Thursday, October 13, 2011

Douglas Harink on Baptists, individualism, and 1 Peter 2:5

On Monday evening I was introducing my Introduction to Christian Theology I students to the concept of the theological interpretation of Scripture and mentioned the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series as an example of this approach to exegesis. Then today I had I look at the commentary in that series by Baptist theologian Douglas Harink on 1 and 2 Peter, which includes some observations related to another matter I discussed with my Christian Theology students on Monday evening--what it means to read the Bible in ecclesial community, which in turn relates to a point I made in my public lecture the previous Monday evening on "Baptists and Catholics on Scripture and Tradition": that a point of differentiated consensus between Baptists and Catholics on the function of the Scripture in the life of the church is that both Baptists and Catholics (though in differing ways) locate the primary responsibility for the interpretation of Scripture in the community of the church rather than the mind of the individual (n.b. the key words "differentiated," "differing," and "primary" in the clause that follows the colon). Here's a snippet from Harink's commentary:

The Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all (individual) believers has traditionally sought warrant in 1 Pet. 2:5. But neither here nor in 2:9 is Peter thinking in terms of individual believers. His focus is consistently corporate and oriented toward the world. The emphasis is not on the believer's individual immediacy to God, or on priestly mediation among individual believers, or, of course, on the establishment of a priestly order in the church, but on the church itself as the mediation of the gospel to the world (cf. 2:9) [read context in Google Books].

Harink then notes this:

In my own Baptist tradition the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has often and tragically been taken as the justification of extreme individualism in the Christian life. Consider one classic statement by Baptist theologian Francis Wayland (1976-1865): "Another truth which has always been inscribed on our [Baptist] banner is, the absolute right of private judgement in all matters of Religion. We have always believed that the New Testament was not given by God to a priesthood, to be by them diluted, compounded, and adulterated, and then retailed by the pennyworth to the people; but, on the contrary, that the whole revelation in its totality, in all its abundance of blessing, with all its solemn warnings, and its exceeding great and precious promises, is a communication from God to every individual of the human race...With such a revelation, and such a spiritual aid [i.e., the Holy Spirit guiding the individual reading scripture], every man is required to determine for himself what is the will of God" (quoted from Curtis W. Freeman, James W. McClednon Jr. and C. Rosalee Velloso da Silva, eds., Baptist Roots: A Reader in the Theology of a Christian People [Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1999], 222). In recent years strong protests against and correctives to such radical individualism are being issued by Baptist theologians; see Steven R. Harmon, Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006); and Barry Harvey, Can These Bones Live? A Catholic Baptist Engagement with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008) [read context in Google Books].

I'm grateful for Harink's reference to my book Towards Baptist Catholicity in this connection, for I concur.

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