A friend posted links to a series of articles. He really liked ’em. I’ve not read them, but I doubt I’d be as enthusiastic. I was struck by the invitation. Speaking against ecumenical appeals to a Mere Christianity, it explains:
In the Great Commission, Jesus did not say, “Go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel, making everyone memorize the Four Spiritual Laws, and then keep multiplying converts.” He commanded the church to “make disciples” by proclaiming the gospel, baptizing, and “teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded.” People do not have to know everything that the Bible teaches—or even to understand all of its major doctrines—in order to be received as professing members of Christ’s body. However, when they become Christians, they are enrolled in a school of lifelong discipleship. Not everything in Scripture is equally clear or equally important, but everything is essential for us to know. God did not reveal everything that he might have revealed to us, but whatever he has revealed to us is necessary.
I’m not a fan of the ‘Four Spiritual Laws,’ but they and ‘Strict Calvinistic Confessionalism’ hardly exhaust the possibilities for my commitment. What an odd thing to assume. History extends beyond Modernity, after all.
Anyway, in reading this I was reminded of one of the reasons I no longer subscribe to the tradition that once so enchanted me.
Truth is personal. It is found in a person. Scripture seems to say so. Propositions, no matter how numerous or precise, can never contain or finally express the truth of any person. That’s true of my wife and children. Its true of my God. Propositions about persons are fine as long as this is remembered, but are poor substitutes for a weekend spent with someone.
Of course knowing a woman, and being able to speak truthfully about her are not mutually exclusive. One doesn’t have to choose, but when ‘knowing the truth’ is understood (i.e judged) primarily in terms of comprehending a system of propositions, a substitution has likely been made, and we’re left committing the religious equivalent of cuddling up with a vinyl doll. Its good for some things, but perhaps falls short in others.
A step removed: Scripture is various propositions. And so one can know scripture and yet miss the truth. Paul did so. Scripture’s God ordained purpose is to bring us to the Truth. Jesus said so. As such, it is proper to speak of scripture in toto as the word of God (something scripture never does).
A step further: Theological systems that separate the chaff from the wheat of scripture- expressing ‘what the Bible teaches’ in ways and according to models that scripture never, in fact, actually uses– might be helpful or not, but… they aren’t God’s Word, nor God’s word.
When these constructs go beyond the apostolic tradition or become the practical substitute for what God actually gave us, we aren’t treating what ‘was received’ as adequate. Inadequacy seems to me an odd attribute of god’s word.
In my TR days, I can remember wondering why God let St. Paul write Romans, when he could have entrusted its composition to someone like John Murray- someone who knew what was really needed (and what St. Paul really meant to say). Sixty-six books and not a catechism in the bunch! How’d it happen?!
Theological systems- especially exhaustive ones like The Westminster Standards- are the artifacts of fallible men and women, and as such are at least twice removed from the Word of God. At best they are ‘mined’ from scripture (to borrow Hodge’s image), which was given to bear witness to (to borrow Jesus’ language) The Word.
I’ve come to believe that like other artifacts, we can be proud of these creations. We can make use of them, but equating them with ‘what the Bible teaches’ is… well, less than what humility might require. That’s not good for us.
But more importantly, it hurts those we exclude from fellowship (which is, again, not good for us).
Everyone wants to be part of the inner circle. What a thrill to circle the wagons against the swirling savages, knowing that God is taking a knee beside us, rifle in hand!
But I came to wonder if using our own fabrications as ‘shibbolethic instruments of power’ against other Christians, ought to make us consider whether our crucified Lord is really with us, peering over that wagon wheel; or out yonder whooping like a banshee, headdress flowing in the wind.