A. Nature of Bible (Nature of Truth), and Relationship to Human Thought
Fundamental religious thinkers of previous time give impression that they distrust scholarship, including the scientific disciplines; some tend toward an anti-intellectualism, even desiring obscurantism. However, is not all truth God's truth? Are not our minds God-given, indeed a vital part of the divine image we bear? How shall we understand human reason? Is God insulted when we refuse to think? Do we not honor God most fully when we "think God's thoughts after him" as Johann Kepler stated it?
Ultimately question is one of relationship of reason to Scripture. Does Scripture stand over reason or reason over Scripture? Only if Scripture stands supreme above human thought, human device, even the church, is the possibility of objective truth affirmed. There is a truth which is objectively true whether you and I accept it, affirm it, can see it.
- B. Biblical Inspiration
Some religious dictionaries say that fundamentalists believe "every word of the Bible is literally true." At least two things must be considered under the matter of biblical inspiration-- literalism and process.
How do we accept the Bible as true while properly distinguishing literal and figurative language? Certainly some are tempted to the ditch of over-literalism. Others are tempted to the ditch of cultural and human reinterpretation and application so that virtually all becomes figurative. We must learn as church that all the Bible affirms is true, and that even what is affirmed figuratively or poetically (rather than literally) is still true and must be interpreted as such. Does anyone believe God has feathers (Ps. 91:4)?
The process of inspiration is also important here. Fundamentalists have tended to regard inspiration as a somewhat mechanical process in which human authors are basically passive with no active role. That inspiration is verbal and plenary has been difficult for some to reconcile with any other view. Did God dictate the Bible in a way similar to the Muslim view of the Koran (dictated by Allah in Arabic through the angel Gabriel, with Muhammad's only contribution to take down the dictation)? This concludes with an Koran believed to be an exact reproduction of the heavenly original.
How shall we explain the dual authorship of Scripture, the words of God in the words of humans? How shall we describe the involvement of human authors/redactors, especially when their own vocabulary and personal writing styles are in view? Certainly we must see that the divine author spoke through human authors in full possession of their faculties.
Further, what must be affirmed regarding the accuracy of our current versions to avoid compromising the authority of Scripture? In what way is the Scripture authoritative?
- C. Biblical Interpretation
The temptation of our heritage has generally been to suppose that we can apply the biblical text directly to ourselves as if it had been written primarily for us. Such easily ignores the cultural chasm between the biblical world and the contemporary world. How does one reconcile the "what it meant" with "what it means." How does one author the intent, purpose, and message of the original author with appropriate applications in our own world? We must struggle with the task of cultural transposition, identifying the essential message of the text, detaching it from its original cultural context to allow recontextualization in our own present situation.
2. CHURCH ISSUES
These are things we must address as a group.
- A. The Nature of the Church.
Easy to hold a separatist ecclesiology and withdraw from any community or people or person individually who does not agree in every particular with our own doctrinal position. Is it possible to seek the doctrinal (and ethical!) purity of the church while questioning whether such perfect purity can be attained in this world? If such purity is not possible, what shall be my attitude to someone who acts incorrectly, or to someone who thinks incorrectly (according to my understanding)? This balance between discipline and tolerance is not easy to find. How shall I understand other firmly biblical Christians?
- B. Unity of the Church (ecumenical and cooperation movements)
Historically, we have generally issued a blanket, uncritical, even vociferous rejection of ecumenicalism. Is such merely "agreeing to disagree"? How can we, if at all, be discerning, affirming the biblical foundations of genuine ecumenism? After all, we must recall that one of the foundational pillars of our American Restoration Movement was unity. Can we make such an affirmation of the good in an effort while continuing to claim the freedom to reject what is not within the scope of biblical authority? Such has been most difficult in our heritage, at least in the last ½ of the 20thcentury. One can only hope that we will creatively rethink what the faith requires in this specific area as we forge a future.
And while they are two separate issues, to raise ecumenical questions also raises questions of cooperation. How shall we be involved in moral and ethical issues such as abortion, pornography, etc. What of involvement in loose alliances of ministers who at least bring dialogue to possibility?
- C. Relationship of Church to World
Tremendous difficulty in thinking properly about this world. It seems at times that those groups which have tended toward the greatest fundamentalism have at times most easily assimilated the world's values and standards uncritically while at other times standing aloof, fearing contamination. How does one determine which is the appropriate response at which time? At least in theory we seek to heed the biblical injunction not to confirm to this world, yet at the same time we are anxious to respond to the call of Jesus to penetrate the world like salt and light in order to hinder or even stop its decay and illumine its darkness.
- D. Nature of Christian Experience (worship, gender roles, ethic and racial issues, value of human beings)
In the practice of the church, we must somehow determine ways in which we can worship together, support one another, encourage one another, and be the redemptive and redeemed body of believers that is described in the New Testament. This encompasses and means we must somehow address the nature of NT worship. For the moment casting aside the matter of the use or non-use of instrumental music (a recent innovation on the church scene), we must ask about the use of dialogue, drama, sensory presentation, visual representations which distinguish idolatry and icons. Such are not easy issues and there is so much potential for differing viewpoints, that we must somehow ask how the genuine people of God might be expected to solve such issues. What does all of this mean in our present culture for gender, race, and related issues?
- Nature of the Christian Mission
As we tend toward the right end of the theological spectrum, toward conservativism or fundamentalism, the tendency is to understand the Christian missions almost exclusively in terms of evangelism or missions. The mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel. Such disdains the "social gospel." Yet a problem is obvious on some fronts as one thing is affirmed and another practiced.
Is it possible, we must ask, to continue to affirm the priority of evangelism while at the same time feeling the burden of the social ills of the world and refusing to distance ourselves from our social responsibilities? If Jesus came mighty in word and works, proclaiming and demonstrating, preaching teaching and healing, do not good news and good works supplement and reinforce one another? To separate them is as Carl Henry has described it "an embarrassing divorce."
- Nature of Christian Hope--Eschatology
What is the Christian hope? Conservatives have tended to dogmatize the future, although such hold no monopoly on dogmatism. Many would give considerable detail about the fulfillment of prophecy, timetables, understand history through rigid dispensations, and espouse a Christian Zionism in support of the modern state of Israel that does injustice to Palestinians politically and does an equal injustice to Jews religiously.
Is it possible to affirm with eager expectation the personal, visible, glorious and triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ while simultaneously affirming our own ignorance about some of the details on which even firmly biblical Christians have differing viewpoints?
3. Biblical Application that Inform the Christian Lifestyle
- A. What is human nature?
- B. How can I change my self to be most like Jesus?
This must address such matters as one's personal worship and devotional life, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and a host of other issues of discipleship, lifestyle purity, etc.
- C. Nature of fellowship, sharing with other Christians.
While this may belong under "church" above, each of us individually must address how we are involved in the lives of others, how we become the presence of Jesus for others, how we are his hands and feet.
Such is indeed a challenge to the church. If not based solely in knowledge, what is the key? The answer: thought, what you think, not only what you know (although we must know correctly). How you think--what you think about--priorities, will, decisions, the church must rethink and restudy entire thought process and nature of mind (NT = heart?).
*Suggested and developed in part from notes from John Stott.
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Last updated February 10, 2001.