Updated beliefs… maybe

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!


5 thoughts on “Updated beliefs… maybe

  1. Well, perhaps God was happy at first with Jehu, but then changed his mind because he did not keep the law, as is evidenced in the verses after 2 Kings 10. God can, indeed, sharply change his mind if people, well, step on his toes. I think the problem with the OT is the fact that people don’t really follow the whole thread of the story, because of the fact that its books are not, really, arranged in chronological order. As such, it is hard for people to keep track of what exactly is happening as per God’s mood… Israel did, truly, play the harlot with God…

    I believe “Holy war” was correct when truly started by God, not by anyone else’s desire. Of course, one will say that a Muslim will claim the same. But then again, it is clearly known, that muslim-ism merely copies many things that Christianity first had, and claims to be just as good simply because it has the same things.

    The Cretans bit is an expression, a metaphore. It’s like saying that all Scots are drunkards… Some truth to that, but not 100% true… 😀

    1. Thanks ‘someone’ or the comment. Appreciate the perspective and that you took time to write. The challenges of course come to us at many levels and the inter-canonical dialogue is very provocative to follow and slows us down (helpfully) from being too dogmatic. Jehu did mess up, but it is not over the mess up that Hosea bring his perspective. That again highlights the challenge and the temptation to bend scripture to our personal viewpoint.

      On the Cretans I was cheekily tongue in cheek and would not want to suggest that the author wanted us to take it literally… just a little pull of the hard line inerrantist’s leg!!!

  2. Sill with prior posts in mind, hope you don’t mind me writing unformed thoughts-help needed I expect! This week I watched a programme on drilling a core sample 1300 meters under the ocean from the presumed site of the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs- 66 million years ago apparently so not such a young earth?- but then perhaps it depends on how you read the rock. On the same day two other rocks, one blue and one pink were sold for a combined total of £44 million. The first rock (sample) will be stored with other samples for research and the others worn as earings, but with tight security I imagine. I sense there is relevance here, but am fighting to adequately reveal it. It simply strikes me that the human capacity to ascribe value and worth to such varied things is extraordinary- and depending on where you stand either laudable or obscene. Driven in both cases by the search for meaning and identity I guess, but we will all see different things in them. I don’t see scripture as inflexible as a rock, but living and breathing as the person it reveals. In fact God’s word is described as a hammer that breaks the rock- a good intercessory prayer metaphor there if wanting to pray into the spheres represented by the rocks above! Though the context comes with a warning to prophets speaking their own words and not for the benefit of the people. I still believe that prayer does and can open up these spheres (science/fashion) but when the hammer is applied what is revealed? What we already presuppossed or something different? Science and beauty are not the enemy, but the powers perhaps that control our perception and engagement with them. Both spheres carry positions of power so I guess I wonder what it would mean to empty those of power and for what benefit for the people?

    1. “It simply strikes me that the human capacity to ascribe value and worth to such varied things is extraordinary- and depending on where you stand either laudable or obscene”

      Hi Simon, just to say that no-one really considers a diamond to have any intrinsic value any more than a fifty pound note does. Neither would be of help on a desert island. Instead they are seen as a STORE of value. Their value exists as long as this store of value idea is commonly accepted allowing them to be sold in return for items of intrinsic value.

      It would be a very sensible thing to do in fleeing persecution from marauding forces to put a diamond in your shoe.

      Don’t mean to preach out an economics lesson, just thought the above might be an interesting perspective.

      PS, and unrelated, Gold is the oldest word still in use in English (according to Google)


      1. Hi Nigel, You’d have to ask the person wearing the diamond about intrinsic value to them I guess. No worries re the lesson. I understand the concept, but the point remains- If you understand and accept that economic theory in all cases then you will be at the laudable end of the scale I suggested. Those that don’t understand ( and may I suggest some that do) will still be near the obscene end- if you see what I mean! Thinking that some ‘stores’ will never be opened for items of value. It depends on where you stand. And in the context of the post, those at either end will feel able to defend their view from scripture. The rich farmer or fool and the rich young ruler at one end and the parable of the talents at the other. Though perhaps neither are only/even about money. Better be careful who catches you with a diamond in your sure though! 🙂

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