Thursday, December 09, 2004

Paul and Authority II: Electric Boogaloo

Over at Vita Mea, Dennis gives his take on the ground of Paul's authority:

They would preserve the writings that they believed to be inspired. And how did they test to see if something was inspired?....They chose those things that reinforced and taught and rang true with what they already were handing on ("tradition"). For each writing they had, they would compare it against the doctrines they already knew to be inspired and inerrant, and if the writings lived up to existing Christian teachings, then it survived to edify future generations.

For what it's worth, I think this is the best resolution to the question. From the standpoint of inerrancy protestantism, however, the the wisdom of the Church as epistemic guarantor probably doesn't cut it. To lay my cards on the table, though, that's precisely why I think this is the best response. The Church-as-guarantor doesn't cast so wide a net that it's just facially implausible, like some protestant mechanisms which, to the best of my knowledge, have something to do with magical powers that descend on the reader and grant her the special power to divine Paul's authority absent historical considerations. In short, Dennis's view allows for doubt, and I have to think that's a good thing. There are two reasons: first, the epistemological modesty precludes the theory that he's crazy; and for long, boring reasons, I've come to think that doubt lies at the heart of this whole Christian thing that I've slowly been slouching toward. And I don't mean it lies at the heart of the Christian project the way Original Sin does, as something to be overcome, but as a positive value around which the whole enterprise rotates (I may turn into the world's only Lacanian Christian, which I'll expand on later when I'm not in the middle of finals).

Additionally, I really like the internal coherence justification (the 'good fit' that Dennis refers to). That's actually the source of my own conflict with Paul; while some of it is just bizarre and utterly unpalatable, much of it is truly insightful and orients Christian theology in fascinating and cool ways. So that's a real source of tension for me: resolving the total coolness of much of the Pauline letters with the occasional ethical outlier.

Anyways, I wrote two papers today. I'll probably have more to say about Dennis's post when my brain stops spinning.