave him a name above every (other) name.” I add the word other in parens because the author of Hebrews argues in God’s putting “all things under his feet” that “it is obvious He which does the putting is excluded” from being put under the feet, so again, here, where God has given him a name above all names, God’s own name is excluded from being lower than his. In any case Paul’s doctrine here is clearly not Trinitarian.

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  4. James,

    I didn’t assert that it was a list of the canonical books. I’ll let you take this up with Kelly. You are wrong though. Try to follow what I communicated, which will keep you from putting words in my mouth.

    I didn’t realize you weren’t a Christian, or at least a non-Trinitarian one. Yes, he is highly exalted in his humanity for us, and highly humiliated in his divinity for us. I guess if you don’t have the capacity to pick this kind of nuance up in Paul or Peter then read the Gospel of John.

    I am really not interested in pursuing this further with you, James. I don’t really like engaging with non-Trinitarians, just to be frank.

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  5. “I don’t really like engaging with non-Trinitarians, just to be frank.”

    When I was a Trinitarian, it never bothered me. But of course I was never one of those who was impressed with the doctrine raving on and on about how amazing a doctrine it is and how it gives me the warm fuzzies like I see so many, especially Calvinists, claiming. It was a duty to throw out logic and Scripture both and accept that one can assert plurality with God and arbitrarily cap it at 3, and somehow this is logical and not the same as the Polytheists who posit a Godhead consisting of Zeus and Poseiden and Athena and so on. They could claim that each of their gods is only a different Person in one God too, if they were still around. But the kicker is the cosmological argument can prove God’s existence, but nothing can ever prove the Trinity. Van Til tried his silly transcendental argument, but its not even really an argument, and presuppositionalism may work well enough with a truly monotheistic God, but there’s no reason to presuppose diversity in the Godhead and yet cap it 3. Anselem’s theory of God, you know that “God is the greatest being conceivable by the human mind” is sometimes used to defend the Trinity, since a 3-person God, it is said, is the most greatest and best being imaginable. Really? Why not a 30000-person God? There’s no logic to capping it at 3. Either believe in One God who is One Person, or be an all-out Polytheist.

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  6. Plus the all male Trinity has become a liability in these homosexualized times we’re living in. A God who is 3 persons and they’re all male? Ew, gross. A God who is one person and is male is fine, but if God is going to be multiple persons there had better be a female in there: let’s not give the fags any ammunition, right?

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  7. I believe in one ousia (being) and three persons (hypostases); there is no contradiction. I believe it is limited to three, because that how it has been revealed in Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit.

    You need to take a better logic class next time you sign up for that class. There is no contradiction between one what and three whos. And I don’t lean on any of the classical arguments for the existence of God; ah, that’s your problem, you are trying to posit a notion of God based on the Greeks rather than God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ that is a Father-Son God bonded in the love of the Spirit.

    I believe in one subject, and the three persons who make this one subject what it is in perichoretic relation. You haven’t given adequate thought to this in order to give up on the Trinity so quickly. You seem to be too taken with your own intellectual/rationalist prowesss (I say this, because when I come across folk like you you all have the same kind of predisposition; that is that you have an esoteric insight into Christian dogma that 2000 years of church history hasn’t–except for the heretics).

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  8. I may be a rationalist but I am a scriptural rationalist. Its just that the New Testament doesn’t pass muster like the Old Testament does. Its full of demons and Trinities and all kinds of nonsense. It doesn’t hold a candle to “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning there were two gods next to each other who were somehow the same? Come on John, don’t give me that crap. And I’m done now.

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