Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Saying vs. Said

There are persons and there are principles. The gospel is about the former rather than the latter.

Granted, there are gospel principles – but the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

Among other things, this priority of persons affects how we do theology and it affects how we read scripture.

It affects how we do theology because the priority of persons means that the gospel is not grounded in any ultimate principles. Why? Because principles aren’t ultimate, people are. God is a person not a metaphysical ground.

Further, this approach affects how we read scripture because it shifts our attention from what is being said to the fact that someone is saying it. Paying attention to what your wife said is only one part of paying attention to your wife.

As Jim Faulconer puts it in Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Maxwell Institute, 2010):

When we genuinely come to believe that persons are prior to principles – then from the beginning, our question is not “What is it” (as philosophy has traditionally asked), but “What must be done?” (210)

But what, generally, are we looking for when we read scripture? The “saying” or the “said”? The person or the principle?

We usually read scripture as if it were naive philosophy and ontology, looking for the principle of principles, for the theos [i.e., the metaphysical foundation] that stands behind what we are reading, asking constantly the question “What is it?” – even when we want to ask the question, “What must be done?” We are taught to read scripture that way from our births, both inside and outside the church. That way of reading scripture is something we share with many, especially the majority of those in the evangelical, charismatic, and other conservative Christian traditions. Like the image of good traditional philosophers, those who read scripture in this way take the gospel to be a set of doctrinal propositions that one is to learn, and they take the scriptures to be a record of those principles and propositions behind which the “theological” gospel hides. When we read scripture this way, it is as if we assume that God is simply unable to lay out clearly and distinctly, in an ordered fashion, the principles he wants to teach us. With amazing hubris, we assume it is our job to do the work he was unable to do, the work of making everything clear, distinct, and orderly. (211)

No wonder those lessons from the Gospel Principles manual seem so boring. We’re looking for the wrong thing.

Understanding what your wife said is not the same thing as listening to her.

You’re reading the scriptures? Good. But stop looking for the gospel and start listening for God.

9 comments for “Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Saying vs. Said

  1. More succinctly: If we would just look after each other, living the principles would take care of themselves.

    Good Post Adam!

  2. Great reminder. I think the time is ripe for a uniquely Mormon relational theology. I think Smithian Mormonism gives us powerful tools to provide dramatic and eternal insights on perennial theological problems.

  3. but the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath

    I could almost swear that’s a principle.

  4. Adam G (#3), that’s probably why Adam M introduced the sentence with “granted, there are gospel principles.

  5. Jim F.,
    and followed it with a ‘but’ and the phrase I quoted.
    Anywho, making an exception for “gospel” principles makes the word gospel do an awful lot of work.

  6. Gospel is about both people and principles. The latter given by God to guide the former on how to act. principles are not the problem so much as a lack of principled action is.

  7. Thanks, Dan. Though I’d probably shift the analysis up a level. Principles are not the problem (or the answer), principle people are.

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