Exegetical dangers

 ‘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.

Unmasking our own self-deceptions

3. Subtle Exclusion Disguised by Self-Deceptive Rhetoric: ‘Climbers’

Third, worse than stigmatising by naming would be discriminating structures of judgement and exclusion cloaked or disguised by a politically correct rhetoric about inclusion or about ‘attempts’ to be inclusive.

This is where somebody is sinned against, but the rhetoric denies it. In other words, ‘politeness’ replaces relationship and love. The ugly thing about this is that, even though no sinful language is used, there is still favouritism, rejection, structures of exclusion, and hence implicit stigmatisation by naming going on at the level of practice. Thus, potentially, a leader could say to himself, ‘I have not actually said to so and so that they are such and such – I have been very careful in my speech’. But both John and James point out the hypocrisy of being polite in our speech but failing to love with our actions.

What is happening here is that the leader’s ‘politeness’ is functioning as a self-deceptive device that hides from himself his lack of love for, or stigmatisation of, somebody. The leader is effectively ‘climbing into’ his own rhetorical world of self-affirmation and believing the rhetoric to be true of himself in place of confessional honesty. But, as Gerhard Ebeling writes,

“According to Luther, the Word of God always comes as adversarius noster, our adversary. It does not simply confirm and strengthen us in what we think we are, and in what we wish to be taken for… This is the way, the only way, in which the Word draws us into concord and peace with God”.

Continue reading “Unmasking our own self-deceptions”

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