Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Let’s Disagree To Agree


One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. ~C.S. Lewis 

Upon reading Ken Ham’s “Six Days,” a friend opined, 

I share in Ken Ham's passion to call leaders of the church today back to a historical narrative . . . Ham deals with all the old earth views persuasively. . . . It is SAD how so many Christian leaders today have allowed historical science to persuade them to interpret [the] creation week and the flood in a most abnormal way. . . . Old earth creationist's will not be persuaded by this book . . . they have to understand Genesis 1 in a rather unnatural way of reading it. 

My friend’s jeremiad is exactly the sort of thing Christian Smith speaks of in his book, “The Bible Made Impossible.”  

Smith observes:  

Appealing to the same scriptural texts, Christians remain deeply divided on most issues, often with intense fervor and sometimes hostility toward one another. (p. 25) 

Who honestly disagrees with this?  

Smith continues:  

. . . the Bible as a whole is exponentially more multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent. As a result, church history is replete with multiple credible understandings, interpretations, and conclusions about the Bible’s teachings. (p. 48) 

Thus we have sincere, Bible-believing Christians clashing over important issues such as creation, the atonement, free-will, baptism, spiritual gifts, all things eschatological, salvation, the law, and on and on—and each credible position professes to rightly understand, believe, and submit to the authority of scripture. 

Smith is pointing out what is painfully obvious (but largely ignored in its implications regarding scripture itself): Sincere, Bible-believing Christians—who claim to adhere to the same or very similar hermeneutical methodology—come to vastly different conclusions in many, if not most, areas of theology; all based upon the same text. 

Smith's book is quite challenging. Many disagree with his conclusions but none (to Smith's mind) have successfully dealt with the central thesis of his work: Christians are largely united in believing the Bible but utterly divided in interpreting it. In my estimation, Smith's observations are spot on.

Despite our manifold differences, are we united in Christ? I believe so. Of course, many, many Bible-believing folks beg to differ.

8 comments:

  1. Steve, With all due respect, your post is too vague to be useful and so vague as to be potentially dangerous.

    "...we have sincere, Bible-believing Christians clashing over important issues such as creation, the atonement, free-will, baptism, spiritual gifts, all things eschatological, salvation, the law, and on and on—and each credible position professes to rightly understand, believe, and submit to the authority of scripture...

    "Sincere, Bible-believing Christians—who claim to adhere to the same or very similar hermeneutical methodology—come to vastly different conclusions in many, if not most, areas of theology; all based upon the same text.

    "Christians are largely united in believing the Bible but utterly divided in interpreting it...

    "Despite our manifold differences, are we united in Christ?"

    Uh, no. The "atonement, free will, baptism... salvation, the law" (and by extension, the very gospel), these are not negotiable simply because the one with whom we differ says he knows God.

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    1. You are one of the "Bible-believing folks" who "begs to differ."

      Thanks for reading and thinking, Hugh.

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  2. I believe many Christians are walking on thin ice. For example, the new release 'Noah' has a anti-human and pro-environmental message, not to mention a complete deconstruct of the Book of Genesis. The absence of discernment, erosion of confidence in Scripture and Biblical illiteracy has it's consequences: the growing lust for sheer popular entertainment, among many in the Church, subtly gives rise to humanistic world-view seduction, resulting in the film's endorsement among many Christians."
    What unites us in Christ is our spirit bearing witness to the progressive maturity in another believer (sanctification) and the adherence to the CENTRAL and ESSENTIAL doctrines of the faith- having a spirit of forbearance toward those who may have differing opinions in the non-essentials. For example, Calvinists and Armenians can be in one accord as they recognize that salvation comes by God's grace through faith and the realization that neither the adherence to Calvinistic doctrine or Armenian doctrine is what saves us.

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    1. Yes, I think clearly distinguishing between dogma, doctrine, and opinion would be quite beneficial.

      Thank you for reading and thinking.

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  3. What about the Canon of Scripture itself? The RCC have 7 more books as inspired than the 66 of the Protestant Canon, the Orthodox have the Prayer of Manasseh while the RCC/Protestants do not, and even the Ethiopian Orientals have canonized Enoch whereas all others have not. How does one resolve this when they cannot appeal to Scripture which is already contested?

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    1. I would recommend focusing on those books which are not in dispute, that is, shared by all Christians. And, as we look to those books when dialoguing with other Christians, we should seek to employ a thoroughly Christocentric interpretation.

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  4. The dynamic of disagreement in our oft alarmist & ornery Christian family is primarily due to our incorrect view of time. The Christian walk is established in a journey (time) NOT just a cohesive set of systematic theology grasped in legal knowledge. Each Christian is in the process of discovering Christ - daily and maturing in Him.
    I will often ask an adamantly dogmatic "theologist", "So, WHEN did you become right?" I find such arrogance is a "solid state" where even though they may change position or modify beliefs - the constant is that they remain dogmatically "right". Nowhere was this more displayed to me than through a dogmatic Church of Christ Christian who was filled with railing alarm & judgment against any who dared question any established doctrine of the Church. She was happily married with two kids and a wonderful husband. Fast forward 10 years and she is now an activist lesbian railing in alarm and judgment against any who are conservative Christians. Notice that one thing has NEVER changed - her dogmatic arrogance in always being "right".
    God is coming in judgment against our righteousness. With the measure we wield to judge (including biblically claimed God measures) He will use our own measures against us. Being severely guilty of this very state myself, His visitation interrupted me in one of my many heated judgmental moments and said, "Dean, I am coming with YOUR judgment, not Mine." caused me to stop in cold sweat as an fresh recall of Job’s state crossed my mind.
    I think it clear that His judgment is graceful in perfect mercy, while ours - not. We cannot see that disagreement is a CHANGING dynamic it is NOT a permanent set state; therefore we cannot judge it as permanent – it is left to be weaned out in fellowship - and sparky fellowship frictioned in iron factions (1Cor11)! So let us CHOOSE to DISPENSE GRACE – instead of pretending tha His doctrine of Grace automatically fills us with it! ~ always wet clay on the wheel.
    Soncerely,
    Dean Daniels

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    1. Thank you for reading, thinking, and sharing with us, Dean.

      Blessings to you and yours.

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