Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dangerous Devotions: Reflections on the Bifurcation of Faith and History - Part 3

Okay, so it’s been more than a few days. The gist of what’s under consideration here is the conservative parallel of the liberal division between faith and history. It may be helpful to read (or at least skim) parts 1 and 2 below to get the flow of thought, but I will not rehash the introduction here. The first area of danger I suggested previously was the head/heart division. Many men in leadership I’ve heard and influential authors I’ve read have suggested that it’s the heart we’re ultimately concerned with; even at upper level academic engagement. To be fair, making such a distinction is entirely invalid to begin with and reeks of a false dilemma. However, since it is often portrayed in such terms, it’s worth consideration. Such a bifurcation is remarkably similar to the liberal faith/history divide. Yes, there are differing starting points. Typically the concern for heart over head among the conservatives grows out of a scriptural desire to avoid the Corinthian error of allowing knowledge to puff up (and frequently, in my experience, such verbage is explicit). Regardless of one’s level of theological acumen, as long as you love Jesus, everything’s going to be alright; that’s what really matters anyway.

Sure. At a certain level I’m inclined to agree with this. Yes, love for Jesus is the end game of Christianity. At another level, though, I’m driven to inquire: Jesus who? The Jesus formed in your image or Jesus Christ (which may be better translated as an appositional genitive – Jesus the Messiah). In other words, while love for God is important, knowing Whom it is we love is also important. Nowadays, as Wright has argued, we can’t just assume we all mean the same thing when we use the word God. While the open theists portray a God who cannot know the future, the conservatives are just as guilty at times of construing God as a 35 year old upper middle class caucasian republican male who hates backbeats and despises alchohol.

Alright, enough talk, time to make the rubber meet the road. Here’s a good test: Would the God you serve ever endorse public nudity? Wow. Where did that come from? My point is many might be quick to answer: NO! Of course not! That would foster lust and other forms of sin. But have we answered that from the texts we know, or from the presuppositions of our 21st Century American sense of morality (which should not be confused with Biblical Ethics, though it frequently is). Maybe some astute thinkers a might consider this a trick question: Adam and Eve right? But of course we’re not in the Garden of Eden anymore. Things are dramatically different today (phew, thank goodness for dispensationalism J). Not what I had in mind. Check out Isaiah 20:1-3 when you get the chance, you might be surprised what God might do. Yeah, there’s disagreement about the translation, but only the NIV can bail you out here and I think it’s wrong.

So what’s my point in this ‘extreme’ example? Let’s be careful not to be so carried away by a concern for reading the Scriptures with an eye to obedience that we project back on to them what we are to obey. Perhaps we need to read them to understand before we obey. Let the Scriptures themselves shape and if necessary, purge our presuppositions that we may know the God we pursue (don’t be confused, this is NOT at odds with Baylor’s great post about Grenz). In avoiding the conservative equivalent of dichotomizing faith and history, we may just have to let our head lead our heart. At the very least, and more likely, we need to hold the two in a sort of symbiotic (mutually dependent) tension.

Up Next: The Bifurcation as it Appears in Preaching and Also in Our Consideration of the Apocrypha. i'm going to try and treat these two together in one post.


robertlhall said...

I think you're right on this strain...believe it or not, I would apply it to my recent reading of Phil 3...the question I was asking is, "is the modern christian understanding of what it means to know Christ the same as Paul's understanding of what it means to know Christ?" Here is where the "Jesus who" question you posed needs to be answered. Although I know I will forever be answering this, I think that by and large, most "Christians" have no idea what Paul is talking about, and they live their lives accordingly.

Nate Mihelis said...


G said...

2Pet. 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge...