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 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?


"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