Beliefs are difficult to define at times. Do we mean ‘core doctrines’ or ‘a way of looking at the world’. Theology kind of covers both I guess, and the more honest person has to acknowledge that one’s beliefs are also shaped by experience, personality and our ‘insides’ in the sense of what is really going on inside us at a conscious and sub-conscious level. It was an interesting reflection to go over the ten posts of what I still believe, and also to realise that in these past years there have either been (inevitable?) developments or changes along the way.
Definitions are not always helpful. The term ‘evangelical’ is often qualified by an adjective such as ‘post-‘, ‘progressive-‘ or ‘historic-‘. This illustrates the situation. We can claim to be an evangelical if you mean ‘….’ or deny being one if you mean something else by the term. In 1995 Robert Johnston delivered a very helpful paper to the American Theological Society where he addressed the issue of ‘Orthodoxy and Heresy: a Problem for Modern Evangelicalism’. In that paper he described a shift from a previous approach of ‘bounded-set’ thinking to ‘center-set’ thinking. With the former approach life was easy. Draw a square – all who subscribe to the beliefs inside the square were orthodox, all outside were heretics. ‘Center-set’ described a couple of key questions that were at the centre:
- By what means is a person reconciled to God?
- By what authority to you believe and teach what you believe and teach?
Answer to the first question is ‘Jesus and the cross’, and the second one ‘the Scriptures’. Having answered those two questions in that way does not determine how far one travels in a given direction. The answers could result in ‘only those who are truly born again of the Spirit and are baptised’ are reconciled through to universalism. It could lead to ‘seven day creation in 4004BC’ to ‘evolution’. Hence the paper – how do we determine what is ‘heresy’.
The Bible itself does not always help us. I am so glad that we are not called to blind obedience to a book but to follow a Person. And when we look to the book we have to wrestle with issues of interpretation. It seems the Bible forces us to do this. Jehu is commended for fulfilling the will of God and wiping out Ahab’s evil house at Jezreel (2 Kings 10 ‘You have done well…’ – v.30), yet in Hosea 1:4 Israel is to be punished for the blood shed by Jehu at Jezreel. Did he fulfil the will of God (2 Kings and the prophetic words through Elijah) or were his actions to be judged as per Hosea? Not easy when they are both in the same sacred volume, but I am glad the difficulty is there, it at least helps when wrestling with the genocides of the Old Testament. It has been interesting to read the dialogues between Greg Boyd and Derek Flood. Both take a christocentric approach to Scripture, both refusing to accept that (the OT) God is a God who endorses genocide, but they take different approaches to solving the issue due to how they interpret Scripture. Challenging… and I love the problematic situation that is presented to the inerrantist when faced with someone from Crete in a court of law!
‘Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?’ (I leave out the oath bit there as I like to take some key parts of Scripture very seriously!)
‘I do,’ replies the person from Crete.
‘Objection’, shouts the lawyer who is a fundamentalist Bible believing in a very strong inerrantist kind of way.
‘This person is from Crete, and all those from Crete lie. I have that on the authority of Scripture.’ (I won’t give the reference but check out Titus!!)
‘Ah yes but this is only authoritative and inerrant as originally given. Put them under a lie-detector and then we can call a church council and announce that the Scripture in Titus is not as originally given…’
OK, I stop but I was having a little fun there. My point is we have a book we have to wrestle with and it requires that I be less dogmatic than I would like to be on certain situations.
I am certainly 100% evangelical if Robert Johnston’s two questions are sent my way. So when I push some directions in the next few posts I am not ready to be put out of the fold just yet. I will try and centre in on areas that seem to have become more central to me as far as both understanding the journey thus far and in setting a direction to come.
Oh and for the record I don’t think all Cretans lie!