Monday, January 21, 2013

Ashamed of the Gospel and Trying to Fix it

One highly esteemed Neo-Orthodox theologian wrote that:

  • Even if biblical critics proved that the person of Jesus is unhistorical…this would not affect the content of God’s revelation, since His truth is revealed even through fallible words spoken or written by human instruments, such as the apostles. “By all means we must ascertain the fallibility of the [Scripture] texts and thereby recognize the miracle, that we always hear the Word of God from this human word.” (Richard Weikart, Christian Research Journal, Vol. 35/Number 6, 41)
The “miracle” is that Scripture can be so factually wrong and yet so right at the same time. Oddly, according to Neo-Orthodoxy, Jesus can be entirely “unhistorical” - the Word of God can be in serious error about historical things – and yet it can be spiritually infallible. The same theologian claimed that:

  • The sentence: Christ is risen and present, strictly understood only as testimony of Scripture, is true only as the word of Scripture [and not as history]. (41)
In light of this, facts are irrelevant to the Christian faith. What then is relevant and why? At best, it’s hard to say. At worst, these words are entirely meaningless.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul insisted that an historically Christ-less faith is a meaningless faith:

  • And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Cor. 15:14-19) 
According to Paul, historical and theology – the facts and the faith – could not be separated. A faith in the clouds could not address needs on the earth. If Christ didn’t historically die and rise, we are bereft of any spiritual benefit.

How then could this brilliant, Christ-preaching theologian have concocted such foolishness? How could he separate the historical Christ from the essence of the Christian faith? And how was it that he had been so popular?

Well, he was a product of his time and reflected what was broadly believed within educated circles. The church had been ravaged by the scholars – the Biblical critics – of that day. The brightest had come to the conclusion that these scholars were correct and that the Bible’s statements of fact couldn’t be trusted. However, they did value the Christian faith and wanted to somehow salvage its central tenants.

How could this be done in light of the Biblical criticism that had taken captive the universities and seminaries? Somehow the Bible’s spiritual core had to be safeguarded from critical scrutiny. A fence had to be erected between the fruits of biblical criticism and the Christian faith.

The Swiss German theologian Karl Barth had perceived the spiritual poverty of Christian liberalism and wanted to find a way to return to basics. Weikart explains:

  • Barth insisted that all Scripture is the Word of God. However, by this he did not mean that Scripture was historically accurate…Barth divided knowledge into two separate realms – religious and empirical [physical], and the Bible is religious truth, not empirical truth…he thought that the historical accuracy of Scripture was irrelevant. (40)
Barth had thought that his reformulation had saved the church by protecting its spiritual message. However, history has passed a different verdict. It has shown that his reformulation has failed to revitalize the church. How could a revelation that could not be trusted in factual matters ever be trusted in spiritual matters? It couldn’t!

However, we are still surrounded by well-meaning Christians who believe that it is their calling to save the Christian faith, at least for the educated, professional and culturally-sensitive.

They feel that a Christianity equated with creationism cannot be sold or salvaged. Instead, it must be reformulated to make it appealing to the educated who believe that macro-evolution is a fact. One campus youth pastor put it this way:

  • I deal with confused Christian students all the time. They are at a loss how to reconcile their fundamentalist faith with what they are learning in the university. I have been able to comfort many of them by showing them how to reconcile the Bible with evolution.
Sadly, comfort is not the same as Christianity or even any form of truth. Often, comfort is no more than a drug, which pays diminishing dividends. In this case, the drug is Barth’s drug – the division of the Bible into statements about the physical world – and these have to be taken tentatively and figuratively – and those all-important statements about the spiritual world. Therefore, if evolution is about the physical world and the Bible is about the spiritual, well then, all of the conflicts have been neatly “resolved.”

However, as with all drugs, this one hides its costs in the fine-print. It does not tell its prey that comfort is a deceptive veneer for an aggressive cancer.

I have little doubt that the campus pastor thinks that he is doing the right thing. He sees confusion and contempt for the Christian faith and thinks that he has the answer. However, despite the diminishing influence of Christianity in the West, Scripture has a different answer:

  • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
Nor should we be ashamed. Interestingly, my unnamed Neo-Orthodox theologian almost entirely ceased reading his Bible once imprisoned. He confesses:
  • "Once again I'm having weeks when I don't read the Bible much."
Such is the fruit of Neo-Orthodoxy!

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