ORT, Me, and the Bible

Walter Brueggemann is the biblical scholar whose perspective on the Bible most resonates with me. For him, there is no one biblical theology, but rather there are various and diverse biblical theologies represented in the “book” that Christians call the Old Testament and Jews refer to as the Tanakh. There is so much to say here, but sticking to our topic, I want to briefly give my overview of the relationship between Open and Relational theology and the biblical texts.

I have read numerous books and articles written by evangelical scholars who are Open theists (e.g., Greggory A. Boyd, Clark Pinnock). For them, because they believe in a conservative view of divine inspiration, the Bible (when interpreted in its final—i.e., canonical—form) clearly demonstrates Open Theology. And for them, when interpreted via the correct lens (often a Christocentric or Cruciform lens) virtually all passages in both the Old and New Testaments provide evidence for Open Theology. However, such a view of the Bible ignores two realities: (1) that the biblical texts were written and edited over a period of about 1000 years by men (yes, the gender) who lived in diverse circumstances; and (2) that these biblical texts were brought together centuries after their final forms were achieved and became the Bibles (yes, plural) that exist today.

I have also become familiar with numerous scholars who see the biblical texts as having authority but who also see clear evidence for human authorship, with varying amounts of divine influence, and are Open theists (e.g., Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim). They, in contrast, see some passages that are supportive of Open Theology in the biblical texts, but also the see passages that are supportive of other diverse and even contradictory theological perspectives. Fretheim often stated in his writings that the authors of the OT often got God wrong!

In the last fifteen years, I have become increasingly convinced that the authorship, transcription, transmission, redaction, translation, and canonization of the biblical texts were all, first and foremost, human efforts—most were inspired by sincere faith, but some were motivated by sectarian ideologies and political agendas. I see the collections of biblical texts—Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic which make up Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Bibles—as demonstrating no one overwhelmingly dominant theology. I do see many passages that illustrate the key concepts of ORT: (1) God is love and thus God is relational in nature, and (2) for God, the future is open, due to libertarian free will.[1] However, I also see where at least some passages seem supportive of key concepts of a more classical theology: God’s omniscience (and thus foreknowledge), omnipotence (and thus control), etc.   

Thus, just as people today strive to understand and explain who God is and how God works in the world, and thus come up with various, diverse and even contradictory theologies, so did the ancient authors, scribes, and redactors of the biblical texts. Those who canonized the texts, that are included in various Bibles, were certainly aware of the diverse portrayals of God contained within these texts and yet they left these irreconcilable God portraits to stand as is, without explanation or apology.

For me, the efforts—sincere and creative as they may be—to devise a hermeneutical approach that strives to harmonize these diverse and contradictory portraits in order to arrive at the true and only biblical theology are unhelpful. We so want the Bible to be something it isn’t and, therefore, some desperately come up with schemes by which the biblical texts provide us a clearly unified portrait of God. To do that, they have to engage in all manner of exegetical gymnastics to “discover” a hermeneutical key that unlocks the one true biblical theology. However, I am convinced that no theology, no matter how deeply researched and verbosely explained and passionately defended, can fully capture God’s nature and explain God’s engagement with the universe.

I love and respect the biblical texts. I take the biblical texts seriously. Thus, to the best of my ability, I try not to read these ancient, diverse, and often ambiguous texts in such a way so as to create something that is not there. I’ve spent more than four decades in an ongoing effort to better understand and apply the wisdom contained in these texts to my life and to share what I’m learning along the way with those who share a similar passion.

I believe we can and should mine these texts deeply to find and understand a theology that makes the most sense to us, not because we’ve discovered the one true biblical theology, but because it fits with how we see and experience life in this world. For me, the acid test of any theology is the kind of life it inspires, motivates, and equips its proponents to lead in this world. If God is love—and that is what I have chosen to believe, and is my one hermeneutical key—then however I see God and how God works in this world and in my life, it should lead me to live a life of love. If it doesn’t, then, at best, that theology is useless and, at worst, might even be a dangerous misrepresentation of God’s nature and God’s work.

As Fretheim so often pointed out, it is not enough to say we believe in God. The real question we must each answer is, “What kind of God do I believe in?” For whom we perceive God to be will determine how we live out our brief time in this world. If we believe that God is love, then these words in the letter to the Ephesians will resonate with, and inspire, us: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1–2). For me, right now, ORT challenges,excites, inspires, motivates, and equips me to better know, and more fully and consistently imitate, God and to strive to live a life of love.

[1] See https://www.gotquestions.org/libertarian-free-will.html

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