Epistemological Jams Revisited

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Christopher Cocca

Last night, someone I follow on facebook asked what folks thought about a list of  7 essential beliefs without which one can’t be called a Christian.  The seventh was a statement about “The ultimate authority of Scripture without which none of the other truths can be affirmed or asserted with confidence.”

Some of us engaged  in a good discussion (which is still happening, though I’ve said all I think I mean to say in the space).   Below, I’m going to share my contributions (out of context, admittedly,  because I don’t think it’s fair to take people’s semi-private facebook thoughts more public, even if their names and pictures are blocked out.)  From what I share below, you can probably infer some of the other things being said, Toad the Wet Sprocket style, in the spaces in between.

I’m not sharing this with an axe to grind, but I suppose I do have an agenda.  I’m really, really concerned with the sometimes staggeringly dangerous claims some Christians make about epistemology.  I worry that many for whom the Bible is somehow epistemologically authoritative (and ‘how?’ is a HUGE question) are saying much more about the Bible’s ontology than anything else.  That they believe about the Bible what they say they believe about God.   I could say more, and probably will in another post.  The business of being clear about what the Bible is and isn’t, and what bearing that does or doesn’t have on what we’re talking about when we’re talking about God, is so important, especially in America, even (or, perhaps, again, especially) within modernity’s and old Christendom’s last requiems.  I’ve written about this is greater length and detail a few times over the past few years.  Given the work I’m doing on the insubordination project, now feels like a good time to revisit that material.

In the meantime, most of what I said on facebook with regards to this specific prompt:

We know truth through the living Christ. Not a book.

If I must believe the Bible to be X, Y, or Z, before I can believe in Jesus, I must be doing something wrong.

Jesus is alive. That’s what the NT bears witness to, but if I’m required to believe this or that about the NT before I’m able to experience the living Jesus or know him, then I’m engaged in some layer of faith or religion before getting to Jesus. That makes little sense to me. How do we know the Bible is a chronicle of the God who speaks? That requires some pre-Christian epistemology, doesn’t it? Conversion happens when you meet Jesus. The Bible can play a role in that, but it’s not an exclusive one. Some of us even believe that the living Christ is the hermeneutic through which Scripture should be judged.

I’m not proposing anything new here, by the way. These strains of thought have a long history in various Christian traditions and experiences).

I’d say that the the written Bible is one part of the shared experience of people over millenia understanding Jesus. I agree that the Logos is the instructor and the content…but I don’t agree that the Bible is the Logos! Jesus is.

Others would say that we must not rely our own natural thinking about what Scripture is to understand the Spirit and presence of Christ. It seems to me that this is fundamentally a question of epistemology, and there are many of us for whom Christ is real, saving, compelling, and blissfully radical, regardless of what we’re able to force ourselves to believe about the Bible. Lots of people meet Jesus without ever seeing a Bible. Certainly, that was the case for many of his earliest followers.

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I will also say this:  Someone said that the earliest followers had complete access to Jesus.  I said “so do we.” I probably could have said “this was never a movie about dying, it was always a movie about living, and to that I say ‘keep on.'”

I don’t think I’m espousing particularly radical theology here, except in the strictest sense of the word radical:  “of or relating to the root of something.”

Please, stop putting steps between the world and Jesus.

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