In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Joe Gordon about the ideas behind biblical inspiration as they explore the following questions:
- What does it mean for the Bible to be “inspired”?
- What is the Bible useful for?
- What does the Bible share with Creation?
- How has inspiration been understood throughout church history?
- Is the Bible a unique experience of God?
- What are the Holy Spirit’s interests and end goals?
- Why is understanding the Holy Spirit important for understanding the Bible?
- Is looking at the Bible as a historical document helpful in understanding the Bible as inspired?
- What is the rule of faith?
- Why does the Bible need to be located in the work of God in history?
- How do we hold the belief that the Bible is inspired with the fact that Christians have different canons of Scripture?
- What reasons should we have for interpreting Scripture?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Joe Gordon you can share.
- “What God does in creation is call something into being that’s not God, that is enormously diverse and strange and challenging.“ @JosephKGordon
- “A further way to think fruitfully about inspiration instead of insisting that its authors are puppets or marionettes that are being moved to and fro by God… we could instead think of it within an account of the broader mission of the Holy Spirit.” @JosephKGordon
- “Objectivity, or getting things right, actually is a result of being a certain kind of person, a transformed, changed kind of person who wonders and raises questions and seeks out answers to those questions and defers to the wisdom of communities.” @JosephKGordon
- “We need every resource that we can avail ourselves of to get to the objectivity, to get to the truth.” @JosephKGordon
- “I think it’s absolutely necessary to affirm the authentic advances and understanding that historical critical work has made [in the study of the Bible].” @JosephKGordon
Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: Divine Scripture in Human Understanding
- Website: Joe Gordon
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty Intro Music]
Pete: Hey everyone. Welcome to this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Our topic today is a conversation about inspiration and our guest is Joe Gordon. He teaches at Johnson University.
Jared: Yeah, and he wrote a book called Divine Scripture in Human Understanding and trying to create a theology of the Christian Bible, and that’s a tall order.
Jared: That’s a difficult task. So, we talk about some of these big picture things that maybe we’ve talked about or touched on in the past, like, inspiration, you know. What is the Bible? What do we do with it? So, it was a good conversation to draw out what are some of the issues and some of the challenges that we run into if we let the Bible be what it is.
Pete: Yeah, and still think of it as somehow inspired and that’s a tricky term and maybe we have to learn to define words like that very differently than we were raised to do. So, this is, I mean, this is a conversation that doesn’t end, folks. This is like, what is the Bible and what do we do with it? This is just another angle of coming at it and, yeah, it’s a conversation that doesn’t end.
Jared: Yeah, and it’s a good voice to have as part of that conversation, so let’s jump in with Joe Gordon.
Joe: Folks interpreting scripture, the ones who do it the best, I think are not fundamentally interested in exclusively interpreting scripture. They’re instead interested in knowing God, knowing themselves, and knowing history. They’re interested in discerning what God might be doing.
Pete: Well, welcome Joe, to our podcast. Great to have you!
Joe: It’s great to be here, thank you.
Pete: Yeah. So where are you now? What state are you in?
Joe: I am in the lovely state of Tennessee, just south of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Pete: Are you staying isolated and socially distanced?
Joe: I am.
Joe: Very isolated in east Tennessee, yes.
Pete: Yes. Can it get more isolated?
Joe: I think it would be kind of hard to, actually.
Joe: We’re out in the middle in the wilderness.
Pete: Oh, wow! That’s pretty cool. So, listen, we are really excited to talk with you about the Bible, because that’s sort of what we do here, and you know, lot of people who listen to this podcast, they listen because they struggle with the Bible and how to wrap their heads around big concepts like what does it even mean to talk about this thing as the word of God or anything, or what do you mean by inspired? And I read it as just sort of, difficult and weird, and ancient and out of touch, and you know, so maybe, let’s talk about this thing first. You wrote a book and, you know, we can talk about that later, but you know, when you think about topics like the Bible and how inspiration works, I think often times people are trying to speak into something that they see could be done better, you know? So, like, there’s a problem they’re trying to solve. So, what would you say is the problem that you’re trying to get a handle on in your book?
