Pinnock and Held-Evans on Biblical Polyphony

What might come as a surprise to many conservative evangelical and fundamentalist readers of the Bible is that numerous evangelical, open, and open and relational authors also see the biblical anthology (including both Old and New Testaments) as being polyphonic in nature. Clark Pinnock, in his much debated and highly influential book, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, states,

“I accept diversity among the biblical witnesses and recognize the dialogical character of the Bible…The Bible does not speak with a single voice; there is dialogue between the different voices. The writings contain a long and complex search for the mind of God and in this struggle various points of view compete and interact. In constructing a doctrinal model, therefore, it is important to remember that the Bible is a complex work by many authors whose views may vary and that the text is open to various plausible interpretations. We should listen to the Bible as we would listen to a conversation; we are not meant to quarry Scripture for proof texts. This means I cannot claim that the Bible teaches the open view of God or any other subject simply and straightforwardly such that there is no counter testimony which probes and questions and objects … Scripture is inexhaustibly rich and, when approached prayerfully with new questions, yields new insights.”[1] (emphasis is mine)

Pinnock later states that in interpreting the biblical texts, “there is freedom to choose between meanings … [and thus] a decision will have to be made as to which reading seems more probably and plausible.”[2] He rightfully—in light of his earlier statements as to biblical polyphony—concludes with the following: “It is better to think of the open view of God as we think of its alternatives … as a sincere response to the witness of Scripture and open to discussion”[3] (emphasis is mine).

         Rachel Held-Evans, although not—by her own estimation—a biblical scholar or theologian, was a very popular, gifted and highly esteemed author of all things biblical. Raised, and living, in “the buckle of the Bible belt”, she, in large part, wrote about her own spiritual journey including her changed perceptions of the nature of the Bible. She writes, “In short, we have on our hands a Bible as complicated and dynamic as our relationship with God, one that reads less like divine monologue and more like an intimate conversation.”[4] In regard to the dialogical nature of the biblical texts, Held-Evans contrasts how Jewish readers respond to “the tensions and questions produced by Scripture” with the typical evangelical response: “While Christians tend to turn to Scripture to end a conversation, Jews turn to Scripture to start a conversation.”[5]

         The quotations from theologians, biblical scholars and other learned authors could continue for many pages. The ones chosen here are meant to expand and shine a positive light on the biblical reality of polyphony. The characteristics of multivocality, polysemy, and polyvalency exist in and among the biblical texts no matter what form they have taken, in the past or present. Ignoring this persistent biblical polyphony, “fabricating elaborate contortions of highly unlikely scenarios and explanations” or simply labelling those who accept the fact of biblical polyphony as “liberals” or “progressives” or “heretics,” etc., does not nullify or expunge the “problematic” texts.[6]

[1] Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 21.

[2] Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, 60.

[3] Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, 104.

[4] Rachel Held-Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 13.

[5] Held-Evans, Inspired, 21.

[6] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), xi-xii.

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