What do you get when you mix the post-modernism of an SJW with the teachings of Christianity? If you want to find out, then Richard Holloway’s recent book review How to read the Bible (Spectator, 30th March) is a good place to start. There are at least five things you will find there.
The first is relativism.
Early in the article Holloway outlines one of the Christian controversies about the Bible: the meaning of the very first Chapter, which is about creation. Three parties are described. Firstly, scholars who caution against believing that any of the episodes in the Bible actually happened. Secondly, those who believe in a 6-day creation and a young earth. Thirdly, a “subtle” group who believe the Hebrew word “yom” in this Chapter is not intended to mean a literal 24 hour day.
The first group get implicit preference for being “scholars”. This deceptively conceals the fact that there are “scholars” in the other two groups also, but it’s quintessentially postmodern to give preference to the party that doesn’t even have an opinion. The second and third groups, in contrast, are accused of “reading their own opinions into the Bible”.
Ouch. That sounds like a bad thing. Surely one shouldn’t read their own opinions into the Bible?
But wait! At the end of the article, Holloway reveals that he’s been playing a trick on us. It turns out that he himself is actually a Christian minister. Tada! He, too, reads his own opinion into the Bible. As a priest for the Church of England, he “manages to get the Bible to tell the story [the Anglican community] wants it to tell”. And don’t we all, really, after all? Don’t we all just use these texts as tools to tell ourselves a story that makes sense of our lives? Don’t we all treat the Bible as a conduit for our own meta-narrative?
No, Mr Holloway, we don’t.
If I read your article and gave it whatever meaning I wanted, you should rightly be offended. I also expect people to read my writing and understand what it says on the basis that they understand English.
What is espoused in his article is called liberal theology. If you think post-modernism is starting to screw up our society, creating a generation who can’t even allow pronouns to contain objective meaning, then you should take a look at what it’s done to the Church. By his own account, Priest Holloway reads a book written by someone else, in order to hear himself. He uses it to tell himself a story that makes him feel good, and then stands up in a pulpit and shares it with other people. Who then presumably are allowed to hear… whatever they want to hear?
The second thing you get is spin.
There’s a lot of salacious content in the article to those who are familiar with the issues. He opened by describing these Christians who “favour a conservative interpretation of the Bible”. Apparently “many” of them use the Authorised (old King James) version of the Bible “because they believe it is inspired and inerrant to a greater extent than the ancient Hebrew”.
At best this is a straw-man argument, at worst its complete bunkum. I’ve grown up in a community “that favours conservative interpretation”. The ESV and NKJV are more commonly used than the Authorised Version. I’ve still known many people that use the old King James but I’ve never heard anyone say it’s more authoritative than the original language! None of the major statements of confession claims this and if any individuals believe this, it’s a very small minority. Picking out this obviously illogical and crazy-sounding minority wasn’t a very nice way to start talking about those Christians who dare to think that the Bible might mean what it says.
His next move was a straw-man argument, too. Everyone knows that the Old Testament is an anthology, yet Holloway declared it like it’s a little-known fact that the inerrancy crowd have somehow failed to notice. Sure, it’s a collection of books. It is also a coherent and ancient collection that has been delivered to us in its current form by generations of dedicated copyists. Did you know, for instance, that when the dead sea scrolls were discovered mid-last century, this provided the world with a copy of Isaiah that was almost a millennium older than the oldest copy we already had? Comparison between the two identified only a dozen or so differences, mostly syntactical and having no impact on its overall meaning.
The New Testament also he dismissively calls an “untidy bundle of writings composed between 50 to 120 CE”. Please, don’t mention that it is also the most well-preserved set of ancient texts in the world. There are literally thousands of ancient original-language manuscripts in existence today, many copied within mere decades of the original, and in fact, there are enough ancient Christian writings that you could reconstruct all but eleven verses of it from quotations alone.
