Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The marginality of the Virgin Birth (12): Summary and conclusion

I want to bring this sequence to a close by spelling out the main planks of my argument. The spark for the series was Neil's comment that I should resign my orders.

These are the main points that I would want to make:
1. The accounts of the VB are marginal in Scriptural terms.
2. The VB is marginal in doctrinal terms.
3. The nature of what is believed in accepting the VB has changed since the accounts were written, and that applies to both those who retain an acceptance of the Scriptural accounts in a literal sense, and those who reject it.
4. What the doctrine actually achieves in practice today is to undermine more important doctrines like the incarnation, and hence salvation. That is, the doctrine serves to prevent people coming to Christ, and the insistence upon a literal belief in it (in order to be saved) is a contemporary equivalent of tithing mint and dill and cumin.

I would want to emphasise that my rejection of the VB is not because I reject all miracles as impossible (I don't), nor does it mean that I reject the resurrection (I accept it), nor does it mean I reject Scripture as a whole (I see it as God-breathed).

Several other things have become clearer to me in the course of writing this sequence:
- I really don't take the birth narratives as literally true! I have avoided looking at the area too closely for quite some time, but I can't avoid the conclusion;
- I remain persuadable that I'm wrong, but the persuasion needs to deal with my own objections, not generic ones (like Wright's chapter does);
- my root problem is that I see no way to render an acceptance of the literal truth of the birth accounts compatible with an acceptance of the humanity of Christ (I think this was possible before) - and therefore, if the VB has to be believed in a literal sense, then I don't belong where I am. Fortunately such a commitment is not required of Anglican clergy (what is required - and what I wholeheartedly affirm - is here);
- the contrast is between what is given more authority: Scripture or doctrine? I see the doctrinal effect (which I see as seriously negative) as carrying more weight than the negative consequences of abandoning a literal interpretation, not least because I don't see it as either intellectually or theologically coherent to affirm something like inerrancy. However, it's perfectly possible to judge these things differently without being an inerrantist. Wright, for example, a) gives more importance to the literal account, and b) sees no difficulty in reconciling the account with doctrinal truth. In this he is completely in tune with orthodox tradition, and I am not - which means I'm probably wrong;
- I am more convinced than before of what I originally wrote here: "My problem remains how to reconcile Jesus' humanity with his special creation; or, put differently, I don't see why God's creative activity _has_to_ conflict with the normal processes of reproduction. Incarnation isn't dependent on it; indeed, I suspect that the story was developed in order to support the doctrine of the incarnation and now works to accomplish the precise opposite. Either way it's an extremely marginal belief and not essential to faith."

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