Joe: So, it’s a long journey, and I will shorten it for the sake of time, but I grew up, at least from middle school on, in a church context, a Christian church, and I came to love scripture through that experience. I had some calling to ministry and so I went to a Bible college and one of the stated goals I had whenever I went to the school that I went to was to get the Bible right, because I had seen so many people, I thought, get it wrong. So, I was going to take my two years of Hebrew –
Joe: Two and a half years of Greek, and courses surveying basically most everything in both testaments and I was going to get it right! And I had such a wonderful experience at that school, Johnson Bible College was the name of it then, now it’s Johnson University, where I teach, by the way. I discovered so many things about scripture and its richness and its humanity, but it raised a lot of theological questions for me that I couldn’t answer solely on the basis of my work with the languages and in those survey and exegesis courses. So, then I sort of jumped ship in graduate school and went to theology, specifically. And long story short, I could not get away from the questions that I had about scripture, about what its purpose was, about how it could both reflect the rich, varied, diverse humanity of its many authors and also still be received as a gift from God with a message from God. The questions just kept coming back to me, so then when it came time for me to write my doctoral dissertation, that’s what I focused on. I wanted to focus on how to interpret scripture responsibly, but I discovered there’s a problem that I faced at first. And that was, I should get an account of what the Bible is down before I move onto questions about what to do with it.
Pete: Sounds simple enough.
Joe: Right. Yeah, so, you know, four hundred and thirty short pages later, I have offered one articulation of the nature and purpose of scripture. What I tried to do, what I hope that I’ve done, is give an account of scripture that both measures up to its rich, diverse, sometimes even strange, perplexing humanity, but also finds a way to receive it as a gift from God for God’s work in the world for God’s people. So, that’s what the book that you’ve mentioned is all about.
Jared: Okay, well, let’s jump right in, because this language of, I’m not going to let you off the hook with the language –
Jared: A gift.
Pete: Not letting you off the hook, Joe!
Joe: No! Don’t let me off the hook.
Pete: We’re not. We will not. Don’t you worry.
Jared: I meant it much more nicely than Pete is stating that, but you know this idea of receiving it as a gift from God, that evokes this language of, in my tradition, would have been inspiration. That somehow, it’s inspired from God and whatever we mean by that, that it comes from God.
Joe: Mm hmm.
Jared: It’s received as a gift. So, what, you talked about the diversity and the richness of the diversity. How do you square a book that comes from God with diversity?
Pete: Well, that’s sort of his whole book.
Joe: It really is the whole book. It really is the whole book. It’s a great question.
Pete: Well, I’m just, before you answer, because I want to just echo what Jared was saying from a slightly different perspective. For a lot of people, that is the question, because you’re taught that inspiration has to mean a certain kind of thing, and then you read the Bible and you don’t find that thing there at all.
Joe: Mm hmm.
Pete: You find historical particularity, you find context, you find contradictions, tensions, diversity, multiple voices, and, I mean, that is a great topic to be thinking about, because that’s, I mean, a lot of people struggle with any sense of respect for scripture when they see it acting in a certain way. So, yeah. That’s sort of maybe, you know, another angle of coming at that. So, go ahead.
Pete: Explain it. Answer it.
Joe: Answer it, right. So, this is just a systematic theology of the Christian Bible. It’s very important to acknowledge it is “a”, not “the” systematic theology of the Christian Bible. But the question of inspiration is a really, really important question. What God does in creation is call something into being that’s not God that is enormously diverse and strange and challenging. And so, I don’t see the diversity and strangeness and challengingness of scripture as different than that. Although, it is different than creation. But, you noted that the people have often received an idea of inspiration and then they come to scripture and they discover that it doesn’t behave, to use language that Pete has used, in the ways that they have been taught to expect it to behave. Well, there’s a simple solution for that. Come up with a better understanding of inspiration.
