Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sola Kerfuffle: The Podcast with the Moderators!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called "Sola Kerfuffle" in response to remarks by Rev. Landon Whitsitt, the newly-elected Vice Moderator of the PCUSA reported in an interview. Whitsett said that Sola Scriptura is dead or dying in most churches, which created a stir in the PresbyBlogosphere.

Subsequently I was contacted by Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, who told me she is one of QG's readers! She asked me to continue the conversation about the authority of scripture with Landon and her in a podcast. We got together by phone a couple of weeks ago to do this and now Landon Whitsitt has posted it on the Vice Moderator's blog:

I'd like to express my thanks to Cynthia and Landon for the invitation. Cynthia tells me that she hopes this will be a model for future respectful conversation between different points of view in the PCUSA. That is a great idea and I look forward to future podcasts with others.

I look forward to your reading your responses in the comments!


kathrynzj said...

Can't wait to listen to it and LOVE that our leadership is using blogs and podcasts to keep us connected.

Mac said...

I listened to the discussion in fascination. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

My original response became too long, so I will use it as today’s blog over at the Scuttlebutt. I’ll just make a few comments here.

I noticed that the podcast did not open with prayer. Since we disaffiliated from the PC(USA) and moved to the EPC, where frequent prayer is an integral part of every meeting, I have seen that opening with prayer in even the smallest, most informal endeavors adds to the discussions that follow.

If I understood Rev. Whitsett correctly, I am glad that God led us to our new home. I think I heard him say that it is too hard to struggle (your word, and a good one) with Scripture, because that struggle may lead us to do things that God wants, but we don’t. Oh, he was more circumspect, but that is what came across. He lost me when he said that “Scripture is not a foundational truth.” He “likes”, even “reveres” the Bible, but cannot say what is its “level of authority.” The Reformation came about because the Roman Church had allowed man-made stuff to become co-equal to, or even trump, Scripture. Rev. Whitsett now wants to include “history and traditions” to make Scripture “fit into the community.”

That is exactly why many of us had to leave the PC(USA): we were told that when reading the Bible, we should “listen for the Word of God” (maybe it is there, maybe not) rather than “listen to the Word of God.” We were condemned for being too conservative rather than bending the Word to the world. We were told that sin is an out-moded concept and just because some sins are now acceptable in our “community,” i.e., adultery, homosexual practice, and perjury, we were bigots for insisting that sin is sin.

Jody—you stood your ground. You rightly said that we must struggle with Scripture. While simple proof-texting is not enough, we must do the hard work, really delving into Scripture to understand God’s will for us.

When Rev. Dr. Rick Wolling and I wrote the introductory chapter of A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven, the report of the NWAC Strategy Team to the New Wineskins Association of Churches, we identified two faithful options for members of the PC(USA). Those who were called by God to leave the PC(USA) could faithfully do so. Those who were called by God “stay where they are and be a prophetic witness” and “to strive to reform, renew and repair the old homestead so that it can once again be a vibrant and welcoming lodging for those who are lost and hungry for the Word” could also do so faithfully. You are clearly that prophetic witness, with your toolbelt strapped on as you hammer and saw and paint at the old home place.

We said one other thing: “That being said, we implore all to whom this report shall come: there must be a new thing, wherever it may occur. To simply stand fast. . .” is not a faithful option. See A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven at pp 15-16.

Thank you for taking on the role of a spokesperson for the many in the PC(USA) who feel that they are never heard.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Jody,

You did a very good job of conversing on this subject. Although I have never participated in the 90 days through the Bible I am glad you brought that up as a good corrective.

For some the Holy Spirit is held up as the other side of authority and you are right that Scripture in this case must take priority to correct the error of saying that the Holy Spirit is telling us this is so when perhaps the person is hearing a different spirit. I am also bothered about the community sharing in the authority. Not only did Whitsett bring this idea up but it is one of Phyllis Tickle’s ideas, the network of the community. It is always the scripture that is the corrective to and for the community.

Bonhoeffer who wrote so much about the Church as a community would have been aghast at the idea of authority residing in the community rather than in Scripture.

And ‘wrestling with Scripture,’ that is an important subject. I wish the conversation had dug deeper into that one. I find in reading that some when speaking of wrestling mean struggling to know if a passage is truly the word of God, when in fact it should instead mean how are we to understand the meaning of the passage since it is the word of God.

Just one other thought. Whitsett mentioned the passage in Luke where Jesus stated “Do you suppose I came to grant peace on the earth? I tell you no, but rather division…”(12:51) as a place that one must deal with because it contradicts other Scripture. I see that as one of the least contradictory passages in the New Testament, but I also see that as one of the passages that may be troubling the leadership in our denomination more than any other and am wondering if that is why it was mentioned.

The division is between the converted and the unconverted if you read the whole passage. Unity is between those who have their righteousness from Jesus Christ and not themselves, the fellowship of the saints. (I should perhaps blog on that-I am getting too long winded.)

Anyway-thank you.

Robin said...

Listening . . . and probably going to have to come back to comment as I am soon off to a task force meeting re our Presbytery website.

Clay Allard said...

Well Done, QG. I think that the dangers others hear are real in what Rev. Whitsett shared; but I also think they are missing a subtext.
There are many for whom certain words are tarnished by the way they have seen others use them. Rev. Whitsett seems to me to be another person who has seen the authority of Scripture abused so often/so badly that he is willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
These folks want no authority, because they want no discipline, and no consequences. Love means never having to say you're sorry. If we lived in the Kingdom already, this might work well. But this is still the fallen world. There must be authority, because getting lost in this world has consequences-- eternal ones, at that.
But the authority doesn't have to be wielded as worldly pride and power. I can stand on the Word of God as the unshakeable authority of the Word made flesh-- two things Rev. Whitsett attempted to put space between, where no such space exists-- without hating anyone.
Authority is not a bad word, even if those who have used it have done so badly.

