Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 14th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Two points on Heiser’s “The Unseen Realm” from @LexhamPress

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished reading Dr. Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, the latest from Lexham Press. It is a remarkably easy read for such a deep book. I will post my review shortly, but there are two issues I feel need to be address.

First, Heiser writes,

I’m not arguing that we should ignore our Christian forefathers. I’m simply saying that we should give their words and their thought the proper perspective and priority. Creeds serve a useful purpose. They distill important, albeit carefully selected, theological ideas. But they are not inspired. They are no substitute for the biblical text.1

Admittedly, he never strays from orthodox Christianity. Indeed, his deity is still the Triune Deity of Christian Tradition. However, I find this phrasing problematic because it seems to downplay the Creeds and assume they should talk about the framework Heiser gives us throughout the book. The Christians who spent centuries building up to the Creeds lived in much the same framework as the writers of the Jewish Scriptures. To his credit, the author mentions St. Justin Martyr in acknowledging this.

Heiser disagrees about the progression of theology (p99; biblical or canonical or otherwise, it begins with the assembling of the canon…by the Church Fathers) and in some instances creates too clean a split between Scripture and Church Tradition (theology). Some non-evangelicals may take offense to this, although I would recommend they read The Unseen Realm past this, recognizing that the supernatural realm is consistently found in non-evangelical Christianity such as those who uphold Church Tradition and in doing such may find some deeply enriched ecumenical relationships.

Secondly, he writes,

Metaphorical meaning isn’t “less real” than literal meaning (however that’s defined). Whether we like it or not, the biblical writers weren’t obsessed with literalism the way we seem to be. Frankly, I’ve come to believe that every seminary and graduate school program in biblical studies ought to require a course on the hermeneutical methods of the biblical writers and first-century Judaism. It would be a wake-up call. Biblical writers regularly employ conceptual metaphor in their writing and thinking. That’s because they were human. Conceptual metaphor refers to the way we use a concrete term or idea to communicate abstract ideas. If we marry ourselves to the concrete (“literal”) meaning of words, we’re going to miss the point the writer was angling for in many cases. If I use the word “Vegas” and all you think of is latitude and longitude, you’re not following my meaning. Biblical words can carry a lot of freight that transcends their concrete sense. Inspiration didn’t immunize language from doing what it does.2

I wish I could require all future students of Scripture to learn that verbatim and repeat it 10 times a day. Heiser is more correct here than people will give him credit for. Indeed, such a proper understanding as he displays here will change the way one readings the Sacred Text — a change that is healthy, necessary, and sometimes difficult.

____

I’ll point this out in my larger review to follow, but with the Logos version, you can ask the author questions.

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  1. Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (ed. David Lambert; First Edition.; Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 16.
  2. Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (ed. David Lambert; First Edition.; Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 387.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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