The Bible is a Communal Book

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A subject which has occupied my mind for quite some time now is the tendency among us Evangelicals to ignore and even demonize past theology–specifically, most theology prior to the founding or beginning of our own tradition, denomination, or movement.  I think the reason for this is that many Evangelical Christians misunderstand the Reformation principle of “sola Scriptura” to mean, “My Bible and Me — don’t need anything else“. This attitude of many Evangelicals would better be described as “nuda Scriptura” (the naked Scripture) and it leads to the phenomenon of each believer being his or her own pope. However, I think this is a far cry from what Martin Luther meant–after all, in his own interpretition of Scripture he frequently references the Church Fathers and their interpretations.

In this post Keneth Tanner argues that while personal Bible reading is good and useful, it is not enough: Holy Scripture must be read in and with the church in order to be properly understood.


A Guest Post by Kenneth Tanner[1]

The Bible is a communal book.

Yes, you can sit down in a chair by yourself and read the Bible, and the Spirit can illumine your mind and quicken your heart, but that is true only in a very narrow sense.

This “personal” way of reading Scripture is a minimal approach that too many make maximal.

We are meant to hear the Scriptures as we gather in the liturgy around the table with bread and wine, and to read them (as we read them!) with the whole church through time, situated as she has been (and as she is) among all sorts of persons in all sorts of places.

We cannot read the Scriptures with wisdom without the community that has over centuries across many languages, cultures, and paradigms created, gathered, preserved, interpreted, taught, prayed, and preached them, and this includes rabbinical and patristic readers.

If I’m only reading Scripture with the family that raised me or the tradition in which I was catechized or the society in which I am situated, if I am only paying attention to contemporary and not also ancient voices, to readers from my camp or clique or race or tribe without listening to the choir of time-tested Christ-wise readers, my reading will at least be mildly idiosyncratic if not ludicrously wild and potentially harmful.

When we read the Scripture with the whole church we are likelier to find the meaning of each lyric or story, prophecy or precept in the only place we will find them: the flesh of Jesus.

Jesus Christ opens our minds to understand the Scriptures and that happens in communion with his broken body.

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  1. Fr. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA. This text was first posted on Facebook on February 2, 2023.

    A German translation by Wolf Paul is available here.

    Copyright © 2023 by Kenneth Tanner. Used by permission.[]

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Was Jesus actually born on December 25?

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Every year in November and December articles and posts circulate, both in the printed press and online, about the supposed pagan origins of Christmas. Lutheran theologian Chad Bird ably refutes these here.  However, just now I came across two other objections: (1) Christmas is bogus because December 25 is almost certainly not the actual birth date of Jesus, and (2) Christmas has become so thoroughly commercialized that any spiritual meaning it might have had has become irretrievally lost.

I have a few thoughts on that:

  1. The first of these objections stems from a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the  church  or liturgical year, which is not about commemorating actual historical dates. Rather, it tells the story of Jesu’ earthly ministry in two commemorative cycles: The first one commemorates the promise of and waiting for a Redeemer, as well as His Second Coming, in Advent, and comes to a climax in the celebration of the Redeemer’s birth at Christmas and his revelation to the world at Epiphany, and the second one starts on Ash Wednesday with Lent, a period of 40 days of preparation for the central events of salvation history, from Christ’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), to His crucifixion and death (Good Friday), and culminates with in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Finally it celebrates the Ascension of the risen Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the triune nature of God on Trinity Sunday. The remainder of the year, variously known as the Sundays after Pentecost or after Easter, or simply as Ordinary Time, is often seen as representing the age of the church from Pentecost until Christ’s Second Coming, and in several church traditions closes with the feast of Christ the King on the Sunday before Advent.  So the actual date of Christ’s birth is no more relevant to the date of Christmas than the actual dates of Jesus’ death and resurrection are to the date of Easter (which changes every year, anyway).
  2. Yes, Christmas has become extremely commercialized and we sometimes wonder if it can be redeemed. But (a) we all, as individuals, as families, as church communities, have a choice of how far we go along with the commercialized aspects & traditions, we can all still focus on the real significance of Christmas: the birth of our redeemer. This is obviously easier if one is part of a church community which actually celebrates the liturgical seasons and feasts. And (b) Christmas seems to be a time when people are more receptive to spiritual things, and people who will not ordinarily set a foot in church will be open to attend special Advent and Christmas concerts, plays, and services.

While the seasons and feasts of the church year are nor biblically mandated, they, just like the biblical feasts of the Older Testament, are designed to remind us of God’s redemptive acts on our behalf, and to celebrate them. And and as with the biblical feasts, explaining their significance to our children and others who do not yet believe is an important part of that.

So while the observance  of the liturgical year with its seasons and feasts is not biblically commanded, those of us who do observe them ought not to look down on or disparage those individuals and church communities who don’t observe them; conversely, those of us who do not follow the liturgical year should not look down on or disparage those who do.

 

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Is Artificial Superintelligence Dangerous?

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In an opinion piece[1] in the Washington Post, the philosopher Émile P. Torres speculates about the likelihood of AI research accomplishing, within the foreseeable future, the development of Artificial Superintelligence (ASI), and whether that would be not only beneficial but also dangerous, and says,

Surely no research organization would design a malicious, Terminator-style ASI hellbent on destroying humanity, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the worry. If we’re all wiped out by an ASI, it will almost certainly be on accident.

I find this puzzling. How can any intelligent, thinking human being doubt, in the face of two world wars, the holocaust, numerous other wars and acts of terrorism since then (most notably the Russian attack on and invasion of Ukraine), and an increasing number of leaders who, in the event of an election loss, would likely do a Trump and suggest to their followers that they they should storm and occupy the democratic institutions of their country, that if a technology like ASI existed or was within reach, someone would not try—and probably succeed—to exploit this technology for nefarious ends?