Joe: Don’t have bad understandings of inspiration. And the starting place for that is from within Christian theological tradition, which is where I start the book. Understanding that everything that is in creation comes from God, and scripture is a thing among those created things coming from God. And so, it makes perfect sense for it to reflect other kinds of characteristics that you would expect of created realities, the diversity, again, the challenging, perplexing strangeness. So, a further way to think fruitfully about inspiration instead of insisting that its authors are puppets or marionettes that are being moved to and fro by God, which is a common idea of inspiration in church history. We could instead think of it within an account of the broader mission of the Holy Spirit. Instead of trying to nail it down as a certain kind of thing that comes from God in a certain kind of way, we could ask questions about what the Holy Spirit is characteristically up to, what the Spirit is interested in, what the Spirit’s ends and goals are. And of course, you know, there’s a rich witness to the Spirit’s work, and the Spirit’s goals in both testaments. And so, that’s one of the ways that I try to approach the challenge.
Pete: So, the Spirit more than just, like, inspiring the Bible in some ill-defined way, it’s working within these weird contours of the Bible, like, respecting all that stuff we talked about before. Okay.
Joe: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
Jared: So, in some ways, what I’m hearing you say, I want to try to articulate this. On the one hand, we have what I would say, maybe, kind of the natural theology of the Bible. In my tradition, we would have separated it out. Like, the Bible is special revelation. God somehow, like, special language and word, it’s different from how God reveals God’s self, say, in nature in all of those other ways. But I hear you putting those together and saying, hey, everything that God makes is God’s, and all of that is part of creation and the Bible fits in within that. And so, what, you know, how do we, why do we separate this special thing out when it’s all part of the creation? And then secondly, I hear, not only that, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so you can correct me, but, from my perspective, and kind of my training, almost like, a pragmatic understanding that we actually, you said, first, let’s get what the Bible is down, then, lets figure out what we do with it.
Joe: Mm hmm.
Jared: But when we take a more spiritual or spirit-based understanding, it’s almost, what’s the Spirit doing with it is actually more of the starting place.
Joe: Yeah, you could see what the Spirit is doing with it as the starting place. You can get into other problems if that’s the primary motive of approach. So, I take other ones besides that, but it is very practically focused in that famous text in 2 Timothy, whether Paul or somebody else wrote it, it doesn’t matter as much to me, but it’s still an important canonized inspired text. We read all of scripture as God-breathed, theopneustos is the Greek word and useful, useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. The author of that text doesn’t define what it means for scripture to be God-breathed. Unless we see usefulness as part of it, a definition for it, and then the question is, well, what is it useful for? And that’s where my discussion of the characteristic work of the Holy Spirit comes in. It’s useful for the kinds of things that God’s spirit intends to do in the world. So, and then, again, that gets filled in from a number of other different angles.
Jared: Well, I think that’s important, and the reason I make that point is because there’s this, it seems to be there’s an assumption that we have to figure out what the Bible is in some abstract way, and that’s a very Western way of thinking about the world. Like, lets figure it out in some objective, non-biased, impartial sense, and then we can figure out how to apply it. And I just think there’s some merit to saying, well, what about, how do we use it as being more of the starting place and not being so concerned with what is it in some abstract sense. And so, I appreciate what you’re saying, I hear the sense of, what is it useful for? How is the Spirit of God using this tool, maybe one of many tools that the Spirit of God is using in the world, and how do we begin to kind of catch that train and ride it?
Joe: Yeah, yeah. That’s nicely put. I do want to say, though, I’m not wholly opposed to abstraction or even an ideal of objectivity that some of the other things that you just mentioned, I don’t care for philosophically. But I think that objectivity is possible. It’s not possible through the removal of biases though. It’s not possible apart from subjectivity. Objectivity, or getting things right, actually is a result of being a certain kind of person, a transformed, changed kind of person who wonders and raises questions and seeks out answers to those questions and defers to the wisdom of communities. That’s what I think objectivity results from. I don’t actually, I want to make a stronger claim than that. It’s not just that I think that’s what objectivity results from, that’s what objectivity results from.
Jared: So, there’s a sense of, in which we need the diversity of different contexts in order to get to this objectivity. Is that an implication of what you’re saying?
