Schizologia: Internal Testimony versus Inspiration of Scripture

The modernist– a product of the European Enlightenment – replaces revelation as a source of truth with induction. By induction, I mean observation of the material data (phenomena) from which we derive a principle, or “law.” For a materialist (the majority of scientists), this rational approach, which is not necessarily a reasonable approach, is not only the best method, but also the only method that can yield universal truth.

Contrary to the modernist, the postmodernist rejects both the Christian and modernist approaches to the search for truth. According to the postmodernist, truth is not universal, is not objective, is not absolute. Instead, truth is socially constructed, manifold, and relative. “Your truth, my truth” means that truth is not found; it is made; facts, on this view, are not givens but “takens” (I think this term is from William James).

How does this fit into the theory of textual interpretation? Postmodernists “deconstruct” (Jacques Derrida’s term) a truth claim or a text so that it fits in with their worldview, and by so doing, they find liberation. By “deconstruct,” Derrida means:

“… language is not inherently determined by a set of univocal (single) meanings, [which means that] language use, given an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time, becomes an unrestricted interaction of signifiers (words), … a free play without nostalgia for a “center” or for “origins” (Derrida 1981: 278-93. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul).

Deconstruction/Post-modernism has been gaining a strong hoofhold in theology with no little help from Karl Barth’s “internal testimony” in contrast to Calvin’s “inspiration.” David Gibson explains:

“… it is clear that Calvin establishes a distinct difference between ‘inspiration’ and ‘internal testimony’. Inspiration is bound up with the very nature of Scripture and is what guarantees the conclusion that ‘the prophets spoke divinely’; it therefore also guarantees that the Scriptures are by definition authoritative. The internal testimony work of the Spirit is what enables us to perceive that Scripture is authoritative. This distinction is very important to bear in mind given that in much modern theology, particularly in the Barthian tradition,the internal testimony of the Spirit replaces the traditional concept of inspiration and is regarded as the decisive factor in making Scripture authoritative.”

The distinction between “internal testimony” and “inspiration” is related to the popular distinction in “God-gave-me-a-Rhema-today” circles between Rhema (“the Holy Spirit talking to me” as someone said) and Logos (the word written for all). The distinction is false. Rhema and Logos are synonyms for “word,” any other kind of word, spoken or written. Debonnaire airs it well:

“This false dichotomy between the two words has been used to give false credibility to doctrines that tickle the ears, trouble hearts and minds, and lead astray. For in fact , when we examine the scriptures where both words (rhema and logos) are used, we see that a word/rhema is NOT more inspired of the Spirit of God than a word/logos. Neither is it larger or more personal. Also, at the opposite of one may think, Rhema does NOT mean “spoken word” and the word Logos does NOT mean “written word.” The two words seem in fact interchangeable. Jesus spoke words, sometimes translated as logos, sometimes as rhema.”

Debonnaire gives these examples:

“Already you are clean because of the word [LOGOS] that I have SPOKEN to you” (John 15:3).

“… the man believed the word [LOGOS] that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way” (John 4:50).

“But at your word [RHEMA] I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

If you remain in me and my words [RHEMA] remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (John 15:7).

In sum, a split – a schizologia – occurs between what “this verse means to me” and what “this verse means”.

But hang on; I’m not saying that we cannot apply the scripture to our lives or that God cannot give someone a word of knowledge in a particular situation. My focus here has been on the interpretation of scripture.

When it comes to defending the Word, I’m inspired to be  mean – but also gentle; innit?

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