Here is a common liberal theology gambit: disagree with the Bible because you don’t like what it says. Then point to the disagreement itself as evidence that the interpretation is controversial.
Hollow writes of “disagreement among scholars” about when, or even whether, any of the events in the Hebrew texts happened. This is an anecdote, not evidence. Among the scholars who are disagreeing with one another, there are some who are supporting the position that these events did happen. In fact, there are several factors in this ‘disagreement’, the biggest of which is chronology, as addressed in the exemplary documentary Patterns of evidence: The Exodus (please watch it).
And that’s the third thing you get. The effect of post-modernism on the Church is similar to society at large, right down to its tyrannical “experts”—these “scholars”, who arrogantly think they have a better idea of what happened three thousand years ago than people who were actually there. Who believe they can prove a negative, millennia after the fact. And at whose behest the rest of us are just meant to discard two-thousand years’ worth of straightforward Bible reading and Christian teaching.
Bible “scholars” have been using post-modernism since before it was cool. It was an essential part of the Victorian “enlightenment”. It was the same with a different name. Really, one had to be a post-modern relativist in religious matters in order to be a modern rationalist in scientific matters, so the schools of divinity have a couple of centuries lead on the SJWs.
The fourth thing you get is militant tolerance.
It’s not surprising that Holloway’s article then attacks the foundations of Christianity. “Tolerance” is the one essential rule of Post-Modernism, and so for Christianity and Judaism to be in disagreement? It’s unacceptable.
He scoffs at “supersessionism”, the doctrine that Christianity has fulfilled and replaced Judaism, and eventually comes out in favour of “ecumenical attitude”. Despite his assertions, supersessionism is not an idea that comes about due to giving the names “Old Testament” and “New Testament” to the books, but rather comes from what is in those books. The idea that Jesus was the fulfilment of Jewish scriptures is taught explicitly throughout the New Testament and appeals to far more than the book of Daniel in the Old. The Psalms speak of the Messiah. Isaiah speaks of the Messiah. It’s kind of everywhere, actually.
Moreover, this teaching is not “the root of… virulent anti-Semitism” as he claims, which in fact pre-dates Christianity (read Esther) and has no encouragement in the New Testament whatsoever. It wasn’t the Christians who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, and don’t tell me Islamic nations are anti-Semitic today because of the New Testament. There are so many Christians that are strongly pro-Israel, it’s hard to see any correlation between anti-Semitism and Christianity today, though they have been linked at times in the past.
The article contained, hidden within it, one other effect of post-modernism: “In Britain and the US the churches that are bucking the trend of decline are usually those that take a conservative approach to the interpretation of the Bible.” There’s a reason for that. Why stay at any other Church? Why read the Bible? You could read the safety card on an aeroplane if you’re just going to “read your own ideas” into it. The only thing that liberal theology liberates the Bible from is its author, which turns Christianity into just “ianity”. And inanity.
And that’s the fourth and last thing you get, folks. Pointlessness.
Did you know that the Church’s great reformation in the 1500s was facilitated by the invention of the printing press? At the time, the Bible had become locked up in a language no-one spoke anymore: Latin. The Roman Catholic Church at the time opposed translation, even though the Latin was itself a translation of the original.
A man named William Tyndale translated it into English. He had to do so in secret. In the 1520s he fled to Germany and spent years smuggling his printed translations back to England hidden in cotton shipments. William Tyndale was eventually caught and burned at the stake, but the fires of the reformation he helped spark gave birth eventually to the Anglican Church, whose statement of faith, the Thirty-nine Articles, affirms the authority of “holy” scripture (article six).
Richard Holloway himself served in a Church that would not exist, were it not for dedicated Christians who believed that the Bible should be read by people in their own tongue. Christians who believed that it is comprehensible, accessible, meaningful and authoritative.
Post-modernism – it’s the enemy of all definitions. Right, wrong. In, out. True, false. Male, female. Christian.