How Do We Defend Biblical Authority in Postmodernity?
This relatively tricky question increasingly appears in contemporary debates like the reoccurring debate over complementarity and mens/womens roles in the home and in the church. It simply isn’t possible to dismiss NT roles and also affirm the authority of the Bible at the same time. So then, how do we defend biblical authority in this age?
Kevin J. Vanhoozer helps answer this bigger question in his books The Drama of Doctrine and Is There a Meaning in This Text? and Everyday Theology and probably everything else he’s written. But he wrote the following in his article “Exploring the World; Following the Word: The Credibility of Evangelical Theology in an Incredulous Age” [Trinity Journal 16/1 (1995), 20–21]:
Biblical interpretation involves performance. Think of a pianist who interprets a Beethoven sonata. We speak of Alfred Brendel’s interpretation as opposed to Glenn Gould’s. Can we really “perform” texts? Can we put prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, narrative into practice? Can we perform doctrine? psalm?
Certainly! We do so all the time: the fundamental form of interpretation is the way we live our lives each day. Our behavior is the true index to what we believe about biblical authority. The Bible lays claim to our whole being. Some of God’s words require our intellectual assent, others our pious submission, others our moral obedience, and others our cultural faithfulness.
Christian life and thought alike, then, are interpretations of Scripture. Our doctrine is our theoretical interpretation of the Christian story; our life is our practical interpretation. In the postmodern world, the best way to defend biblical authority may be to create a kind of community life in which the Bible functions as authoritative (and liberating).
No contemporary theory of the authority of the Bible can assume that a person will be convinced of the Bible’s authority apart from participation in the community of faith. To repeat: the fundamental form of Christian biblical interpretation is the corporate life of the Christian church. The church embodies the Word of God—this, at least, is its task, its privilege, and responsibility. In Lesslie Newbigin’s words: the church must be a “hermeneutic of the Gospel.” Think of the congregation as a living commentary. Biblical literacy—“following” the Word—should lead to Christian discipleship, to practicing the letter in our lives.