Joe: Yeah! Absolutely, it is. We need every resource that we can avail ourselves of to get to the objectivity, to get to the truth. So, and I would argue that the drive towards that, the desire for that, is actually built into our nature. It’s something that God, it’s another gift that God gives to us. God intends for us to know, to grow, to wonder, to raise questions, to have insights, to be transformed, to transcend our limited perspectives as we encounter and raise questions and grow in our understanding.
Pete: Well, okay. So, here’s something that I can hear people wondering about how you process something here. How does, the world of modern biblical scholarship, which has been around for, you know, two, three hundred years, maybe four hundred years depending on how you look at it, has really dug into history and tried to uncover what happened and things like that. How valuable is that, or can that be valuable when you turn to the topic of the Bible being inspired? Or are they just at odds, you know? Because modern biblical scholarship does tend to see problems, and to peel those problems apart and to give explanations for why this is such a problem, and that seems to be not really consistent with thinking of the Bible as something that the eternal infinite Spirit of God would have inspired. How do you, can you bring those two worlds together?
Joe: Yeah, well, the only way to do it is very carefully, and I can’t say that I think I’ve done so either personally and especially not in the book itself. What I hope for, the book is more modest, that it provides a basis for thinking fruitfully about the results of historical, critical work, for evaluating them. Historical critics, of course, are people, right?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Joe: I mean, despite what you might think.
Joe: You know, going to the SBL and seeing all these strange –
Jared: I mean, have you spent a lot of time with Pete? Or…
Pete: [Continued laughter]
Joe: But I mean, they’re people. They have concerns and worries and questions and desires and fundamental commitments, both stated and unstated. The interesting thing about biblical scholarship is many folks who get into it out of a desire to enrich and enhance their faith. And then they bump into that problem that we’ve already identified; they discover that Scripture doesn’t actually match up with the ideal of inspiration that they’ve received. And then all sorts of things can happen in a person’s personal journey there. But what often has happened is that folks leave. They leave their faith. They leave specific communities that they had prior recognized as enriching their lives, and they move into other ones. Maybe other religious communities, maybe other Christian denominations or churches or maybe they leave entirely. And that needs to be, that needs attention. That should be considered carefully and reflected on by somebody like me who aspires to try to understand scripture as a gift from God.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Joe: Not everybody feels like they can receive it that way because of personal, you know, personal histories with it. But I think it’s possible, well, first of all, I think it’s absolutely necessary to affirm the authentic advances and understanding that historical critical work has made. There’s just no question about that. I was a little bit alarmed by many of those things whenever I was an undergraduate student, you know, studying the languages for the first time, being taken aback by discovering ancient near-eastern parallels to the Creation accounts in Genesis, for instance. You know, that was jarring to me, but once I started making those connections personally, I had to deal with those things, but the way in which I have personally dealt with them is to press deeper into the questions. So, maybe I received, I don’t even know that I could say somebody gave me an understanding of inspiration that I had, that I took. So, I had some understanding of inspiration that didn’t work out anymore. But I could still, from where I was, appreciate scripture and wonder is there a better way to think about this. Is there a better way to wonder about inspiration? Are there better ways of formulating it? And then, that opens you up to 2,000 years of Christian reflection on those things.
[Producers group endorsement]
Pete: Well and that’s, I mean, that was going to be my next sort of point to discuss with you, to see what you have to say about this whole history of the church and I know that you press really far back to, for conversation partners, I guess we could put it. And you mentioned a big issue for you seems to be something called the rule of faith.
Pete: So, can you explain that and what that means, and how something like really ancient can maybe even fit into discussions we’re having today, which are not just modern, but you know, post-modern.
Joe: Post-modern. Yup.
Pete: We’re all over the place, right?
Joe: Yeah, we are.
Pete: Go ahead.
