Relational versus Functional approaches to the Bible, Theology, and God
I often feel that these thoughts I have ought to be properly expanded in a much more formal way but this is going to have to remain a ‘thought’ for now, and we could even throw it open for feedback.
Reflecting as I have been on the various arguments that often run to and fro between theological camps, particularly between Calvinisticly-Reformed believers and Arminians/open theists, as well as other polar tribes, I feel that perhaps what lies behind the two approaches and which often create the immovable loggerheads are two different starting points, two different convictions on which to base one’s arguments.
On the one hand (eg. Calvinistic/Reformed) I perceive to take a very functional, orderly approach to Scripture, where everything is seen to be neatly tied-up theologically in the Bible, and it is by reading literally from there that we can apply whatever we read systematically, with little need for nuance, variation, or otherwise. This is well and good, however I would suggest that it is only a post-Enlightenment Western society that would condition the presupposition that this is of course the way that we are meant to approach Scripture.
On the other side then where I sit, the approach is not first to find the functionally sound answer to my problem from a text of Scripture (though without question the God-breathed Scriptures are helpful for us when we’re in trouble!). I mean to distinguish this because a functionally tied-up answer with a verse of Scripture to quote may not deal with the whole situation; my approach then I humbly suggest fits with 1) a generally earlier, more Jewish approach which is relationally centred and doesn’t depend on the rationalistic processes of the Enlightenment and 2) the passion and heart of God as revealed through Jesus for relationship, with God and with one another. In other words, Scriptures are best understood through relationship with God, communing with Him and discovering in that context what He has said and how He wants to say it now.
Hence why you will find differences cropping up. The first approach sounds very ‘correct’ and certainly it shouldn’t be debunked – finding out what Scripture says about something is a valuable part of the journey. But I would suggest that with God the full journey is about relationship, and figuring out what God’s character is like should be one of our highest aims and ideals. So where on one side there is no problem with saying that God predestines some people to salvation (and therefore leaves some out of it) because this is what Scripture is perceived to say about what God DOES (His actions – ie. a functional approach), I have a problem with this because my highest value is knowing His character, and what He is like, and believing in a God who is love and in love bestows free will and wants everyone to be saved really doesn’t fit with the picture that was discovered by functionally approaching Scripture and trying to take it literally (which can often lead to grave misunderstanding when the context is not taken into account etc. etc.)
So, there’s my first problem of many with the (I would say unfortunately) all-too-pervasive and widely-accepted theological presuppositions that are preached every Sunday which I feel stem from too much emphasis on the Reformation principles and from a post-Enlightenment system of logic, and not enough from the Biblical context of relationship and indeed the Jesus-centric interpretation of Scripture. But I’m sure I’ve got a lot to work out on this yet, and that others will have helpful feedback and discussion points to raise which I hadn’t thought of 🙂