Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Second Coming and the Problem of Homotextuality

I've been making the case that "the Second Coming" is a collective phrase that contains a number of ideas from the Scriptures. What I'm saying is that there is no single consensus in the Scriptures of what "the Second Coming" will look like. In fact, I think that when we use the phrase "the Second Coming," we should modify it to some extent as "Matthew's description of the Second Coming" or "Paul's understanding of the Second Coming." I would add "The Gospel of John's view of the Second Coming" but I'm not even sure if the Gospel of John has a view of the Second Coming.

But 'why?' you may ask. Why look at the differences? Why not just put all of the Scriptures that mention the Second Coming together and map it out on a timeline? Why not assume that they are all saying the same thing and fit them all together?

To give a foretaste of my forthcoming book, Left Behind and Loving It (to be published by Wipf & Stock later this summer), when we scrunch a collection of differing views together as if they all say the same thing, we are committing what I call "Homotextuality." It takes away from the integrity of the Scriptures when we take differing texts and act as if they are all essentially the same.

I blame Rene Descartes for this. Well, actually, Richard Bernstein blames Descartes for this and I just happen to agree with him (Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis). As Bernstein describes it, Descartes' process of 'methodological doubt' and its famous conclusion, "I think, therefore I am" were driven by the notion that unless he could come up with "one indubitable principle" as its base, then all of his philosophy would come tumbling down like a house of cards. That is what Bernstein calls "Cartesian Anxiety" - the notion that unless the first principle of philosophy is beyond any doubt, then our knowledge of everything else is imperiled.

In the "Modern Era" (the period following Descartes both temporally and directionally), the same anxiety that Descartes had about the first principle of philosophy was translated into anxiety about the authority of the Scriptures. It was in this era that the whole notion of biblical literalism was invented and, from that, the homotextual method of interpreting the Scriptures as if they all say essentially the same thing.

Please understand that Homotextuality is a 'new kid on the block' when it comes to biblical interpretation. It was not the method of interpretation among the early church (which gave us four different gospels), the Patristic writers (who read many of the Scriptures as allegories), or the Reformers (Like Martin Luther, who referred to the book of James as "that wretched little book.") None of them read the Scriptures literally or homotexually.

So, while it goes against the predominant notions of our day, I would like to start an anti-Homotextuality crusade and invite people to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, in all of their diversity, rather than to try to squeeze them all into the same mold. That's what I am trying to do with the various and differing views of "the Second Coming" in the Scriptures. And if this way or reading the Scriptures takes away from our absolute certainty about what will happen in the future, then ... so be it.

I don't mind confessing that there is one thing that I embrace as the absolute foundation on which I will build my philosophy and belief. It is the most often-repeated phrase from the Scriptures: God's steadfast love endures forever. With that in mind, we'll take a look at various views of "the Second Coming" in the Scriptures in some future posts.

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