Re: Something must change

Howard J. Van Till (
Sat, 15 Aug 1998 09:14:51 -0400


You wrote: "You appear to be saying that inspiration is the record of the
authentic presence of God. What do you see as the difference between the
books in the Biblical canon and or any other Christian book (for example)
Augustine's "Confessions") recording an individual's or community's
encounter with God?

Are they equally inspired? If not, what criteria do we use to

Good questions. What I have to say on that may not sit well with many on
this list, but I think it's time for someone to speak out on these
important matters.

The major difference is, I would suggest, that the biblical canon was
selected and assembled, in the course of history, by a particular community
of faith to represent the authentic experiences and shared beliefs of that
community. This historical and communal selection process acts to filter
out a lot of 'noise' from the 'signal' but does not, I submit, warrant
later claims that the text itself is either 'infallible' or 'inerrant.'

Those additional, humanly-crafted labels have led to the "biblicism
bordering on bibliolatry" that I find characteristic of a major portion of
the conservative evangelical Christian community today. Claims of
infallibility or inerrancy may serve to stabilize (or to stagnate) the
beliefs of a community or to suppress communal disputes, but they also have
the negative effect of discouraging the community from working daily at
rearticulating the faith in the constantly changing conceptual vocabulary
and knowledge base that it employs for all other matters. It implies that
God's interaction with the community of faith 'back then' was more real
than God's continuing interaction with us today. It implies that the way
people 'back then' articulated their experience with God is forever
normative, and that we need not work now to articulate our experience with
God in our own conceptual vocabulary and knowledge base.

At the risk of offending members of that community, let me add that it may
also be the case that referring piously to the Bible as "The Word of God"
contributes to the same problem. This is especially likely if one treats
God's Word (self-revelation) as wholly captured in the words of the text
(written in a particular human conceptual vocabulary and epistemically
limited by the human author's knowledge base).

For myself, I pray that I will hear the Word of God as I read the words of
the text, but I cannot equate 'divine Word' with 'human words.'

Howard Van Till