Scripture and Life: Monologue, Silence or Dialogue?

I ended my last post by making the point that Scripture is not authoritative on everything but only on matters of salvation and church beliefs and practices. This might give the impression that I am suggesting that Scripture is irrelevant to everyday life and to learning. That is not the case. Just because the Bible is not an authority or a textbook on science, history or other matters, does not mean that it cannot speak or inform those areas at all. An old article by Sidney Greidanus, “The Use of the Bible in Christian Scholarship” (Christian Scholar’s Review 1982, Vol. XI. No. 2) provides some helpful guidelines. In adapting Greidanus’ points, I will use three metaphors to help us see the three visions for how Scripture relates to life.

Firstly, Greidanus clarifies the two extremes that we must first avoid: Biblicism and Dualism. I call these two Monologue and Silence.

  • Biblicism assumes that the Bible is a storehouse of facts and data, including scientific facts and data in addition to theological and historical data. Thus, with Biblicism, the Christian scholar/student first mines the Bible for data that is relevant to his/her research/study and then evaluate the scientific data in light of those biblical data. Similarly, with this Biblicism approach, the Christian, when faced with an issue in everyday life, would try to find biblical data or passages or verses that speak directly to the issue at hand. I call this Monologue because the only voice given heed to here is that of the Bible. Only Scripture speaks to the topic or issue at hand, so to speak. Or, its voice is the only authority accepted by the Christian. On matters of faith and religion, that might be a good policy (as we saw in the previous post) but in regards to other areas of life, it is taking Scripture beyond what it is intended.
  • Dualism, on the other hand, assumes that Scripture has nothing to say to an academic discipline but only speaks to spiritual, religious and moral truths. Thus, the Bible, in this view, is irrelevant to learning because the world is divided into two unrelated realms, spiritual and material. Academic research and studies have to do with the material world while Scripture only deals with the spiritual. Similarly, the Scriptures read and preached on Sunday are seen as irrelevant to everyday life matters from Monday to Saturday. This is what I metaphorically call Silence. In other words, Scripture is silent on matters outside its jurisdiction of faith and morals. It has nothing to say, so we should not even bother trying to relate its truths to everyday life. This is the opposite extreme of monologue.

Both approaches are wrong. Instead, I suggest the method of Dialogue. Scripture engages in dialogue with all areas of life. And in any genuine dialogue, there’s give and take, speaking and listening, agreeing and disagreeing. Greidanus suggests that there are three ways in which Scripture can contribute to our learning and scholarship.

  1. The Bible calls Christians to faith and shapes that faith. And this faith is lived out in every area of our lives, including our scholarship. Contrary to the dualistic view, the world is whole, and faith or religion touches all areas of life. Even though Scripture speaks primarily to religious and ethical issues, these are not irrelevant to life and culture. Rather, faith and ethics are fundamentally relevant to life, culture and learning.
  2. The Bible provides a biblical framework of reality or a worldview that shapes the Christian’s scholarship work. In sum, this framework of reality consists of three pivotal reference points and their interrelations: God, humanity and the world. Worldview frameworks function as the basic presupposition and guide for any of our activities. Everyone has a worldview or framework of reality that they assume that guides their choices and their thinking. It could be a Marxist, Atheist, Liberal, Conservative, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. For Christians, the biblical worldview serves as the foundational framework.
  3. Some Biblical themes or norms can be crucial for a Christian scholar/student in a particular discipline. If the Bible reveals certain themes or norms that are relevant to an academic discipline, then it is foolish for the Christian to ignore them. For instance, the theme of justice is relevant to political science and law. The biblical norm for human relationships, for example, can be central to a sociologist and/or a psychologist.  Such themes or norms are not data or facts but ideas and concepts that shape a scholar’s theorizing on and interpretation of data and facts. Likewise, a biblical theme of stewardship, or of caring for the environment, can be helpful for Christians in making decisions in consumer life.

In sum, Scripture’s dialogue with life and learning, so to speak, is its expertise in faith and ethics, its vision of reality (especially in regards to the inter-relationships of God, humanity and the world), and some of its relevant themes or normative concepts.

Are these metaphors – monologue, silence and dialogue – helpful to you?

Where have you seen Biblicism/Monologue at its worst?

Similarly, where have you seen Dualism/Silence occurring?

How may Greidanus’ three ways of Scriptural dialogue with those matters be helpful?

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About Shiao Chong

Editor in Chief of The Banner, official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Formerly CRC Campus Minister serving at York University in Toronto, Canada. (All postings here are my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of the CRC or of The Banner.)
This entry was posted in Bible, Campus Ministry, Faith and Learning, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Scripture and Life: Monologue, Silence or Dialogue?

  1. Pingback: Improvising Within Biblical Authority | 3-D Christianity

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