Joe: Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah. So, what I argue in the book is that in order to understand scripture, we need to locate it, and I locate it in a variety of locations. The second chapter locates scripture historically within the developing faith of the earliest Christians. So, the New Testament Christians are people too, right?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Joe: With their own cares and concerns and questions and commitments, and among those commitments, most fundamental, is the belief that the God of Israel has done something alarmingly new through Jesus of Nazareth, through his son, and then that newness continues through the work of the Spirit of God in the early Christian communities. And so, peppered throughout the New Testament are pretty alarming confessions about this, confessions comparing Christ’s work to the revelatory work of God in the Old Testament through the prophets and saying that something new is here.
And the early church maintains the same kinds of commitments that God has done this new thing through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit and it is pondering that and reflecting on that, and it does so for the rest of Christian history, but the rule of faith is a key moment in that development. It’s an attempt to assemble those various convictions about the work of God in history in a concise, straightforward way. So, the rule of faith basically is a confession. Often, it’s trinitarian confession, the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it is a key feature in a lot of early Christian literature that sort of stands in as a summary of what Christians believe and it’s earlier than the cannon. It’s earlier than the completion, so to speak, or the gathering or the publication of the Bible itself. So, there’s a German scholar who I quote in the book, and he writes something very striking: “The earliest Christian martyrs died without ever having held a New Testament in their hands.”
Joe: They had this faith and this faith, they articulate it, they organized their beliefs in a rule, the rule of faith, and it served as an orienting context for their engagement with scripture, first with the Old Testament, the ancient Jewish scriptures, and then later even with their engagement with the New Testament, but they were interpreting scripture, which was itself being effectively assembled, in light of their belief in what God had done in the world through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. So, the path of this is that the Bible is located in the work of God in history. Historically, that was the case for the earliest church, and it’s been the case ever since then. So, in order to know what scripture is, it needs to be located in the work of God in history.
Jared: What’s the impact of that? Because I’m thinking about, okay, so, I’m thinking about 1 John, which is kind of like what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, that’s what we’re proclaiming to you. And so, there’s this personal experience with the divine that ended up being codified in our New Testament and then I think of the history of the church, and there’s lots of experiences. And so, where does the Bible fit in terms of, I mean, I, the ultimate question I’m going to ask is what makes the Bible unique or exclusive in this way? Or is it set aside next to these other experiences of God that we have throughout history of people’s personal experiences with Jesus? And, so, yeah. That’s I think that’s my question of what’s the uniqueness now of our Bible and how do we interplay that with people’s personal stories that I would argue, like, it’s really important to read Saint Teresa of Avila and her experiences of God as well alongside our New Testament.
Joe: I would agree that it’s important to read Teresa and, you know, countless other major spiritual giants, theological giants, saints who themselves were reading scripture. Part of its uniqueness is that this is simply the collection of texts that Christians are, have been receiving, and will continue to receive as long as Christian faith exists. So, the uniqueness is, it’s not something that can be pinned down, I think, just as the uniqueness of inspiration can’t be pinned down. Because, you know, we keep talking about the Bible, right? But what cannon are we talking about right now?
Joe: You both are, I think, you both hail from Protestant traditions, I do as well. So, we’ve got sixty-six books, but I know that there are Catholics who are Christians, and Eastern Orthodox who are Christians, and Tewahedo Ethiopic Orthodox who are Christians, and their Bibles are all bigger than ours. So, one of the things I try to do in the book is try to give an account of scripture that can –
Pete: Handle that.
Joe: Yeah, that can handle that, that can somehow respect Christian practice and use of scripture with a Bible that, to be honest, looks quite a bit different than my own.
Jared: I appreciate you even saying that, because it does, for me, resonate that maybe something I haven’t really given a lot of consideration, but even Saint Teresa or whoever else we’re talking about, what were they using to shape, what shaped their experience of God would’ve been the Bible. That would’ve been often the constructs and language that they would’ve had available to them to make meaning of these other experiences.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. Hans Frei argued that the world was enclosed in scripture before modernity, and the various, you know, images and symbols and ideas throughout scripture really just shaped eastern and especially western culture, western thought. Especially for those folks, of course, who were devoted, monks and sisters and priests. Now, there are lots of, as you both well know, very unsavory things in those histories, but there’s richness in those histories. And that’s one of the things that I have appreciated especially the more I’ve studied the history of Christian interpretation of scriptures. How many folks have done it well, have discerned how the Spirit might be usefully using it in their own midst, in their own communities, in their own lives?
