Mondays with Michael Spencer: June 27, 2016


Mondays with Michael Spencer: June 27, 2016

Today we continue a series of Monday posts with excerpts of Michael Spencer’s thoughts about the Bible and what it does and does not promise to do for us.

• • •

Sometimes, the Bible doesn’t give you enough evidence, one way or the other, to settle a question beyond the possibility of a continuing discussion and debate. If this is true, and if the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit does not remove this ambiguity, then there are points beyond which dicsussion and debate ought to proceed only with considerable and generous amounts of respectful humility.

Now, I don’t know if you need to read this seven times (complete, in the Authorized Version) to “get it,” but this is pretty significant stuff, and I would like to recommend that my thoughtful readers consider the implications of this idea, assuming we actually ever acted in accordance with it.

…Uncertainty of any kind is sin to many Bible-believing Christians, and an insult to lots of the smart ones. They see the recognition that scripture may sometimes be less-than-perfectly clear as a surrender on inspiration and authority. Of course, the Apostle Peter himself said that Paul’s writings contained some things that were hard to understand. While we are often reminded that the church councils worked to remove all disagreement, we sometimes imagine that the Christian movement read the scriptures and agreed on everything, with disagreement and diversity coming along later, when modern Bible translations.

Did the early church agree completely on modes of baptism? On the presence of women in worship? On the the standards for communion? On the process of discipline and restoration? On the use of “non-canonical” material? On the form of church government? On detailed theories of the atonement? On the role of art? On eating meat offered to idols? On the appropriateness of marriage between believers and unbelievers? On the support of the poor? On who had apostolic authority?

Listening to some full-time Christian defenders of orthodoxy, you would think the “humilty zone” was a concept so Satanic, so diabolical, that it should be opposed at every point. Instead, it ought to be encouraged, modeled and developed.

Why can’t we have a conference where those with differing points of view on Baptism or church government present their positions, and discuss questions/objections without hearing that some “simply won’t believe what the Bible plainly teaches.?”

Why can’t Christians who homeschool, go to Christian schools and participate in public schools work together, recognizing that Christian parents can love Jesus and the Bible and come to differing conclusions?

Why can’t Christians who differ on issues of war, economics and politics discuss their approaches as all rooted in Biblical teaching, but not in a Bible that unambiguously indicates pacifism or just war?

Is it possible for Calvinists and Arminians to consider the possibility that they are both reading the same Bible, with much of the same devotion and training, but with differing interpretative approaches, leading to differing conclusions? (I think of how these teams refer to one another’s God as a “monster” or a “wimp,” and wonder at how few intelligent interpreters can acknowledge that both views grow out of the Bible.)

I am not trying to start a quarrel with the Bible, nor am I writing suggesting how we resolve ambiguity when we HAVE TO (and sometimes we must, even at great pain,) but I am suggesting that we nurture and even insist on this “humility zone.” It is not a mark of maturity to demean points of view that are rooted in the same New Testament we all believe to be God’s Word. We are going to differ on dozens of topics because, sometimes, we forget that the Bible’s perspicuity on some matters does not gurantee its clarity on others.

If you have a humility zone, some will be grateful and meet you there to talk. Others will attack you and call you apostate, liberal and “postmodern” (or whatever the new buzzword happens to be.) I think it comes down to honestly facing the Bible itself, and settling within ourselves that God has not commanded us to fight with our fellow Christians until one side or the other “wins.” We fight side by side, in divisions that sometimes differ on many things, but which agree on what matters most.

9 thoughts on “Mondays with Michael Spencer: June 27, 2016

  1. “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

    (this has been attributed to multiple authors)

    Diversity seen as ‘strength’ and as mimicking (not mocking) the Holy Trinity, does help the Church in how when one part goes off its trolley, others come along and help the one part get re-balanced.

    It’s sort of like that saying by Annie La Mott:
    “the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day”;

    the Body of Christ, because it is not ‘lock-step’ in matters of non-essentials, is able to self-correct in areas where some members occasionally ‘go nuts’.
    I suppose that is proven in the way that when the system of paying for indulgences got so corrupted, the Body of Christ said ‘enough’… sad that divisions and schisms occur, but the Body of Christ ITSELF cannot be ‘divided’, and even now, I believe works towards some unity in what IS essential in the way of ‘Who Christ Is’ and in the manner of how He was with people when He was among us.


  2. “(I think of how these teams refer to one another’s God as a “monster” or a “wimp,” and wonder at how few intelligent interpreters can acknowledge that both views grow out of the Bible.)”

