Public debate on the Bible and Ethics

May 10, 2007

I attended a public debate on the question whether the Bible still provide answers ethical problems today. It was organized by the Centre for Public Theology at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Pretoria.
There were three people involved in the debate, and a lot of time for questions. What follows is some thoughts on what each one of them said. Just a warning. I’m not even trying to give a neutral report on what happened, I might critique some of the stuff which was said, but I do this in the spirit of an open debate. And read the disclaimer on my about page before quoting what I said, please.
It started out with Prof. Ernest van Eck. He is the latest addition to the department New Testament at the UP Faculty of Theology, and has been in ministry in a congregation up to a year ago. To sum it up. He showed how a literal read of the Bible get us into trouble, and how inconsequential it is usually done. Also what the ways are that people use to justify the inconsequential way in which they sometimes read the Bible. He then asked that we read the Bible culture-critically and culture sensitively, and that Jesus form our canon behind the canon. That would mean that we take serious the culture in which the Bible was writer, and that we take Jesus seriously.
Next up was Dr Johan van Schalkwyk. He is currently minister at the Dutch Reformed Congregation Lynnwoodriff. I found it really difficult to follow his argument, seemed like he jumped around a lot. But he basically said that we should take authority of Scripture seriously (reading 2 Tim 3:16 to us). Some random comments was that he said that part of the cause of empty churches in Europe was the fact that scripture isn’t taken authoritatively, and how shocked Muslims get because Christians don’t believe scripture anymore. He made quite a lot of the fact that there is a divide between what is done at a theological faculty, and what happens at a congregation. This causes a lot of negative response, both within the debate and afterwards. Since many of us got the idea that he is saying that what happens in critical theology can’t help on congregational level. When I asked him about it in the debate he softened this, but throughout his first address we got the idea of a very negative view of theology as practised at university, and especially of more critical theology.
Last up was Prof. Julian Muller, head of Practical Theology at UP. His delivery was really brilliant, actually questioning the question. The debate started out because of the question of homosexuality, and Prof. Ettiene de Villiers, who chaired the debate, said that we should ask the question behind the question, which was how we view scripture. Prof. Muller asked the question behind this question, which was, how do we view God. What metaphors of pictures do we use when thinking about God. He then used the work of Delwin Brown to look at different views on God, and the spirituality and theology accompanying it. I’m not going to try and give everything he said, it was such a rich delivery, that I don’t really want to try and sum it up. But he said that the dominant view of God in South Africa is that of God as Agent. The One responsible for everything. The task of theology in this is to work out comprehensive systems of how God lead us, also with regards to ethical matters. My own view, in this view we believe that we can find a final word on what God is saying if only we listen to the Bible correctly. But what would happen if our view of God changed? He gave some thoughts, but I got to go now, maybe I’ll read the work he used first, before trying to explain what he said.
OK, your thoughts is welcomed.

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One Response to “Public debate on the Bible and Ethics”

  1. Gavin Marshall Says:

    I like what’s being said about one’s view on God changing resulting in a changed understanding of scripture. This has been my journey in many ways. I’m looking forward to some more of your thoughts in this regard 🙂


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