Pete: Yeah, I mean, because I mean, there are creative approaches to handling the Bible because it’s forming their reality. It’s not an abstract thing you sort of, it’s not a book you learn about, it’s a book you learn from.
Joe: Mm hmm.
Pete: And to do that, you sometimes have to get really creative with an ancient book that might not speak to somebody living in 650 AD or something like that.
Pete: It’s just tradition that sort of keeps giving, because people have to access it in certain ways and they have to be creative about it and they can’t, you know, it’s not about original meaning or something, it’s about how that book has been transformed again and again and again in the history of the church. Not to put words in your mouth, but that’s what I think you’re saying.
Joe: No, yeah. You’re picking up what I’m putting down.
Joe: But I would say even more than that –
Pete: Don’t get too radical here on us Joe…
Joe: Well, I mean, it’s, you know –
Pete: Go ahead.
Joe: It is –
Pete: You have our permission.
Joe: Is it radical in quite a few ways, I think. It’s not just that there’s this rich history of reflection. It’s that folks interpreting scripture, I think are not fundamentally the ones who do it the best, interested in exclusively interpreting scripture. They’re instead interested in knowing God, and knowing themselves and knowing history, knowing, and when I say history I don’t just mean, you know, dates. I don’t mean recording one thing after another. They’re interested in discerning what God might be doing in history. One of the convictions in the rule of faith, I argue, is this conviction you could find at the beginning of Ephesians. God has made known the mystery of his will, a plan for all times to reconcile all things whether in heaven and on earth in Jesus. Christians were reading scripture because it gave them access to an understanding of the reality of that work.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Joe: The reality of the work of God in the world, not just in the past, but in their own time.
Pete: So, we’re getting to, I think, what the purpose of the Bible is.
Pete: Yeah. And it’s, I mean, I think people would like, in a way, again, I don’t want to sort of paint a lot of people with one brush, but I’ve been there too so I understand this. To sort of say, well, of course we’ll do that. We’ll read the Bible to find out about God, but there are ways of doing that are not as helpful as opposed to other ways. You know? I want to find out about God, so now I have to have an inerrant Bible, because you have to have a Bible that has no tensions in it.
Pete: No, none of the messiness, none of the historical weirdness, none of the distance. It has to be very, immediately accessible to us in sort of a rational kind of way, but, I mean, you know much more about this than I do, but the history of the church has largely not been, well, modern. Right?
Joe: Right, yeah.
Pete: It’s been very different ways of looking at the Bible and therefore different ways of thinking about its inspired nature. I guess the question is what is it inspired for? Is it inspired to be historically accurate or is it inspired that in the struggle with it, perhaps, another word I’m adding here, but the struggle with it that we commune with God and that’s the ultimate goal of why you do any of this stuff anyway.
Joe: Yeah, I would say yes to the latter, but I don’t see them as entirely opposed. Now, historical accuracy is, you know, that’s a question for multiple other podcast discussions, but Christians have received it as usefully bearing witness to things that God has done in the world.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Joe: And, you know, those things that God has done matter. It matters for Christian faith whether Christ rose from the dead. I mean, you know, Paul states this explicitly at the end of 1 Corinthians. Now, what the resurrection actually means is another question. It is, I think, bodily if you read the New Testament witnesses, but you know, I have a body and I can’t just show up in a locked room. You know, whatever happens with Jesus, the church testifies very strongly that something happens, and that matters for faith. If Christ is not risen, Christian faith is in vain, or it needs to be, I would argue, reconceptualized in a way that doesn’t really resemble Christianity anymore.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Joe: So, what happened matters, but on the other side, the second thing you said I affirm wholeheartedly. So, and I’m not recalling exactly what your words were, but if you could restate it concisely, then I could respond to it.
