Seitz' "One Scripture, Two Testaments" at the ACI Conference (1/06)
Christopher Seitz,who moves among the intellectual leadership of the Anglican right-wing, recently presented a paper that KS Harmon (of Titusonenine) posted. As I hope to find reasons why the Anglican right-wing believes and acts the way it does, the paper is interesting, even the mere chunk Harmon serves up. It has seemed to me for some time that the right-wing is not exactly clear on what it thinks or why--systematic theology is not an Anglican strength, alas. Thus, I am happy to deal in fragments such as this.
From the very early days of the Church Fathers, thoughtful readers of Scripture have recognized the text implies what might be called "double truth," a sense for the unlearned, and a sense for the learned. Scripture generally speaks on a low level to the many so that those without learning can understand some things with profit toward their sanctification.
So, for instance, the many may actually believe that divine persons change, such that the Word literally suffers, the Father breathes, gets angry or is visible; one might infer any of these things from the NT. Likewise, on might infer from the OT that God gets angry, is jealous, changes his mind, or speaks, etc. These inferences seem plain as day in the text, but in reality they are all false. To insist on any of them is not mere intellectual, but also moral, error.
We have lost this traditional way of reading the Bible, a way evident through the middle ages--think of Aquinas, a way that recognizes that the sense seemingly evident from the text, its literal sense, very often cannot be what the text means, on pain of sin.
In our day, in some cases even the reading of the "learned" has collapsed into a reading that produces obfuscation and ignorance, issuing moral error. It may be that historical-critical scholarship, uncovering a sense of Scripture in its native context and then applying this as a corrective to our reading today, runs the risk of making the low sense of Scripture normative.
When Seitz gives a diagnosis of the strife in ECUSA, he rightly points out that our contention is over the authority of Scripture, and in particular, how it should be read and understood. He says
"On the other side, [the side Seitz is on] people want to say that the Bible has authority, and a plain sense, and that what others see as homophobia or traditionalism, is for them a crisis having to do with the Bible becoming a kind of ‘wax nose’" and "No, what the other side feels threatened by is the Bible’s possible inability to speak in any clear or straightforward way at all. What for one side is freedom of the spirit or attention to a cultural injustice, is for the other an example of a ‘plain sense’ hearing of scripture being taken away altogether."
I wonder if he is conscious at all that Scripture's predominant mode is analogy, metaphor--even if one concedes the possibility of univocal predication, as I would, the crucial point is that for the most part what the Bible has to teach, it can only teach by saying things that are literally false. For the most part, this is how metaphor or analogy work. But it follows that when the Bible teaches, what it teaches will not be the literal sense plain in the text. Seitz seems to be completely unconscious of this fact; perhaps I am being hasty, seeing only part of his paper.
At heart, Seitz is a leveller of sorts: "If the Bible’s consistently negative word about homosexual conduct is wrong, or outdated, who will then decide in what other ways the Bible is or is not to be trusted or cannot comprehend our day and its struggles, under God?" What now, interpretation by majority rule? Take a referendum? He implies what seems plain to most is to be the plain sense of the Scripture, and that plain sense is to be the one, true sense of Scripture.
In short, If it seems true to us, it is true.
Seitz thinks "[a]ppeal to scripture’s plain sense has been borne of the conviction that the Bible can have something to say without other forces needing to regulate that or introduce a special hermeneutics from outside the text so we can know when and where it can speak" again unconscious of the fact coming to any text without an outside hermeneutic is impossible for us here below--after all, who taught you to read? Just how did you pick that skill up? Seitz' deep justification for his way of reading the Bible comes out "plainly" false.
The rest of what is offerred up from his paper looks merely tendentious, like this tidbit:
Under the acids of historicism and western progressivism, a two-testament delivery of God’s word and character has been replaced with a different kind of economic account of God, in which the work of the Holy Spirit is now said to be going on in a way fully detachable (and unsurprisingly and energetically so) from scripture’s prior testimony;
That highlighted part ruins the sentence--he is busy constructing a straw man. Again, he says
and in this they follow along lines of interpretation in which such normative use of the Old Testament to speak about God is self-evident (the debates they are aware of have to do with whether Habakkuk 3 is about God’s actions in Christ, prophetically displayed, or God’s acts in Israel; even here this God is incomprehensible except as the triune God).
Aww, come on, "self-evident"? Does he really mean that? Oh well.