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Commentary


Word-keeping God Corrects Human Theory


Friends,

McFarland said in the United Methodist News Service Commentary: When use becomes abuse,

"The authority of Scripture -- indeed of every religion's scripture - is an attributed authority, and in every instance that attribution has been made by human beings. This is a historically demonstrable fact that should be recognized and acknowledged unashamedly."

Thus is revealed his presupposition and prejudice against God and those who believe in God.

Let me explain.

McFarland taught the History of Religions at SMU. The History of Religions School (Tubingen) is a THEORY of Biblical interpretation. Yet many departments of religion and Biblical departments in our seminaries present the theory as fact. Very unscholarly. For there almost immediately arose in the German Universities in the 18th Century a counter-theory, the Salvation Historical School (Erlangen), which is equally Critical in its approach to the study of Scripture, only with a different set of philosophical presuppositions.

The Critical Method was first recommended to us by those who rightly saw no end to sectarian conflict based on Church Dogma. In order to free the People of God for rational and independent appropriation of the Word of God, the first Critical Scholars sought to let the Bible speak for itself, on its own authority, not with authority derived from a powerful church Hierarchy, who often were guilty of using the Bible in just the way McFarland says.

It seems now, however, that a cynical church Hierarchy has taken a different tack altogether, saying, "We don't care what the Critical Scholars say about Biblical authority, whether Dialectic or Kerygmatic; our authority resides in the institutional power we wield." To the Hierarchy, politics and pragmatism almost always takes precedence over theology or interpretive principle. Because you see, there has ALWAYS been conflict between the authority of God's Word and established religious Hierarchy. The Bible represents rival authority, regardless of what interpretive theory prevails. I know of no Critical theory that says religious authority resides in those who have the power of appointment!

Therefore, McFarland fails to advance the Critical agenda because he limits himself to the perspective of the one School over the other. He assumes an unnecessary and false dichotomy between freedom and faithfulness, saying, "The Bible is still being used extensively to enslave minds and control lives, rather than to help liberate and inspire questing spirits." The Salvation Historical School is the third alternative that he seems to miss, though its position in scholarly debate is well founded. MANY Evangelicals, for instance, find extraordinary inspiration and freedom in studying the Bible from a thoroughly Critical yet Salvation Historical perspective.

So it seems there is a three-way struggle between the authority of Hierarchy, which is really only corruptible power, an ever-changing human exploration for sacred meaning, with no guarantee that it will ever be found, and a belief in the Bible as divine guidance for our lives, a true religious authority.

McFarland is more deeply engaged in this struggle than would appear on the surface. Traditional religion makes an easy target for him. That's what he does for fun. What is probably more serious to him is the refusal of Hierarchy to acknowledge his claims to authority as one who interprets the Word according to his "higher critical" theory. Hierarchy is not rushing to embrace same-sex wedding ceremonies, for instance, though the History of Religions scholars would recommend it to them. Have the Hierarchy preferred one interpretive theory over the other? No; they are just acting like Hierarchy.

But I would ask the good professor, since when did one mere human power (a man-made "sacred" Text) successfully challenge another mere human power (man-made religious Hierarchy)? It would be more logical to assume divine power vested in an authoritative Text would correct, reprove and discipline arrogant clergy who fall away into sin and error -- as history has amply proven, though McFarland may choose not to see it that way.

For it can be demonstrated "historically" that it is not "human beings" who attribute authority to the Text but God himself: those churches who have adopted the History of Religions theory, for instance, are seriously declining in membership, contributions and morale, while those who honor the Word as being "of God" increase in the same. Is not God vindicating his Book in this?

Even if McFarland insists that these phenomenon are purely "human" developments, he gains nothing but the queer pleasure of debunking religious tradition. Such is the weakness of the History of Religions School, that is, the particular presupposition under which it labors, that the Bible is a human rather than a divine book. Such a theory is it's own worst enemy because in the very next generation are those who will seek to debunk tradition and replace the old authority with the new, making the whole idea of an "authoritative base" for religion absurd.

Only with a Word-keeping God is there an anchor for the soul. For God's Word has gone forth into all the world and will not return void for he is able to accomplish all that he has spoken.

Yours in Christ,

Michael D. Hinton, M.Div.
Pastor Amboy United Methodist Church
120 Utah Drive
North Little Rock, AR 72118
Ph. (501) 753-0371
mdsh@troi.csw.net

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