In 1942 the Russian-born American scientist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov  invented his Three Laws of Robotics which say,

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In the eighty years since then numerous systems have been invented which, while not humanoid in form like most of Asimov’s and other science fiction writers’ robots, are nonetheless in a real sense robots as Asimov had in mind in formulating his laws but which do not abide by these laws, with many of them, like the quadruped military robot Cheetah or autonomous drones like the MQ-1 Predator, being expressly designed to harm humans or assist with harming them. Wikipedia even has an article on the Artificial Intelligence arms race which evidently is a thing.

These are powered by our current Artificial Intelligence systems and generally are only capable of performing one specific task; in this they are still sub-human machine intelligence, yet in the wrong hands they can wreak devastation. Many scientists are now working on human-level machine intelligence, on a par with human intelligence, and predict success within the next fifty years or so; others are already working on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) as a stepping stone to Artificial Superintelligence which will far surpass human intelligence.

Torres recognizes and describes in his article the ways that such ASI systems could, strictly by accident, wipe out the human race (which from a purely naturalistic perspective would of course not be evil because there would be no human beings left to suffer), and for this reason recommends that governments should stop all research on AGI and ASI.

I don’t believe that this will happen. It might happen if all governments had only the common good at heart; this is totally unrealistic, just look at Vladimir Putin, China or North Korea but also, as lesser, more harmless examples, our own politicians who as often as not are motivated by their country’s, their party’s or even their own good rather than the common good.

And even if all governments halted and prohibited such research, how do you ensure that some rogue actors don’t continue to research and develop such systems, without resorting to the repressive measures of a police state?

And once such systems exist, the biggest danger won’t be the annihilation of the human race but the use of this ASI to oppress and cause great harm to a still existing human race.

The Christian Scriptures predict a time of great tribulation (Mt 24:21, Rev 7:14) immediately prior to the return of Christ, and the havoc wreaked by ASI may well form part of that tribulation; as Christians, whether we believe in the rapture (1 Thess 4:17)[2] or not, we still have hope in the face of that prospect because we know that Christ’s ultimate victory over sin, sickness and death is assured (Rev 20:11-15; Rev 20).

Banner Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

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  1. Since the Washington Post is behind a pay wall, here is a summary of Torres’ arguments, although without the paragraph I quote and which prompted this post[]
  2. The interpretation of these verses, and how the events before, during and after Christ’s return will unfold, is something Christians have disagreed about for a long time, at least since the Prophecy Conferences of the 19th century but probably throughout the history of the Christian church[]
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Regulative and Normative Principles

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In a recent discussion on Facebook someone denigrated Anglicanism (even the conservative version of GAFCON, ACNA, etc) as not sufficiently reformed, because, while the English Reformation got rid of the heretical practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, it retained other practices “which should not be part of any church.”

In reply I asked, What things other than “heretical practices and beliefs” shouldn’t be part of any church?

He has, so far, not replied to my questions, but this reminds me of what, in Reformed theology, is called the regulative principle of worship.

Theopedia says, 

The Regulative principle of worship in Christian theology teaches that the public worship of God should include those and only those elements that are instituted, commanded, or appointed by command or example in the Bible. In other words, it is the belief that God institutes in Scripture whatever he requires for worship in the Church, and everything else should be avoided.

The regulative principle is often contrasted with the Normative Principle of Worship, which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, so long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In other words, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.

These two ways of looking at worship can also be applied to church practice in general (i.e. church governance), and and while both in worship and in general church practice I hold with the normative way of looking at things, I respect those who follow the regulative principle and would never belittle that stand.

This is how I understand Scripture:

  1. Any practice that is expressly forbidden in Scripure is heretical and shouldn’t be part of any church.
  2. Any practice that is commanded or commended in Scripture is orthodox and should be part of every church.
  3. Anything that is neither prohibited nor commanded/commended in Scripture is a matter for prudential judgment and freedom which (as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the the church and doesn’t contradict biblical principles) a church can decide to adopt or not while still respecting those who decide differently.

The reformers of the 16th century rightly rejected the authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility of the Roman pope and insisted on Scripture as the only binding standard for both the church and the individual believer. Ever since then there have been people in the church who have claimed for themselves that authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility, and have disparaged and condemned anyone who didn’t agree with them on every point.

It is very sad that there are those in the church who have given up on Sola Scriptura; unlike the Roman Catholic Church they are not guided by Sacred Tradition but by the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. They seek to be relevant in this post-modern age by abandoning “the faith once delivered to the saints” and instead adopting the mores of the new, “progressive” secular public morality.

It is even sadder, however, when those who claim to still be comitted to the authority of Scripture disparage, castigate, and maul each other over what are, after all, adiaphora, peripheral matters. 

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Biblical? Christ-Like?

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(I borrowed this text from Craig Greenfield)

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah (representing the Prophets and the Law of the OT). (Mt 17:1-9)

God’s command is “This is my son, Listen to him!”

In this powerful moment,
with these powerful words,
Jesus is lifted above and beyond all other teachers
and all other parts of scripture.

This is why we must read the Bible though the lens of the life and teachings of Jesus.

This is why Jesus can dare to say, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye (in Exodus 21:23), but I say to you, Love your enemies”

This is why we seek,
not to be Biblical,
but to be Christlike.

Note from Wolf: I am fully aware that this hermeneutical principle can be (and has been) distorted and abused. That doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And I know one can argue about the word “biblical” in the meme above, but I think readers of good will know what is meant.

And finally, a common temptation seems to be to read all Scripture not through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings, but rather through the lens of that image of Christ we have constructed in our own head.

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