Having just finished How Wide the Divide by Blomberg and Robinson (see my review at http://www.vineyardboisebookcellar.wordpress.com) I’m left pondering theological frameworks and the assumptions they are built upon.
Witnessing these two scholarly types who also happen to be friends dialoguing with each other “across the divide” over key issues of how we view Scripture, how we view God, how we view Christ and the Trinity, and of just what it is “we must do to be saved,” I realized a few things and am left with a key question or two.
I realized that we all do in fact have theological frameworks and constructs that have been handed to us – and how very threatening it can be to have ground we had assumed was solid questioned – or even worse, to have it move and shift beneath us. Evangelicals typically have a theological framework constructed with considerable dependence upon theological language forged in those early church councils and further crafted and refined through the works of great theologians of the Reformation (take your pick). We cry sola scriptura, but in reality it’s “only scripture” as seen through our own accumulated and venerated creeds and commentaries. How can it be otherwise? We can no sooner escape the impact of our heritage than we can the fact of who fathered us. Is not attempting a theological pole vault over our own history back to a more pristine time merely an elaborate (though noble sounding) form of denial? This doesn’t mean we have to keep doing what our parents did (call me a perpetual optimist); I can grow in new directions. But to lose sight of where I’ve come from and how it impacts me rather than launching me out into new frontiers would only seem to further deepen the circular ruts of the past.
Mormonism, along with it’s “restoration movement” cousins (some more distant than others), for the past 150 years, it would seem, has been attempting to perform just such a pole fault. The creeds and commentaries and councils are all viewed as departures (the harsher word would be “apostasies”) into hellenized philosophy and thought. They reject these ancient definitions of the nature of God and the Trinity as forgeries foisted upon a sleeping church. They see themselves as being a collective “wake-up” call to the church worldwide – and setting aside the ancient creeds of “orthodox” Christendom present their own even more ancient claimed revelations representing their own tradition that reestablishes the true “ancient order.”
What strikes me is that everyone, it would seem, of whatever church or movement is holding on to the Bible and something else…whether it’s Calvin’s Institutes or Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, or Smith’s Doctrines and Covenants. And perhaps that’s simply inevitable. Perhaps those in greatest denial are those who insist that they are truly just sola scriptura – for it’s the unwritten creeds that in my experience are the most divisive and lethal. Looking back at the Bible itself, beyond the outward appearance of being a single, uniform book I can easily hold (and manipulate) in one hand, I see a great diversity of expression and perspectives often surfacing conflict and tensions between viewpoints in books side by side – or sometimes even on the same page. And yet the ultimate Author/Editor saw no need to harmonize and reconcile the differences. He seemed quite content to allow such differences to lay side by side so each may be weighed in turn and true Wisdom be found.
We however seem compelled to harmonize and homogenize and make uniform, making all the rough ways smooth, leveling all the mountains and filling in the all the valleys, making everything (and everyone) quite flat indeed. Alas, I fear it’s not the Lord’s coming that such a course prepares.
Witnessing the dialogue in How Wide the Divide I realize that the desired and most effective context for healthy debate is friendship, not hostility; ground saturated in mutual love for one another as well as for the Truth. On such noble Berean ground debate ceases to be power play; it ceases to be a means of silencing a foe and winning, and becomes instead a path to experiencing the shalom of mutually sought and shared understanding of one another.
Wading through the intricate discussions of incarnation and divine nature, of functional subordination and ontological equality, of monogenes and homoousia and homoiousia, I was struck by Martin Luther’s comment: “Since the article of the Holy Trinity is so far beyond our human mind and language, God must pardon us if we stammer and prattle (haver!) about it as well as we can, provided only that our faith is pure and right” (quoted by John T, Mueller in Christian Dogmatics, p. 155).
Martin was most definitely on to something there.
For my part, my eyes beginning to glaze over under the barrage of theological rocket science concerning differences over how to explain the Trinity and the nature of God and just how significant this is for how (or if) we relate to one another, I suddenly saw Jesus sitting in that circle of religious misfits and rejects and ignoramuses from his day as his mother and brothers knocked at the door. Jesus, of course, turns and with a wave of his hand towards the misfits asks, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and here are my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother.”
Could it really be that simple? Or that hard?