Pete: Yeah, the idea that the Bible’s, maybe true purpose, the reason why we read it is to commune with God, and maybe not just, like, information about God in a sort of a scientific sense, or historicistic sense, but it’s actually communing with God who’s present with you. And that’s, and scripture is, maybe its ultimate purpose is to bring us there.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. It absolutely is.
Pete: The thing is, you know, I mean, I agree with that and I, to me, that’s something to strive for. But again, I’m hearing other voices in the back of my head saying there’s some things that the modern study of the Bible has brought to the table that calls into question basic historical credibility of things in the Bible. Because I think you put it really well before. Like, the Bible bears witness, like, reasonably well to history or something like that. It’s not a photo, it’s not an objective account in the way we usually use the word objective, but it bears witness to historical realities. It just does it in sort of ancient ways or diverse ways, but it’s still bearing witness to like, you know, the story of Jesus for example. And, but there are things about critical scholarship, which we can’t solve today, but there are things about critical scholarship that people say, it so turned things on its head. Like, the history of Pentateuchal scholarship and how, you know, the law is at the end of the story, not at the beginning. And if that’s in any way right, you know, it just raises certain challenges. I’m not saying your paradigm doesn’t make sense, I’m just saying I can see questions coming up. There are places where, now, it might just be that’s completely wrong. You know? I mean, that’s not really wrong from most people’s point of view, it’s been modified a lot over the past couple hundred years. But, you know, so I think, yeah. I guess the devil is in the details in a way, you know, working out some of those particular things about scholarship and about other things that, you know, sort of continue to nag a little bit for a lot of people. And people can put that stuff in abeyance, like, I know that’s a problem, but I still have a basic conviction about how the Bible works, and I’m going to live in that reality, and I’ll work those other things out along the way.
Pete: You know? That’s not a bad way to live actually. If you’re dealing with this kind of stuff, that’s another kind of rule of faith, maybe. I don’t know.
Joe: Yeah, well, we’re always in the middle. I mean, you mentioned biblical scholarship changing on those issues, you know. The assured results of critical scholarship are not assured. I mean, scholars change perspectives –
Pete: Oh yeah.
Joe: And they do it well, even, on the basis of paying attention to things that had been ignored or even on the basis of, you know, a shepherd boy throwing a rock into a cave at Qumran and finding Hebrew texts that are a thousand years older than any we previously had, right?
Pete: Right. Yeah.
Joe: Scholarship is on the move, and it’s like all human knowledge, or like, all human disciplines. It’s a tangle of both authentic brilliant achievements and ideological distortions held by its practitioners. This is true of all scholarship. I mean, we have in our post-modern condition, we have a crisis of authority, and the way that modern folks want to address it is to just find the right authority and then to defer to that one, but that’s irresponsible. You can’t do that with biblical scholarship, you can’t do that with the history of theological reflection, you can’t do that with modern science, which changes at a much faster rate than any of these fields. The only way to benefit from any of these is to find your way into them, to begin to understand them, to discover what the questions are and learn how to pay attention in the ways that folks who do that work pay attention. And we’re always in the middle, as you said.
Jared: Well, in some ways, it’s, whenever we adopt a certain end in mind, you know, I think one of the challenges of kind of the modern project was assuming there was this universal end in mind. And so then, we construct kind of the way to that end and then we universalize that. But there is, like you say, you know, different authorities for different objectives and different ways of being in the world, and so there is a place for scholarship and it’s really important in how we think about that. It lays the groundwork for a lot of things, but it’s often not maybe the end. When the end is, for instance, to experience God in a new way then maybe there’s other avenues for that as well that we have to sort of see as an authority and allow for maybe the community, the rule of faith, our own experiences, to play a part.
Joe: Yep, you have to decide how to go on in your life. You have to make decisions; you have to come to convictions. It’s important, it’s part of maturing, growing up. Again, I think the process of maturing is something that God builds into us, but that’s just part of it is deciding where to stand. And it’s tough work, but I actually want to say I’m all about universality, about finding a universal purpose. For me, that just means asking and answering every single legitimate question that arises and can arise in history. Nobody can do that. From a philosophical perspective, it’s more work than any one person in history can do. But there are theological reasons for pursuing a universal end as well, but not the kind that you clearly define and put in a box and set out in front of yourself as a carrot. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re not looking for God, not in a way that meshes with what any faithful Christian throughout Christian history has said about that.
