Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Intrinsic Division

A funny thing happened today along the way to a sermon on Luke 11:1-13. I started hearing a story on how people can be divided into two groups, dog people and cat people. Later on, I heard a story about how people can be divided into two more groups, extrinsicists and intrinsicists, and it was these groups that somehow got drawn into a sermon that should have included some thoughtful commentary on the extrinsic power we call,
"Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come."
Let me start out by saying that our rector identified himself today as an "intrinsicist," but he did not go into much detail as to what that meant. His description of extrinsicism was very short and limited extrinsicists to those who place faith on an external authority (such as the actual words of the Bible), but his description of an intrinsicist took quite a few more words that actually said even less. I think an intrinsivist believes they are looking beyond the words in scripture to a hidden truth that they must uncover on their own. No external authority can help them and there is the suggestion that no external authority was at work in the scriptures themselves. I am afraid that the extrinsic side got the short straw, and some congregants might be misled into believing that the intrinsicist path is the better path towards Truth (since our learned rector has chosen that path) although the rector asserted that he has nothing against those who read scripture or pray differently from himself.

Much more could be said about this division that he sees, but it may start to go beyond my pay grade. Nevertheless, I am going to give it a crack myself:

For example, if you believe p.868 of your BCP,
Article VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Then you might be an extrinsicist.

If you believe Jesus said in John 5:24-25,
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
Then you might be an extrinsicist.

If your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16] is,

KJS: I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way — that’s certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.

ADG: What about the rest of that statement —

KJS: The small box?

ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.

KJS: Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.
Then you might be a Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church.

And you would be an intrinsicist.

If you believe that you are "Spirit led" even though the Bible suggests otherwise,

Then you might be an intrinsicist.

How does intrinsicism relate to revisionism? I think they run hand in hand. It certainly helps you to be a better intrinsicist if you start out from the point of view that re-writing the Bible to be relevant to "modern" people is perfectly acceptable. It also helps one to be a better revisionist if one has a low regard for the holy nature of what an extrinsivist would call the Word of God.

One of the problems with intrinsicism is that it makes the individual the ultimate authority. This authority applies not only to questions of Biblical interpretation but to every part of one's relationship to God and to the Church. The absence of Biblical authority must be liberating:
There is no longer any need for scripture with it's lessons on how God has made Himself manifest.
There is no longer any need to read about the consequences of a life apart from God.
There is no longer any need for the traditions of the Church.

External authorities just confine people to a box. All things could just as well be reasoned out by oneself.

Oh, you say, this just points out that there are two groups of people, those who submit to authority and those who fight against authority.

When it comes to the nature of our walk away from God, the problem of our relation to authority is perhaps one of the root causes of our unfaithfulness.

We make a huge mistake when we set ourselves up as the final authority.

It is very humbling to realize that God is the author of our salvation. In my case, it helps when I read the Bible that way.

I guess that makes me a dog loving extrinsicist.


  1. In the circumstances, would it not have been better for the Rector to preach on The Lord's Prayer rather than to surreptitiously lead the sheep down the road to perdition? I'm reminded of the Bishop of Durham, +Tom Wright's aphorism that "...when the Church starts to follow the dictates of contemporary society, it cease to be the Church."

  2. That was the most bizzare part of the sermon. After all, today's Gospel lesson started out with Jesus teaching us how to pray.

    Since some do not believe that Jesus actually taught us these words, I guess it was a taboo subject.

  3. Of course, such a distinction is the gateway to modern interpretive theology, i.e. the road to perdition.


  4. The serpent asked Eve, "Did God really say...?" That is the foundational issue in all the disputes in the Episcopal Church, and in the mainline churches in general.

  5. Charlie,

    Do the teachings in the classrooms at the seminaries ask those young malleable minds, "Wasn't that all really written by man for man?"

    The foundational problem is removing God from the equation is it not?