One of the problems I had with the Bible before I became a Christian and one of the problems I’ve continued to have since I became a Christian are those nooks and crannies of the Bible (which usually don’t come with red letters) that seem to have nothing to do with who God has shown God to be in Jesus Christ.
You know those passages I mean.
You can usually find them on bumper stickers or in the comments to blog posts. They’re the parts of the Bible most often used in ways that only by willing cognitive dissonance can one imagine Jesus using those passages in the selfsame way.
You know what I mean.
Think of the picket signs: ‘God hates fags’ -Romans 1.26-27
Here’s another of those Bible turds:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
It’s from 1 Timothy 2.
Admittedly, my religious and professional life is lived in the left-of-center world of
MainSideline Christianity yet I’m still amused- shocked, my wife would prefer me to say- that there are Christians in 21st America who still labor over how to apply such a passage literally to their life.
Here’s a recent example of “renown” Calvinist Baptist (there’s an unexplored oxymoron) pastor, John Piper, doing just that, picking apart the implications of 1 Timothy 2 with the deprecision of a Pharisee.
Have a listen. Then after you’ve picked your jaw off the floor, you can continue reading.
In case you didn’t actually listen: John Piper’s radio show received a breathlessly sincere question about whether 1 Timothy 2’s admonition forbids Christian men from reading biblical commentaries written by women. In response, Piper didn’t come down with a hard yes but that it even took him several minutes to answer should tell you that he’s fielding questions way, way out in right field.
The logic of Piper’s conclusion nets this nifty corollary:
Women can write sermons. They just can’t preach them.
Unless, of course, no one in the congregation has a johnson.
Seriously, Piper- just as many other Christians do- approaches scripture like strict constructionists do the Constitution, as an absolute, unchanging law book.
But here’s my question:
How does Piper’s use of the word of God in this particular case in any way glorify or point to the One Word of God, Jesus Christ?
You see that’s the problem with treating the Bible the way Antonin Scalia treats the Bill of Rights.
It flattens scripture. If it’s all the literal, infallible word of God then every part of the Bible is equally authoritative.
The holiness codes in Leviticus telling us about fabrics, shellfish and homosexuality are as authoritative as the Sermon on the Mount telling us about forgiveness, enemies and turning the other cheek.
In other words, understanding the Bible as the literal, infallible word of God relativizes the Word of God.
I bring this up not just because I think John Piper is a morally repugnant cretin.
I bring it up because this exactly what Karl Barth is after in the Church Dogmatics 1.4.3 when he writes that:
“The Bible is God’s Word as it really bears witness to revelation (Christ)…the Bible is not in itself and as such God’s past revelation” (108).
The Bible, says Barth, is only God’s Word when the Holy Spirit commissions it to witness to the revelation of Christ.
“Witnessing meaning pointing in a specific direction beyond the self and on to another” (109).
Like John, scripture “becomes” the Word of God only as it points to the Crucified and Risen Messiah.
If it doesn’t do that, its not the Word of God. It’s words on a page or empty syllables on a preacher’s lips.
Barth’s doctrine of scripture creates the freedom for me to say (faithfully) that John Piper’s explication of 1 Timothy 2 is not the Word of God.
But Barth didn’t have John Piper in mind when he wrote CD 1.4.3
No, what’s going on here with Barth’s doctrine of the Word of God is a motif my teacher (in both theology and beard growing), George Hunsinger, called ‘Actualism.’ That is, for Barth, God’s being is defined in terms of Event and Relationship.
This is contrary to the ancient philosophers who conceived of God’s being as ‘substance’ and contrary to modernist liberals who thought of God in terms of ideas or universal principles.
For Barth, God’s Being is Event and Relationship.
The Trinity, for example, shows that God, at the core, is an ongoing friendship of Father, Son and Spirit.
As Trinity, God is both Event and Relationship.
I know that sounds abstract so I’ll land the plane.
For Barth, scripture is never the Word of God in itself.
It can only become (Event) the Word of God when graced by the activity of the Holy Spirit in our midst (Relationship).
Scripture as the Word of God must always be a happening because God, as Father, Son and Spirit, is eternally a happening.
So stick it John Piper.