Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SILENCING THE MARTYRS

“Lord, open the King of England’s eyes” was the last sermon preached by William Tyndale. The motivation for this particular blog can attributed to two sources: my wife Laura, who is reading through Fox’s Book of Martyrs and my dissertation research which is in the field of hermeneutics. One might ask what one has to do with the other. By the end of this blog it is my hope that you will experience an epiphany of sorts. I hope that some things, which may be acknowledged in your daily observations of church life but not quite digested, will become somewhat less foggy as a result of what you read here.

William Tyndale was a reformation ‘giant’ among giant reformers. He was an English reformer as well as a bible translator. Tyndale graduated from Oxford in 1515, having studied the Scriptures in Greek and Hebrew. It was his lifelong goal to translate the Scripture into English. In a refutation with a clergyman who believed that only clergymen can rightly understand the Scriptures, Tyndale said, “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” It is remarkably obvious to even the most casual reader of church history that churchmen like Tyndale had a burning passion for their cause. They believed in their mission with every fiber of their being. Tyndale fled to Germany where he successfully translated and smuggled fifteen thousand copies of his English translations from Germany into England between the years 1525 and 1530. In May of 1535, Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned near Brussels. On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was strangled to death and burned at the stake. His final words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

For what did William Tyndale die? Was his death necessary? Did Tyndale’s death actually mean anything? Or was it a tragic waste of human life? Did Tyndale die for a cause in a state of extreme ignorance and naivety? Jacques Derrida, the most prominent scholar of the new “literary philosophers” believes that “the mind may be a ‘mirror of nature,’ but what it reflects is ultimately not nature but its own capacities.” Nietzsche held that, in the absence of a Creator, it was up to human being to impose meaning and order on the world.” Since all views of the world, according to these philosophers, involve self-projections, reality in any objective sense does not exist and if it does, these projections preclude any possibility of knowing it. There is no “other” because the “other” is always part and parcel the result of our own projection. Hence, metaphysics dies a slow agonizing death under the rubric of agnosticism. What does this mean for truth? What are the implications for Scripture? Moreover, what does this mean to the martyrs of years gone by who defended and died for truth, most especially, that truth divinely revealed to us in Scripture? According Rob Bell’s (leading pastor in the emergent church) wife, Kristin, agnosticism is a virtue to be embraced when it comes to understanding and knowing the biblical text: “Now I have no idea what most of it [the Bible] means. And yet I feel like life is big again – like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.” [DeYoung & Kluck: Why Were Not Emergent, pg. 70]

Imagine that! William Tyndale is strangled to death and burned at the stake so that non-clergy may have access to the content and teachings of sacred Scripture only to have Kristin Bell say, no thank you. We are better off without it! If you give us this bible and force us to understand it, we will be in bondage to a black and white, right and wrong world. That is a nice gesture, Rev. Tyndale, but we much more prefer our liberating agnosticism which gives our world a variety of color.

If it is true that the Author, along with God, has died, and meaning is whatever the reader wants it to be, then William Tyndale and a host of other martyrs died in vain. If it is true that truth is unobtainable and that deriving meaning from the biblical text is beyond our grasp, then the very notion of translating the biblical text into any language becomes a fruitless waste of time. Certainly such a project would not be worth dying for. Tyndale said, “I perceived how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.” Apparently for Tyndale, establishing people in the truth of Scripture was a burning passion. Hence, this cause was so great for him that he lived and died for it.



The best way of silencing martyrs of years past and of eliminating the possibility of martyrdom in the future is to remove any cause worthy of “death” from the picture. That is to say, make everything negotiable or flexible. Take away truth and you take away the rock upon which martyrs die. Deconstructionism, also known as postmodernism does this very thing. It has slowly crept into the evangelical church over the last decade or two. It has pounded its fist on the table arguing that relationships are all that matter, and that doctrine is not only “not important” but that it gets in the way of the very thing that is: relationships. It severs relationships, splits entire denominations, and has led to the useless death of many good Christians. This ideology has turned up the heat as of late in the form of the emergent church which seems to ravel in ignorance of the biblical text. Moreover, many in the emergent camp vilify and denigrate anyone or anything that implies there is a fixed meaning in the biblical text that is actually discoverable. That is to say that the emergent idea mocks the very notion that one can obtain a working knowledge and understanding of biblical truth because truth, in the first place does not actually exist, and in the second place, even if it did, the best anyone can do is project their own ideas of truth onto the text as they see fit.

Where does this leave men like William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other great truth reformers. The reformation was in fact, a hermeneutical revolution. The governing principle of the entire movement was Sola Scriptura! To these men, Scripture alone was the container and discloser of truth and that to disclose truth really mattered. It mattered to the biblical authors, it matter to Christ, it matter to the reformers, and it matters today. Without intending to do so, perhaps, the postmodern Christian (so-called), with one single sentence has brought to nothing the life and blood of thousands and millions of Christians the world over. Such a contention should be met with equal force, I submit, by those who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and who have taken up the cause of biblical truth and hermeneutics in an age when the crisis of truth in hermeneutics threatens to collapse society as we know it. “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God..” (Rev. 20:4)

2 comments:

  1. Hebrew was not taught in Oxford University when Tyndale was there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I missed this comment. I did not mean assert or even imply that Tyndale learned Hebrew at Oxford. Perhaps a period would have been better than a comma in this case. It is quite possible that Tyndale studied Hebrew is Worms if not probable.

    ReplyDelete

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