Saturday, February 10, 2007

Maybe I'm a Postmodern After All

I've found that it's very difficult for me to grant credibility to folks who profess biblical ideals such as, say, the sufficiency of Scripture, when those same folks elevate other things, say, tradition and constituency, above those ideals. I believe we would all do well to heed this advice from the final chapter of David Wells' Above All Earthly Pow'rs:
The postmodern reaction against Enlightenment dogma will not be met successfully simply by Christian proclamation. Of that we can be sure. That proclamation must arise within a context of authenticity. It is only as the evangelical Church begins to put its own house in order, its members begin to disentangle themselves from all of those cultural habits which militate against a believe in truth, and begin to embody that truth in the way that the Church actually lives, that postmodern skepticism might begin to be overcome. Postmoderns want to see as well as hear, to find authenticity in relationship as the precursor to hearing what is said. This is a valid and biblical demand. Faith, after all, is dead without works, and few sins are dealt with as harshly by Jesus as hypocrisy. What postmoderns want to see, and are entitled to see, is believing and being, talking and doing, all joined together in a seamless whole. This is the great challenge of the moment for the evangelical Church. Can it rise to this occasion? (p. 315)

13 comments:

Dave said...

I find it hard to take anyone's claim regarding the sufficiency of Scripture seriously when they resort to psychological code words like authenticity. :) (You can add transparency too).

I also wonder about one's commitment to the Scripture's sufficiency when one shifts the base of our apologetic away from the Scriptures themselves to the authenticity of God's people.

While I'm at it, doesn't the "tradition and constituency" accusation get tossed around a little too easily? It is possible that some folks hold to their traditions precisely because they think they are biblical, and one's consituency might just represent a community of belief. I clearly will grant, and have had my own fights over, the fact that some are governed by extra-biblical views and play politics, but I am not sure I have ever found this a helpful accusation. In fact, it seems to stifle genuine debate, not promote it (or even come close to winning it).

Some random thoughts on a snowy Monday morning.

Ben said...

Dave,

I had a feeling that might conjure your presence. I had some of the same initial thoughts on the apologetics end, but Matthew 5:13-16 and John 13:35 immediately come to mind as texts that validate the role of good deeds in a credible apologetic.

Perhaps tradition and constituency do get tossed around too easily. It's difficult not to be thinking about them as influences, however, when situations keep coming down the pike in which they are clearly factors. I don't envy those who are encumbered by them and must weigh prudence in engaging them. I appreciate your perspective on how such suggestions are unhelpful. I think my purpose is different from yours, though, in that your audience is different from the readers here. I'm trying to speak to peers to encourage them and myself to live what webelieve--to be enslaved only to obedience to the Word.

Dave said...

Ben,

But my point is that I don't know anyone who denies being "enslaved only to obedience to the Word." Either the people about which you complain are terrible deceivers or terribly deceived.

Who out there says, "I want my tradition, not the Word"? Who says, "We don't care what the Bible teachers, we want to please/keep/expand our constituency?"

And, to turn it another way, who can't be accused of doing or saying what they do and say because they are blinded by their tradition or pandering to their constituency? There's hardly anyone I disagree with that I couldn't say that about regardng some issue or another.

It just seems that it is too easy, and people are too quick, to make this accusation. Now, I am prepared to accept it if someone wants to claim that we are all mixed bags of loyalties and because of depravity often seem unable to see our own inconsistencies. But to question someone's commitment to sola scriptura because of these inconsistencies seems to take it to another level.

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe rather than showing that you are post-modern, it shows that you are an old-time fundamentalist after all! :)

Ben said...

Dave wrote:
"In fact, now that I think about it, maybe rather than showing that you are post-modern, it shows that you are an old-time fundamentalist after all! :)"

Surely you mean that as a compliment, right?

Coach C said...

When Paul made an allowance for the "weaker brother", was he bowing to "tradition and constituency" or was he standing solely on the sufficiency of Scripture?

Keith said...

Ben,

Good calls on Matthew 5 and John 13. As further evidence that Scripture itself teaches that the authentic unity of God's people is a legitimate base for apologetic, I'd offer these words of Christ from John 17:21:

"That they may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

Here's Francis Schaeffer on the matter:

"In John 13 the point was that if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. [In John 17] Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound; we cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus' claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians."

