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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Authoritarianism and The Right of Private Judgment

Does Paul advocate authoritarianism? To Titus he says:

Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:15

and to the church at Thessalonica he says:

... test all things; hold fast what is good, 1Th. 5:21

So how is it that those who hear the word proclaimed are responsible to "test all things" but those who proclaim are commanded to "Let no one disregard you." It would seem that testing would, on occasion, lead to the discovery that some aspect of what is proclaimed does not pass the test. At this point those who hear would disregard that which does not past the test. But Titus is told to let no one disregard you. Is this just personal instruction to the historical Titus, not to be intimidated by opposition? Is there any warrant for those who proclaim the word today to use this as a general principle?

After four decades of immersion in street level secularism, social "sciences", literary criticism, biblical studies and linguistics, I have become thoroughly acclimatized to the culture of doubt. Forget Derrida and Foucault, lets talk about linguistics. In the last twenty years Relevance Theory (RT) has entered the bible translation mainstream, to verify this, try a search on Ernst- August Gutt or Reinier De Blois or Margaret G. Sim.

RT maximizes the role of inference and cognitive "frameworks" while drawing attention to radical semantic indeterminacy in spoken language as well as texts. So let us say that an exegetical checker, armed with RT undertakes a study of the Song of Songs in preparation for a translation into several Turkic languages. While home on leave, exegetical checker visits Seattle and sits in on a sermon preached on the Song of Songs by a mega church pastor in Ballard. The pastor delivers his exposition and application with great authority. Exegetical checker, aware of the radical semantic indeterminacy of the metaphors and figurative language in Song of Songs, wonders if the authoritarian style of delivery is really warranted by the biblical text.

What we have here is a conflict of cultures. The exegetical checker is a scholar trained to understand the ambiguities of language and texts. The pastor is tasked with proclamation of divine truth in the face of post-modernism and the relativizing of all truth claims. The pastor is armed with Titus 2:15 "Let no one disregard you". The exegetical checker is armed with decades of language study, a massive theoretical framework and the biblical warrant to "test all things".

Where do we go from here?


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