Monday, March 19, 2007

Bibliolatry 101

In following up with the National Association of Evangelicals increasingly bold stands against environmental degradation, the modern slave trade, and the use of torture, I've been impressed at their depth of commitment to expanding the vision of American evangelical Christianity beyond the let's-talk-about-abortion-and-then-homosexuality-did-I-mention-the-little-babies-and-it's-not-Adam-and-Steve feedback loop that has consumed so much pulpit time over the last several decades.

One of the things that has struck me over the past few years as I've moved out of seminary and more had an opportunity to engage personally and spiritually with evangelical conservatives is the depth of what we share. Despite our differences in theology, I'm far more aware of our underlying commonality, and sympathetic to the witness of Christians on the other side of the theological aisle.

Still, there are differences, and the essential nature of that difference becomes apparent when you look at the statements of faith from evangelical and old-line denominations. Take a look, for instance, at the faith statement of the National Association of Evangelicals. Yeah, follow the link. C'mon. Then, take a look at the Brief Statement of Faith that represents the most recent expression the belief from my little corner of Christianity. It's...well...not quite as brief.

What's the difference? Much is the same, sure. But how do the statements begin? The NAE statement begins...as do most evangelical statements of faith...with an assertion of the belief in the Bible. It is, to use the philosophical term, an essentially epistemological statement, meaning it focuses first on how we know what we know.

In the Presbyterian statement, the primary (meaning first) affirmation is of faith in God. Scripture is there, sure. It informs every single word of the statement. But it's implicit, not front and center. The statement is less about the epistemology of faith and more about the ontology (the actuality or reality) of faith. That ontological assumption reflects the character of the most ancient Christian professions. Neither the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, for instance, has any discernable focus on the authority of scripture.

That, I suppose, is at the heart of my discomfort with being "Bible-based." At what point does that emphasis start becoming so dominant that it no longer articulates the reality of the archetypal primitive church? Or turn Christianity into little more than 21st century Pharisaism?

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"Remember what your mama said about epistemology. If you spend too much time examining your tool, you'll go blind." Rev. Buford T. Cupcake, Jr., p. 35, The Collected Writings, Pneuma Press, 1973

3 comments:

  1. EXACTLY!

    When do we get so caught up in doctrine (not that it is wrong in any way shape or form, it is a necessity)that we forget how to apply it to those coming into the church that don't know Christ...wait...they don't come in anymore!

    Doctrine is the core and an absolute necessity, but what good is doctrine if we sit in our churches and study it and let anyone on the outside die?

    If we were to speak the language of doctrine and people needed to understand this language to get to safety and the outside wold spoke application...screaming doctrine at them won't help, saying it slowly won't help...translating and teaching doctrine in their language (without compromising the message) is the way.

    BTW I saw your ninja challenge to the "Blasphemy Challenge"
    First off...classic!
    Secondly...let me know if you ever want any help.

    Have a great day...and I mean that in a non-cliche sort of way!

    Simpleman

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  2. Forgive me for objecting. I do not see that the evangelical movement puts too much emphasis on the scriptures or in any way overemphasize the importance of the bible (granted, they possibly missunderstand the purpose of the bible, and/or do not actually understand what the bible teaches).

    "for the word of God is alive and powerful... and is a critic of the thoughts and intents of the heart" Heb 4:12

    "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God might be mature, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" 2 Tim. 3:16-17

    Granted this is talking about "logos" and not "rema", but these passages do underline the importance of scripiture.

    also, if the emphasis on scriptural importance is removed, then you have made room for gnosticism, the whole charismatic movement and self revelation.

    Truth is truth whether it is in the bible or not, the bible just happens to be a compilation of truth in a palatable form. The problem with evangelical tradition is giving the the bible as a book its value, as opposed to the "logos" or fundamental truths or doctrines found within the bible being emphasised.

    As to the importance of Doctrine, we cannot at all live successfully without it. Doctrine is increadibly important in the walk of a believer. How many christians still believe you have to feel "bad" for sin in order for it to be forgiven? unbiblical. The reason why many christians crawl through life in utter pain and misery is their failure to understand/know/utilize doctrine.

    As to pharasaism coming out of being bible based, that is technically impossible. the bible avidly speaks against legalism (granted, in the new testament rather than the old). the reason why pharasaism is so prevelant in modern day churches is because many christians do not understand the doctrine of grace, the doctrine of sin nature (out of which legalism comes)or what the bible is actually saying, for that matter.

    Jesus Christ is the truth, and doctrine reflects truth.

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  3. possibility: Here we must differ, although not so deeply as you might think. Logos, as I think we'd agree, refers not to the texts of the canon but to Christ himself. If we confuse the two, we err most greivously. The canon is not necessary for the existence of the Beloved Community...were that not the case, the primitive church would be deeply paradoxical.

    Being Calvinist meself, I realize this is troubling. But since when does real faith not challenge us?

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