This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage and dialogue with the ELCA's teaching theologians. The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.
Diane L. Jacobson: To tell the absolute truth, I'm always a bit nervous about addressing the issue of the authority of the Bible for us as Lutherans. My nervousness stems from the tendency to make this into a very theoretical and cerebral conversation about getting our theology straight. The discussion tends to end up in a very American argument about what the Bible is. My sense is that as Lutherans we are far more interested in what the Bible does, rather than what the Bible is.
Does this ring true to you?
Erik M. Heen: Yes it does. When people talk about the "authority" of the Bible, they often assume it functions something like a casebook of precedent in legal decisions. That is, the Bible gives very specific guidance on how all people should live their lives (so the Ten Commandments end up on courthouse walls) as well as order church life. Not only is the biblical sexual ethic normative for all, women should not be priests and so on.
The sticky wicket here is the language of the ELCA's constitution: "The church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments as the inspired word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith and life." This language is open to a variety of interpretations. The important question, of course, is how the Bible defines our "proclamation, faith and life."
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