Pete: You’re almost creating a God at that point.
Joe: Exactly, yeah. Which, idolatry is a constant danger. I mean, you know, in our world it’s not people making statues, right? Our gods are very near to us. They’re in our pockets, vibrating constantly –
Joe: Showing us all the images we might want to see.
Pete: I don’t know what you’re talking about Joe. I have no idea.
Joe: I think you might have an idea.
Pete: Oh, yeah. We’ve argued about iPhones before, but anyway. Well listen, Joe, this is a deep topic and it’s one that I think, you know, it’s really healthy for people to keep thinking about in their own way. You know, I mean, what is the purpose of the Bible, what does it mean for a Bible to be inspired when you’re still looking at all this, the messiness of it, and how can God be found in wrestling with this scripture and reading it. And I think being in conversation with other people, like you’re doing, you know, and like we’re doing here with you but through history, you know, because there’s a lot of richness there. People have actually thought about some things before we came on the scene and that’s pretty cool. So, in closing, just, what’s the title of your book, and where can they get it? Pretty much anywhere, I imagine.
Joe: Yeah, it’s available at all the normal places. The title is Divine Scripture in Human Understanding: A Systematic Theology of the Christian Bible.
Joe: Amazon or the University of Notre Dame Press website.
Pete: Cool. And is there, if people want to just check out what you’re doing and who you are, can they find you online someplace, or are you one of these academics that keeps away from all those things?
Joe: Well, I’m mostly off of social media, but I did just reopen a Twitter.
Pete: Oh, no.
Joe: It’s really, it’s just dedicated to –
Pete: You might want to rethink that. Anyway…
Joe: I already am, yeah.
Do you have a website? Or is there, maybe, if people can go to, you know, if there’s something even on your school’s website just so they can check out and if they have maybe a question that they can ask you a question or something?
Joe: Yeah, they can check me out on Johnson University’s website, my faculty page. It’s got my CV up there with contact info, and I’m happy to talk about this stuff forever.
Joe: So, yeah, my Twitter handle is @JosephKGordon if folks have questions for me, I’d love to talk with them.
Pete: Great. All right Joe, well thanks for being with us. This has been a stimulating discussion. I appreciate you taking your time, even with all your internet problems you had before you came here. So, that’s fine.
Jared: Yeah, it’s good to have you Joe.
Joe: Thank you. Really good to be with both of you, thanks for the opportunity to come and talk.
Jared: Appreciate the time.
Joe: Yup, thank you guys.
Pete: Bye, Joe.
Pete: Well, thanks again folks for listening to The Bible for Normal People
Pete: Our team!
Jared: For everything that they do here.
Pete: [Mimics roaring applause]
Jared: That’s pretty good. Yeah, so we have Dave Gerhart, our audio engineer; and Megan Cammack, our producer; Reed Lively, who does, our primary administrator does a lot of behind the scenes, is also our marketing wizard; as well as Stephanie Speight, who transcribes our podcast for us each and every week. We couldn’t do it without you.
Pete: Right. Absolutely, thanks team and thanks to all of you for listening. See ya.
Jared: So, we have Dave, our audio engineer; Megan Cammack, our producer; Reed, who is our administer, administrator –
Pete: Start over again Jared, you didn’t do Dave’s last name again.
Jared: Oh my gosh. I didn’t do it.
Pete: Maybe it’s for his own protection.
Jared: Yeah, okay.
Pete: Just start there again.
Jared: Okay. Here we go.
Pete: Sweet Mary.
Jared: Sorry, Dave. I don’t intend to miss your last name, but I didn’t write it down.
Pete: Yes, he does, he doesn’t like you.
Jared: I didn’t write it down! Okay? All right.
Pete: That’s good. Yeah, okay. I thought you were going to say goodbye too.
Jared: Oh. Goodbye. Feel free, Dave, to splice that in there.
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