Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 9: Immediatism’s problem with the biblical canon and the Trinity(!)

None of this proves that evangelical immediatism is wrong. But there is another problem with our immediatism: it implicates us in real difficulties about some of the traditions evangelicals ourselves hold dear.

First, immediatism finds indigestible the real story—Lewis would have called it the mere Christian understanding—of how the Bible became a canon of texts that communicates to us the self-revelation of God. The problem immediatism has with the historical Christian understanding of canonical revelation is one, we might say, of process. As is quite easy to verify from the historical sources, that canon comes down the ages to us today not by being dropped, wholesale and intact, from heaven to earth, but through an extended, circuitous communal process. That is, through human mediation.

For me, as for the historic church, this long and contentious process does not call in question the Bible’s status as revelation. This is because the church has always affirmed that the process of canon-formation was guided and in a sense guaranteed by God. It certainly does, however, call into question any modern individualistic stance that ignores all forms of human mediation and presumes we can go straight to God, through a clear-eyed reading of those same documents (itself, of course, a mediation!), and receive clear and easy answers.

The Bible is, at its core and irreducibly, a set of human-mediated texts. As such, it is complex, quirky, many-layered, and therefore open to a wide array of interpretative approaches and understandings. It is a human document that needs to be interpreted – mediated – through human community, freshly for each context and historical moment. There are certainly many areas – in fact, I would join the historic church in affirming, all the areas required for our faith and flourishing – in which the voice of the canon speaks, as it were “singly” – in unison. But it cannot do so for us apart from a mediating communal process and context – the Holy Spirit speaking through the church, both historically and in the modern moment. Its truths cannot be accessed with any sustained effectiveness immediately by the individual believer, reading their Bible alone in their closet, with their flashlight and their individual reason, divorced from the community of the church.

Along with the doctrine of revelation, immediatism also causes problems for another historically held “mere Christian” doctrine—or more accurately, a precious and widely shared cluster of beliefs affirmed without hesitation by evangelicals but rarely examined to see whether it comports with our immediatism. This is the linked set of teachings that Christ is and always has been divine, and that he is a co-equal member of a “Trinity” with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. As in the case of the Bible, this important foundation of our faith, too, evangelicals tend to treat as directly dropped from heaven—or at least from a clear-eyed, direct and obvious reading of Scripture. But anyone familiar with the 4th-century Arian controversy and the series of councils that followed knows the truth: the development of today’s orthodox understandings of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity, which we affirm in our creeds and faith statements, is not directly obvious from Scripture, and did travel a circuitous and tortuous human path – political, contested, contentious – by all appearances, historically contingent (though again, the church believes, guided by God).

2 responses to “Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 9: Immediatism’s problem with the biblical canon and the Trinity(!)

  1. Thanks! I’ve already blogged lots of other things from the book here too 🙂 Lots more where this came from.

  2. Reblogged this on Debrymothership's Blog and commented:
    I am so loving this series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s