‘De-Relationalisation’: Abstract Rhetoric & Rule-Based Religion Vs Wisdom
For our second point, there is the danger of what I have called ‘de-relationalisation’.
I’m sorry to use this awkward word, but I can’t think of a better word for the problem. In short, the legacy of Western thinking has meant that biblical exegesis in traditional circles has concentrated on finding ‘eternal truths’ that can be expressed in terms of ‘propositions’ that can then be built into doctrinal ‘systems’.
At one level, this can be very useful for organising our thinking about, say, the doctrine of atonement. I always benefit from John Stott’s breakdown of atonement into four part-realised, part-prophetic, aspects: propitiation (appeasing wrath), justification (fulfilling the law), redemption (being bought at a price), and reconciliation (coming home to our Father).
At another level, however, treating the biblical texts only in this way can mask our evasion of asking relational questions of the text. This leads to over-stressing abstract rhetoric and rule-based religion at the expense of relational wisdom. This is quite serious since Jesus said that loving God and neighbour summed up the Law and the Prophets, and that these remained the first and second most important commandments in the New Testament.
In the following posts we will look at different kinds of ‘abstract rhetoric’ and at ‘rule-based religion’ in turn to illustrate what is meant here.