Thursday, January 29, 2009

This week's lesson: inspiration

The question of inspiration is not one of sources so much as trust.

When it comes to sources of knowledge, after all, Augustine of Hippo points out three options:
  • reason,
  • personal experience,
  • and the testimony of others.
As we seek a knowledge of God, for instance, philosophers use reason, mystics crave experience, and the rest of us rely on Scripture.

And no, there's nothing wrong with looking for answers in a book. If I want to learn about about Thomas Jefferson, after all, I will go to the writings of those who knew him. To be sure, I must evaluate their testimony in light of both reason and experience; what's more, reason and experience may may suggest new ways to evaluate eyewitness accounts. (Think of the help archeology and DNA testing now provide Jefferson's biographers.) But ultimately, my knowledge of America's third President will come down to three questions:
  • What are the documents?
  • What do they say?
  • How much do I trust them?
Now the Bible is a collection of documents, all of which claim a knowledge of God. Some seem to have gained this knowledge through reason; think of books such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Others result from personal experience -- books such as Isaiah and the Revelation. And documents such as Samuel and Luke obviously result from their authors' study of still other documents.

Different books; different methods of composition.

But all these books are by authors who claim some knowledge of God, no matter how that knowledge may have been obtained.

In short, they all claim to be inspired, regardless of how they came to be written.

That's why the question you need to discuss with your class is not one of how God inspires Scripture. (The answer is: "Any way He wants.")

No, the question is how much we should trust it!

Answer that question, and I'll tell you what your doctrine of inspiration really is.

If you have a very "high" view of inspiration, for instance, you'll trust the Bible a lot -- and this includes giving it the benefit of the doubt when reason or experience raise questions. Even when it looks as though crime does pay, for instance, you will still believe "thou shalt not steal." And no matter what the archeologists say, you'll always believe there was some kind of Exodus.

If you have a relatively "low" view of inspiration, however, you'll generally trust it only when you have some other reason to do so -- when the experts concur that theft is wrong, for instance, or the Exodus really did take place.

And if you say you have a high view of inspiration -- that you believe every word the Bible was dictated by God and spell-checked by a band of angels -- but you continually ignore its relevance to your life . . .

Then you might think the Bible is inspired.

But it certainly doesn't seem to be inspiring you!

1 comment:

richies said...

An "inspiring" lesson on inspiration. What good is the inspired word if we aren't inspired by it.

An Arkie's Musings