    I saw something interesting when observing some other sites: the illogical way Our Lord is presented by patriarchists,
    for example: Take the types that preach ‘macho man’ in marriage and say ‘Jesus was a tough guy’ (think: Driscoll)
    and THEN: the same tribe turns around and wants to preach ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) so that their wives can imitate Our Lord in His ‘eternally submissive’ ways

    People can’t it both ways. How many times do we see folks with agendas manipulate terms and doctrines and even attempt to alter ‘Who God Is’ (ie. ‘the Gawdawrath’) or ‘Who Christ Is’ ????? (macho man or wimpy submissive)

    Humility? The Eastern Orthodox Fathers have some wonderful insights into ‘humility’. The Western Church needs that influence these days more than ever. Even Eastern Catholics have a handle on ‘humlity’ that is higher grade than what is in the Western Church (my godmother was Ukrainian Catholic ….. great role model … I miss her very much.)


  3. “Adiaphora” is a wonderful old word that doesn’t get used as much as it ought. It originally came from the Stoics, defined as something that moral law neither mandates nor forbids. As applied to Christianity during the Reformation it meant matters that are not essential to faith: neither required nor forbidden.

    The way the concept was used in the Reformation era was characteristic of the time. If some element was an adiaphoron, it was not mandated by faith but it could be mandated by the church and/or state for the sake of uniformity. Rulers tried to expand what was considered adiaphora, so that they could establish a uniform church that everyone could join without a crisis of conscious. The belief at the time was that a uniform church was necessary for the function of the state with loyal subjects.

    We no longer believe that an established church is necessary for the state to function, but the concept of adiaphora serves a similar function. When we see those people over there doing things differently from how we do them, it is helpful to stop and consider whether this difference is something we need go to the mattresses over and start issuing anathemas, or is it adiaphora? Absent the concept, anathema becomes the default mode.


  4. It requires time and energy to patiently and politely disagree with other people and yet maintain fellowship. You cannot be a frail person to respect those whose opinions do not align with yours. Engaging the family of faith is not something that is done on the fly.


  5. This is the mark of a living tradition; only death is unambiguous.

    So are Fundamentalists (chapter-and-verse) and Neo-Calvinists (TULIP and the Institutes).


  6. Greg. there’s an Evangelical Covenant Church here in this little village of 250 mostly Swedes from the 1870’s. I went once when I moved here and found it friendly and welcoming, tho decidedly Evangelical in tone on the positive side of Evangelicalism. I just now checked out the EEC website and found these two “affirmations” amongst some others:

    We affirm a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.
    We affirm the reality of freedom in Christ.

    That works for me all by itself, whatever the sign out front might read. The problems come with the add ons. And the sermon. Mostly Swedes at the contemplative Quaker meeting I’m now attending too, one from the old country. Fewer problems there, minimal add ons and no sermon. Just my style. And no hymns. What’s not to like?


  7. We were members of such a church (and tradition), though in reality many would not consider it ‘evangelical’. We were part of an Evangelical Covenant church. The origins of ECC is Swedish, and they are ‘evangelical’ in the European sense (protestant). Having no statement of faith, but six affirmations, they practice ‘big tent’ Christianity. In the five years we were members our church experienced almost no conflict (and no ugliness), even as it went through its death throes while closing down (and most of the members still get together for parties and such a year and a half later). The ECC has had very little conflict in its history as well. At first I was wanting to know ‘exactly what do you believe?’, but soon found that within a large ‘box’ there was a very healthy diversity of views on most issues, and people all seemed to be okay with that (and I certainly was, after having spent 30+ years as a Baptist).

    It was interesting when people would visit our church. They would often be attracted to the community but I could pick out those who would not stay. They were usually people from very conservative churches that had to know exactly what our church believed about this or that (most often some secondary issue). I still grieve for our church every day (and have been an orphan ever since, and probably always will be).


  8. > We fight side by side,

    Here is the reason, IMNSHO. We “fight”. Fighting requires an adversary. The warrior posture cannot result in anything else. And most of the American Church is predominately inward facing and insular – so the nearest available adversary is – other Christians. Also doctrinal fights are inexpensive, so they are an efficient form of combat, readily available to arm-chair warriors [nobody needs to DO much about a disagreement over the trinity or some such obscurity].

    I would like to see some branch of Evangelicalism make a pledge: no War, Combat. etc.. rhetoric or metaphors for one entire year. 365 days of rigorous linguistic disciple. Forced to find other terms of expression I wonder if a difference could be seen. *THAT* would be Radically Counter-Cultural.


  9. One precious benefit from modern critical NT scholarship is the insight that there was an amazing amount of diversity in the early church. They disagreed on not just what it all meant but even on exactly what happened. We should have known this already from reading Paul’s letters. His controversies in the main weren’t against unbelievers but with other Christians! The gospels aren’t all saying the same thing; all the writers have a distinct point of view. This is the mark of a living tradition; only death is unambiguous.


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