Thursday, April 20, 2017

Saving the Scripture from the Enthusiasts, or The Quest to Find a Biblical Metaphysic

Ephraim Radner's Introduction to his work Time and the Word begins with a survey of Post-Liberal myopia. What Lindbeck and Frei were able to do was reintroduce, to an academy thoroughly intoxicated on Biblical Criticism and its accompanying naive believe in Progress, the Bible as a subject, not merely object. The tools of Enlightened reason were not to dissect (or, more properly, vivisect) the Scripture, but the Scripture was to speak in its own voice. The World was to be reassumed by the text, following a post-modern trend towards the particular over the universal, the latter being a vain conceit by Western European imperialists.

This is all fine and good until one goes hunting for some substance: there isn't any. There's no reason to expect the Bible means anything other than anything else. Hauerwas, a quintessential post-Liberal with a vicious edge, proves the vacuity of it all. He argues, more precisely demands, Christians truth to power, live within the pages of the Bible, be fiercely committed to their churches. But one hears the faint ring of Liberal metaphysics, with talk of an arc of history bending towards justice (quoting Martin Luther King Jr.). That is to say, history is progressing to the future, one where Christ will rule. This reality is not even clearly a reality for Hauerwas, its stripped of its substance of Hegelian system and left to the pages of the Bible, something that is not clearly anything other than a textual world which makes claims we can live by. Maybe Hauerwas is so vicious against the Liberals because he basically is one, with priestess wife and all. Maybe he's no different than those hood-winked Platonist converts that merely inserted Christ for the Nous, leaving the task of sweeping up the embarrassments of his historical particularity.

Post-Liberals, in the assessment of Radner, give us back the Bible without any power. It is metaphysically flimsy, and cannot answer the charge that this hermeneutic could apply to any text. Why not just communities from the Koran? The Odyssey? Cat and the Hat? If we assert it is because the Bible contains the purest form, the Word of God in total, then the war is lost from the get go. First, it's historically unverifiable, and depends upon naked assertion and saccharine appeals. Second, this puts the Bible in the running with all else. For Radner, the key is to see the Bible as its own basis for metaphysics, which is what he does in the above cited work.

I reflect upon this because I've been reading Oswald Bayer's book on J.G. Hamann. On his own terms, he was a critic of Kant, but he was not the progenitor of Romanticism, even though his disciple Herder went in that direction. Instead, according to Bayer, Hamann did not abandon reason to the frenzy of pagan delights in his indulgence of the sensual, the earthy, and, ultimately, the time-bound. Instead, he maintained a marriage of reason and sense, the necessary and the contingent, the true and the historical. But most of all, he was an avid disciple of Luther.

The major significance of this is seen if one considers Luther's battle with the "enthusiasts", the Anabaptists. The latter were righteous in the way they lived, but I agree with Luther's critique 100%: their error is that they divide the external word from the internal word. This means they divorced the mediated word, given through preaching, the written text, temporal and contingent conversation, from its effects. The inner word could be taken apart and assessed. In this way, the former external aspect could be cast off as fleshly, opposed to their unmediated experience of God in an inner revelation. This could be argued as the same reason Luther, with acid tongue, cast off Zwingli at Heidelberg.

Hamann sees this same thing play out in Kant, who represents the secularization of Zwinglian theology. The inner-word of the categorical imperative, the only true sense in which the Human subject can touch the noumenal, outpaces all the mud of historical, time-bound experience. In this way, we may really speak of the Kantian revolution as a second Copernicus: he ushered in the post-Christian age. But, of course, Kant's post-Christian theology was preserved in the theological divorce Zwingli, and his dissenting brethren, offered.

However, Hamann did not merely revel in the contingent as a Romanticist. It is this whiplash against monolithic and towering reason which plays out with the post-Liberal rebellion against the academy's rationalist Biblical criticism. While perhaps it is fair to say that the academy in this set-up is not quite Kant, following the more conciliatory approach of Lessing and his descendants of the Social Gospel movement, the reaction followed a line that still depended on the whimsy of the imagination, which, in a sense, denied the question of metaphysics. Hegel tried to save metaphysics, and it still lives, but that's the major pillar left in Modernity.

Hamann, as Luther would have, posited a metaphysics of the Word. Now this has become the kerygma theology of the Barthians and Existentialists everywhere. This too is myopic and is a kissing cousin to the Post-Liberals. But again, this leaves one flat. But what if this is a misreading of Luther and Hamann. What if it's possible to see Radner's project, a Biblical metaphysics self-contained in the figures of the Scripture, as a fitting, and fulfilling, of both Luther and Hamann's intent to not tear a part the power of God from His Word, heard and heralded, in the annals of history and in the pages of time. What if this is the key to the metaphysical myopia of today's Christianity, which remains loyal to the Bible with no speculative edge? What if we don't need Plato to give what the Scripture already, in itself, contains?

This question is an open wound, and continue to be so until someone writes more to consider the options. So, as someone merely asking and not answering, I will leave it as it is. It is worth consideration, at the very least.

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