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.
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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.