Michael Kruse said...

I didn’t grow up Presbyterian. One of the things I still appreciate about my Wesleyan upbringing is the Wesleyan quadrilateral: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, all processed in community with the direction of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is the one constant of the four but it cannot be interpreted or applied without the assistance of tradition, reason, and experience.

Where I part with many of my more conservative brothers and sisters is that they read the Scripture with no eye to the distance in time and culture between the world of Scripture and today. I sense that this type of reading is part of what Landon refers to in his frustration with Sola Scriptura.

But I also part with many of my progressive/liberal brothers and sisters who keep trying to get at the “real” Jesus “behind” Scripture, as though Scripture is a distorting obfuscating force to knowing Jesus. There is no authoritative access to Jesus accept through the witness of Scripture. That is the means by which Christ has revealed himself to us.

I disagree with some above about the role of community. As Kenneth Bailey points out, it took generations before the NT canon was solidified. The primary factor for each book (at least during the first couple of centuries when all but a handful of books were settled) was whether or not it carried authority with the breadth of the Christian Church in its many locations and contexts. The church did not so much give the Scripture its authority but surrendered to it. But the community in a very real sense preceded the Book.

In reaction to the excesses of the Church monopolizing the reading and interpretation of the Bible, we Protestants have swung the other direction in making it a private individual matter. The Book was meant to be read and wrestled with in community, not just as individuals. In that sense I think a move back toward Spirit directed communities, relying on the Word, is a good thing.

Where I worry about many progressives is their tendency to distill Scripture down purely to broad theological principles without giving much heed to the NT church’s attempts to live out Christ’s teaching in their particular contexts (or, IMO, creatively explaining them away). A principle of “committed loving relationship” is discerned absent the passages that give content to those relationships. In this context, “Spirit directed communities” quickly begins to be little more than the desires of the community projected back onto the Spirit.

I'm making no assessment about Landon here. Just articulating the lens through which I filter these conversations.

Robin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin said...

OK, finally back. Terrific conversation. Some miscellaneous responses:

Unlike Landon, I have certainly heard Presbyterians, including lifelong Presbyterians, question or dismiss the value of Scripture. I think they do so primarily because they are unfamiliar with the history of our tradition, and the weight that we give to Scripture. Even though we listen to sermons each week which are grounded in Scripture, we may take it for granted and not stop to think, for instance, Wow, that's interesting -- every week the text is from Scripture instead of say, People magazine.

I appreciate your insistence on the need to wrestle with Scripture. In my own church, which I do believe is at the other end of the spectrum from yours (!) in terms of those difficult-to-define terms such as conservative/liberal, we take Scripture and our study of it seriously. One of my frustrations with many of my more conservative brothers and sisters is their insistence that because our interpretations of it differ, we do not treasure the Bible as they do.

It's no secret that I have plenty of experience in Catholic and Methodist and Jewish worlds in my background -- I am one of the Presbyterians who all in one person has come from "all over the place." I have a deep appreciation for all of my "places" and because of the mix have given a lot of thought to the role and authority of Scripture. I value the quadrilateral approach; I understand Scripture, tradition, and the natural world all to be sources of revelation; and I understand the Word Jesus Christ as the ultimate test of authoritative revelation. Not the historical Jesus, although that exploration is certainly intriguing and valuable in my estimation, but the Jesus of Scripture.

I think we have a great deal of work to do in conveying the significance and value of Scripture in a world in which it is taken for granted or simply ignored. As one example, it is a commonplace for people to say "I find God in nature" -- and I am confident that they do -- but nature is confusing territory, often terrifying and destructive, and it is only through Scripture that we can confirm that the God of Katrina is a God of goodness and grace. Even where nature manifests order, beauty, creativity, and energy, we only know that those things are the work of our gracious Creator because of God's communication through the Word -- the Word of Scripture and, ultimately, the Word Jesus Christ.

I think I'll come to an abrupt stop as it seems that I am writing my own post in your space!

Wendy said...

I am one of those new Presbyterians who came from a tradition that takes scripture to an extreme, so I appreciate the Rev. Whitsitt's nuancing of Sola Scriptura. This is beating an old drum, but it is pertinent to whence I come. In one example (and, yes, the one most dear to me), If we did not believe that the Holy Spirit helps us interpret scripture--and maybe even trumps it--I'm not sure we would have women as pastors or elders.

On the question of new member/elder training, my pastor is taking those of us who are new members through a year long class on scripture, prayer practices, and gifts and callings, so she does see the importance of training those of us who come from other backgrounds or non-church backgrounds. I don't know what the elder training is like, but I do know that meetings in this Southern California PC(USA) church are opened with both scripture and prayer.

Quotidian Grace said...

If ALL of Paul's letters are considered, it is clear that he supported women in roles of leadership in the church. That's why it is important to look at all of scripture in context--not just a few verses in isolation.

Anonymous said...

I listened last night. I wish I had the time right now to write to respond as in depth as the other commenters.

For now, you rocked! Yes, what Mac said, well done, good & faithful servant! Would you please run for moderator? ;)

Landon's comments troubled me deeply. He talked about the "nuance" of reading Scripture, but I felt like much of his response was nuanced. "Yes, I believe in Sola Scripture...but no I don't." I could say more about what I thought I heard him say, but I should only do that in direct communication with him.

On another note, you once again inspired me to work on doing the Bible in 90 Days here. Goodness, with winter coming up and us all hunkered down for more than a few months, what else do we have to do?

(From Rev Kim - sorry, I've forgotten my username & password!)

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks, Rev Kim.

Let me know if you get BIND underway at your church and how it goes!