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Archives / 1997 / December

 

Book review: Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle.

George R. Knight

 

Many had hoped that Receiving the Word would responsibly and adequately address some of the major issues presently facing the Adventist Church.

The volume's strongest point is that it raises significant issues regarding inspiration, and that it does so in the context of the current Adventist struggle for identity and theological understanding. Many are rightly concerned with what seems to be a lack of understanding in areas of biblical inspiration and Christian authority, especially in light of the erosion of basic Adventist and even Christian beliefs in some sectors of the church. Koranteng-Pipim is to be congratulated for having raised the issues. His book also has the virtue of being written clearly and with conviction.

Unfortunately, the volume is less than adequate. Its primary methodological flaws run from its first chapter to its last. The book's argument is built on a well-known debater's technique. At one extreme it sets up the "right" position, which is very, very right, while at the other extreme is the "wrong" position, which is very, very wrong.

A common tactic used by skilled debaters is to make one position look as good as possible and the other as bad as possible, with little or no presentation of middle-of-the-road options. Since the one extreme is obviously evil, the only "Christian" choice is to accept uncritically the debater's preferred extreme without reservation. While there are definitely times when decisive lines need to be drawn about critical issues facing the church, the methodology used in Receiving the Word makes it unnecessarily divisive.

Receiving the Word demonstrates a masterful use of debater's techniques. It allows for no moderation as it hammers home the traditionally non-Adventist positions of verbal inspiration and inerrancy, even in details, asides, and nonessential matters. Altogether too much of the volume's basic data rests upon subjectively based slogans, loose and often inaccurate generalizations, frequently idiosyncratic definitions, and most serious of all, references to authors that at times impute to them the opposite meaning from what they clearly wrote. Upon such basic data, the book builds a logical chain, based upon human reason, to argue its primary conclusions. Unfortunately, the conclusions in such a logical chain are only as valid as the original presuppositions and evidence.

One of the tragedies of the volume is that in its desire to protect the Bible and Ellen White it shuts out both Jesus and Mrs. White from the camp of the faithful. For example, Receiving the Word argues consistently against a principle-based approach, yet that is exactly what Jesus argues for in Matthew 5:21-48 and other places. The same can be said for Ellen White, as I have demonstrated in the books Reading Ellen White and Myths in Adventism.

Again, Koranteng-Pipim argues for "a plain reading of Scripture," but fails himself to abide by the plain words of the Bible on such topics as slavery, polygamy, levirate marriage, and women speaking in church. Why is he against the first three and for the fourth in that list when a "plain reading of Scripture" opposes him evenly in all of the cases? This is a particular difficulty since Koranteng- Pipim condemns contextualization in the understanding of Bible passages. A reading of this volume leaves one with the impression that its hermeneutic allows its author to reach whatever conclusions he might already have brought to the Bible.

Receiving the Word has raised important issues, but has not done so in a particularly enlightening fashion. Again, while it provides readers with material for sloganeering, it does little to help the church understand the nature of inspiration or even how to receive, understand, and apply the Word.

Mr. Koranteng-Pipim is to be com mended for having the courage to raise important issues in the present lively atmosphere, but it is still up to either him or someone else to treat responsibly from a genuinely conservative Adventist perspective the issues he has raised. That task must not be avoided or neglected.

 

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