Monday, March 17, 2008

Scholarship makes church impossible

"Even though it deeply damages the missionary credibility of the church, all the important themes of faith and of Christian ethics are watered down until two mutually opposed things are held to be true at once. Jesus was the preexistent son of God, was born of the virgin Mary and claimed to be the Messiah, and yet he certainly was not. He went to the cross on a mission from God for the sins of the many, and yet his own understanding of his death remains historically in the dark. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and was exalted to the right hand of God, and yet the entire Easter tradition is only a projection of Christian faith. Christ is the Lord, Savior and Judge, whose message and ministry are necessary for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, and yet there are considerable concessions to me bade today regarding the sole claims of Christ, while the contemporary missionary witness to Christ among Jews and Gentiles must be conceived entirely differently from how it was in NT times. Christ is coming to judge the living and the dead, and yet he will no longer come after two thousand years of church history, and Christianity can do without the whole notion of a final judgment. Jesus and the apostles called the church to sanctification, and their commands are to be obeyed, and yet the ethical standards laid down in the NT are hardly specifically Christian and are so antiquated that today's church must learn to exercise tolerance toward all possible lifestyles and behaviors of Christians and non-Christians alike. Finally...the Holy Scripture is the only rule and guiding principle for faith, doctrine and the life of the church, and yet it is about time to free ourselves from this outmoded and authoritarian Scripture principle." (P. Stuhlmacher, "My Experience with Biblical Theology" in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect. ed. S. J. Hafemann [InterVarsity Press, 2002], 190-191.)

I remember J. P Moreland writing that Christians should not be expected to leave their brains at the door. Well, this kind of contradictory juggling act that students are expected to carry out in varying degrees makes going to church an impossibility--no matter where one decides to leave their brains! The more one accepts the philosophical judgments that tend to accompany critical scholarship the more impossible church appears to become. Critical scholarship prompts one to reconsider the philosophical baggage that usually goes with inerrancy and has the potential to alter one's sense of church in an uncannily profound way.