To make crystal clear that he was not improperly using psychology or minimizing the sufficiency of Scripture, Schaeffer adds:

"Jesus is not saying that Christians should judge each other (as to their being Christian or not) on this basis. Please notice this with tremendous care. the church is to judge whether a man is Christian on the basis of his doctrine, the propositional content of his faith, and then his credible profession of faith . . . but we cannot expect the world to judge that way, because the world cares nothing about doctrine. That is especially true . . . when men no longer believe even in the possibility of absolute truth . . . but Jesus did give the mark that will arrest the attention of the world, even the attention of the modern man . . . Because every man is made in the image of God and has therefore aspirations for love, there is something . . . which cannot fail to arrest his attention. What is it? The love that true Christians show for each other and not just for their own party." (all quotes from _The Mark of the Christian_)

Keith

Keith said...

That said, In principle, I've got to agree with this comment from Dave:

"Now, I am prepared to accept it if someone wants to claim that we are all mixed bags of loyalties and because of depravity often seem unable to see our own inconsistencies. But to question someone's commitment to sola scriptura because of these inconsistencies seems to take it to another level."

Keith said...

And finally (before I quit hogging your blog), I can't pass up the opportunity to try one more time to explain my position on the importance of culture. Regardless of what others who discuss "culture" mean, I mean just what Wells is talking about when he says:

"Faith, after all, is dead without works, and few sins are dealt with as harshly by Jesus as hypocrisy. What postmoderns want to see, and are entitled to see, is believing and being, talking and doing, all joined together in a seamless whole."

From what I've seen, I have little to no use for movement postmodernism. It strikes me as a marketing fad and a way for nerds to be cool for Jesus. However, if what Wells is talking about is postmodernism, then sign me up.

Ben said...

Coach C,

Paul was writing Scripture, so I think that's a tough question to parse. And no, I don't think he was bowing to tradition or constituency.

Bruce McKanna said...

Perhaps we could get more fightin' fundamentalists on the bandwagon by labeling the concerns discussed in this thread as "anti-modern" rather than "postmodern."

You know, it might actually be more accurate to put it that way, since our desire, as I believe Wells would agree, is that we bring about a proper, biblical balance to the Christian life, not simply to swing the pendulum away from doctrine toward deeds in a way that ignores scriptural truth claims.

What shall we say then? "Anti-modern" sounds cranky, "postmodern" sounds smug, so perhaps we should just say that we are pursuing faithfulness.

Whether we are slow or quick to pick sides in our current "conversation" on these issues, I believe we must always be in a place that allows us to critique our own camp as well as listen to the other side for what they may have to offer.

Coach C said...

I am just as concerned as you that some (meaning me) hold on to traditions and contituencies too long and maybe we shouldn't hold on to them at all.
However the question remains, why did Paul counsel some to avoid meat offered to idols even though he personally could find nothing wrong with the practice?
"Paul was under inspiration so he could say anything he wanted" doesn't count as an answer.

Ben said...

Coach C,

Surely it's because Paul saw how such practices could have been confusing to less mature believers in the Roman church, right? Maybe I'm just missing something, but I don't see how that connects with the point I'm making.

Let me choose a real broad, antiseptic example that happens everywhere--fundamentalist colleges and universities, SBC seminaries--you name it. These institutions teach a specific approach to expositional preaching. These same institutions invite preachers into their chapel pulpits who don't preach in the prescribed classroom method, or occasionally preach Scripture in any recognizable form. (Need I raise examples from our common experience?) Those choices are motivated by tradition, relationships, and constituency--certainly not fidelity to Scripture.

And frankly, I think "Paul was writing Scripture" does count, but that doesn't mean we try to understand why he wrote what he did. I included my previous statement about parsing the question because I don't think you can say Paul wasn't standing on the sufficiency of Scripture when he was writing it. But I just think I see (and agree with) where you're going, not exactly, perhaps, how you articulated it.

Coach C said...

I think I share your sentiments about the preaching example that you raised.

My original questioned was trying to find out if you believe that there is a principle in Scripture that allows us to arrive at standards and convictions based on extra-biblical means. i.e. Paul decided not to eat meat offered to idols in front of the weaker brother because of the traditions and associations represented by that meat.
Does this principle undermine the 'sufficiency of Scripture'? Or are we talking about two different things?