Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Emotional Intelligence and Sola Scriptura”

Excerpts from “Experimental Theology”

Richard BeckRichard Beck is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. On his popular blog Experimental Theology Richard will spend enormous amounts of time writing about the theology of Johnny Cash, the demonology of Scooby-Doo or his latest bible class on monsters. The following is excerpted from Beck’s blog. We urge you to read the whole article here.

I was reading a comment thread the other day, a discussion about hell, and multiple people in the thread were saying things like this: “I’m not basing my views on emotion or sentiment. I’ve reached my conclusion because it is the one based firmly on Scripture.” I’m sure you’ve heard claims like that before. I’ve heard them many, many times….

I once quipped at a conference that a fundamentalist is a person who thinks he doesn’t have a hermeneutic1….

We all have a hermeneutic. We are all interpreting the text to some degree. We are all privileging—deferring to—certain values, doctrines, creedal commitments, traditions, or biblical texts. Something somewhere is trumping something else. In a document as multivocal as the Old and New Testament this is unavoidable…. The only question is whether you are consciously vs. unconsciously using a hermeneutic.

Fundamentalists are interpreting the text unconsciously. Fundamentalists are interpreting the text right and left, they are just unaware that they are doing so…. Basically, fundamentalism—denying that you are engaged in hermeneutics—betrays a shocking lack of self-awareness, an inability to notice the way your mind and emotions are working in the background and beneath the surface….

Meditation room
Self-aware people know that they are trying to read the bible in an unbiased fashion. Self-aware people work hard to let the bible speak clearly and it its own voice. But self-aware people know they have blind spots. They know that there is unconscious baggage affecting how they are reading the bible, baggage that they know must be biasing their readings and conclusions….

What I am saying is that when we approach the issue of sola scriptura2 —using “the bible alone” —there is more to this than pointing out the ubiquity and necessity of hermeneutics. There is also the issue of emotional intelligence, the degree to which you are reading the bible with a degree of self-awareness.

Many fundamentalists seem to struggle with emotional intelligence.3 Which might also explain why fundamentalists also struggle with things like empathy and emotional regulation (e.g., anger).

Perhaps this—a lack of emotional intelligence—is the root problem with fundamentalism, both biblically and socially.


1Hermaneutics, “The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.”

2Sola scriptura, “Sola Scriptura is the teaching that the Scriptures contain all that is necessary for salvation and proper living before God. Sola Scriptura means that the Scriptures—the Old and New Testaments (excluding the Catholic apocrypha)—are the final authority in all that they address (1 Cor. 4:6) and that tradition, even so-called Sacred Tradition, is judged by Scriptures.”

3Emotional intelligence, “Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others claim it is an inborn characteristic.”


Sitting Meditation, by Mike Shell

While visiting in Melbourne Beach, FL (10/14/2012). It seems an apt metaphor for the deepest truth of meditation: the one sitting becomes simply a shadow within the larger Reality seen by the Watcher.


A Friend suggested the following experiment in self-examination: What if we did a cut and paste of this blog and replaced “fundamentalist” with “Quaker” and replace “scripture” with “tradition,” and then edited it slightly to provide a discussion platform in the Quaker context? The issue of hermeneutics, recognized and unrecognized, is a universal challenge. Look at the struggle that Islam is enduring. It is the same for Quakers.
The 1996 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church affirms that: Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason. I think Quakers should do likewise.
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