Saturday, July 12, 2008

for thought and discussion...

Here are a few thoughts that I've been mulling around, brought to mind by some recent academic conflicts over the proper way(s) to interpret Scripture:

As the Gospel accounts were turned into written documentation, via the development of the Bible and the establishment of the Creeds, there was (and still is) a great danger that Christianity might be reduced from a response, in faith, to the revelation of God's grace into a systematized pattern of belief which suits one particular interpretation of Scripture or Creeds.

But if God is, in fact, God, and Scripture is God's written revelation about Jesus Christ - who was and is the greatest revelation of God - then we ought to admit at least one thing: The Christian faith will always be bigger (though certainly not smaller) than our systems. It will always reach wider than our ability to grasp or control.

Certainly, structure is important, especially when dealing with a religion that encompasses a full third of the world's population. But structure and control are quite different. One might rightly ask the question, "Then how do we prevent misuse or corruption of the Gospel?" I believe the answer is, ultimately, we don't. God does that. We can (and should) do our best to be faithful with what we've been given, but when another Christian falls outside of the boundaries we consider "orthodox," we need to be very careful to separate our idea of orthodoxy from the faith of that person (assuming they are genuinely seeking God, which is another issue we cannot grasp or control).

Which means we need to cast a wider net for grace. We need to remain as minimalistic as possible with our faith, and give God's grace the freedom to work, rather than assuming a role as guardians of "the Truth." God's Truth is not our possession, it possesses us. And if we believe that, we need to trust that God will take care of all who seek Him, even if we don't agree with their views.

This requires a fundamental shift in our thinking: Rather than being afraid to live/work/worship with those who fall outside our particular confession of faith, we should embrace the opportunity to honestly engage with other believers in any setting -- allowing that even if we are meeting with someone who ultimately is not a Christian, that isn't the point. The point is to trust that God will be revealing Truth as Christians interact with others in the Spirit's power.

That power, it seems to me, is not primarily manifested in writing up documents in order to determine how we will live and interact, it is IN the living and the interacting, in the struggle and the growth that comes from allowing ourselves to have a wide view of God's grace and watching as God draws people from all backgrounds, nations, and walks of life to Himself. Does this paradigm also contain certain dangers? Of course. But in my estimation, the dangers of relinquishing our attempts to control the Truth and living with a wider view of God's grace pale in comparison to the danger of reducing the Gospel to a system we can manage, because that is nothing more than idolatry - the creation of a god in our own image.


craig j said...

admittedly, i have not fully processed or allowed what you have written to sink in, but there are definitely things to consider.

it is scary to think of a reduced faith, and simpler message. the message we embrace is both simple and complex, it is a paradox and with that we will always live in flux. however, the idea of a message that is too easy or too hard, creates problems in obtaining any sort of common ground, any sort of othrodoxy.

if the faith becomes too easy, it runs the risk of being misread, mis-taught and unrecognizable. the same can be said, if it becomes too complex.

the search for the middle road is a challenging one--we desire for the faith to be accessible to all (as it should be), but we need (i think) a set of barriers that corral in the message and maintain its purity. that being said, God is ultimate decider, but who is to act in the midst of his physical absence.

in To Kill A Mockingbird, harper lee wrote, "sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)". ultimately we proceed with caution in our attempts to read it right, to live it right, to do it justice.

Rob said...

Thanks for the great post, Geoff.

I think there should be a book entitled, The Inadequacy of Scripture (How's that for a shocker? Think it would it sell?)

I'm intrigued by passages that deconstruct notions of 'Sola Scriptura.' For instance, in Romans 10 we read:

'For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!'

While Paul quoted 'Scripture' to anchor his point, the import of his message here is that preaching (not Scripture) is essential to the spread of the "Gospel." We know that when Paul wrote his letters, the "Gospels" (as written documents) did not exist. Rather, the 'euaggelion' was primarily (as it should be) an oral communication. Christianity spread much, much more by word-of-mouth than by written word.

Some of the key controversies in the early Church were between groups that more or less agreed on the canon of 'Scripture.' Interpretations are what divided them.

The true 'test' is how we each live out our faith, from moment to moment, through as you say, the struggles and growth involved with - not to sound cliche - "letting go and letting God." I like to believe that this is what Paul was getting at right at the beginning of the same letter: that through the gospel of Christ, "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." I.e., we don't have to have it figured out beforehand!

Infact, premeditation can be a hindrance to the work of the Spirit of Holiness...

"...take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." ~ Matt. 10

But there I go quoting 'Scripture' again! :)

Geoff said...

hehe... Rob, that title would definitely raise some eyebrows!

I think you're right Craig, proceeding with caution is vital, and we do need a set of boundaries, but - to be a bit more provocative - I wonder if there's a way to establish both a set of "orthodox" boundaries and a set of "minimal" boundaries? For example, it seems clear enough that Christ's divinity is at least necessary for any discussion of Christianity (if we want more than just an ethical system). But if one holds that Jesus is God but rejects, say, some of the literal explanations of certain miracles... does that make them no longer worthy of the faith?

On the other hand, what if one is struggling with their faith and unclear on how to tie it all together? Does a modern day "Arian," for example, have nothing to offer Christianity simply because they hold to an unorthodox view of Christ's divinity?

I'm just trying to discern how all of these things fit together... and what doesn't fit. And I'm becoming more and more convinced that much of what we are told "doesn't fit" has less to do with genuine faith and more to do with personal or ideological agendas. I'm trying to figure out where the boundaries are too, I guess.

Rob said...

I like N.T. Wright's approach, which sees the Bible as a narrative, multi-act play that sets the stage for us.

We are constrained by the general characters and trajectories established in our traditions, however we have a lot of room to improvise and "connect" the inherited narrative with the future that we can imagine - through our God-given capacities to dream, create, act, persevere, etc...

Maybe it's safe to say that Christianity is an interactive engagement with the world in which we strive to connect our sense of what's relevant from the past to what we believe is relevant now.

Of course, "what is relevant" on both fronts will vary from Christian to Christian. However, I do believe that in the bigger picture those faithful to the general "narrative" of the tradition will be working together rather than in opposition.

At least I hope so!!!