[revised 06 Nov 2012]
A religious teaching can make a life-changing truth available to one mind while appearing to another mind as paradoxical or self-contradictory or crazy or even heretical. Jesus called his opponents’ perception of himself and his teaching a seeing without seeing and hearing without hearing.
The opponents of Jesus were blind and deaf to teacher and message because they were constantly seeing and hearing him in the contradictory reference frame of their own sacred texts. This outlook revealed to them one “empirical” analysis above all – that the mission of Jesus did not resemble closely enough the mission of the Messiah as it was represented in their inerrant scripture.
When a church wields this kind of rationalized positivism in its treatment of sacred texts, the spirit of revelation is quenched. The Parousia itself might come and go without such a church even noticing the fact (just as the Incarnation was missed by those who insisted on comparing it strictly to their sacred text). Oddly I find an inappropriate positivism and rationalism in both fundamentalism and theological modernism. Maybe that’s what I find so irritating about both.
I was helped to a better view of this surprising commonality by an interesting paraphrase of Stanley Hauerwas I saw Thursday in a guest post over on Marc Cortez’ blog where the discussion goes on into today.
“fundamentalism and theological modernism are simply different sides of the same radical modernist coin. Both embrace the paradigms of Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism too seriously (Hauerwas affirms this) – theological liberalism tries to keep the faith by cutting out all the things that don’t fit into the empirical and/or rational modes, whereas fundamentalism tries to defend them using the tools of empiricism and rationalism to the nth degree. Both end up embracing rationalism and empiricism as the first order basis or “metaphysic” as such, upon which to build a worldview. This is what led the fundamentalist strain in evangelicalism, according to Hauerwas, to make “Sola Scriptura” equal to “Sola Text.”
That is, the special, guarded form of the so-called literal-grammatical-historical method used to support the inerrancy principle is a form of positivistic empiricism which – in conjunction with a fanciful rationalization of discrepancies and contradictions – shares the same enlightenment-age pedigree with the positivism and rationalizations that dominate the unbeliever’s hermeneutic of suspicion.
The original rejection of Jesus was accomplished by a kind of flip-flop criticism which sometimes invoked a hermeneutic of inerrancy and sometimes a hermeneutic of suspicion – another indication that these two are sides of the same coin.