Thursday, September 28, 2006

Camp Orthodoxy

My friend Steve has been hosting a good conversation lately on his blog "Theological Musings". The topic: orthodoxy. I don't want to repeat what has already been said there, but I do encourage you to read the posts and comments from "Why Such A Short List", "But What About Those Mormons?", "Orthodoxy: Starting A New Thread", and "Thoughts On Sound Doctrine". (Wow! That sure is alot of "required reading" for my post huh?...but well worth it!) What I would like to do here is expand on/respond to the previously mentioned posts in a little more depth than I can go into in the comments section of "Theological Musings".

There seems to be a reoccurring theme that runs throughout the history of God's people. That theme? Camping! Now what do I mean by camping? What I am referring to is the process of receiving something from God as revelation and then camping on or stopping at that revelation. As far back as the time of Moses, we find God's people receiving His provision and then desiring to stay in that moment where they "met God". The children of Israel were led by God in the desert for some time before Moses sent spies into the promised land to see how they would go in and possess it. Notice that Moses did not send the spies to see if they would possess it, but how. The result of this expedition? The children of Israel determined that what God was calling them to do was too hard, and they became satisfied to just remain in the place that they believed to be "safe".

The Pharisees are another example of a group of people who were caught holding on to stale bread that had once been "manna from heaven". (Rabbit trail: Isn't it interesting that God instructed the Israelites that they were to only use the manna for one day before it rotted? Was God setting a precedent here that yesterday's sufficiency can become today's corruption?) The Pharisees were quick to point out the Law of Moses (which was at that time the "word of God") to Jesus in order to correct Him or condemn Him of sin. Jesus, contrary to the ideas of many an evangelical, actually superceded the "word of God" though by, for all intents and purposes, saying that some things that Moses said no longer applied. One such case was that of divorce. The Pharisees used a quote from the Torah to prove to Jesus that it was acceptable to divorce as long as one followed the Mosaic command of providing a certificate thereof. Jesus, however, superceded the Law of Moses by saying, "Moses gave you this command because of the hardness of your heart, but from the beginning it has not been so." In other words, "There was a time when this was true, but a new day has dawned, and now there is a higher standard; the standard of love."

We find Jesus doing this kind of thing alot. He really seems to like the phrase, "you have heard it said...but, I say unto you." I believe that Jesus is trying to show us something very important. "And what would that be", you ask? Maybe that revelation is more dynamic and less static. Maybe that our theology should be less about the head, and more about the heart. Maybe that God just doesn't like the box that we have built for Him? Sound dangerous? It just might be:)

I think that the author of Hebrews give us some interesting insight into the nature of God's revelation:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV

Notice the progression. At one time, God, in a limited way, revealed Himself through the words and writings of people. But now, God has chosen a living Person by which to reveal Himself. Hmmmm. In other words, simply a record of good rules and regulations was not enough. In order for God to completely reveal Himself, He had to transcend doctrinal statements, prophets and spokespersons, and even the writings of the Old Testament, and instead, simply live among us as the revelation. Now, this idea by itself is awesome! So, understandibly, once again, this is where many people decide to set up camp. "Brother, we have the Bible to show us how God revealed Himself in Jesus. That's all we need." Contrary to popular belief though, this is still not enough! It's not just about how God revealed Himself in Jesus, but how He is now revealing Christ in us! Paul said:

it pleased reveal His Son in me
Galatians 1:15-16 NKJV

Written revelation is wonderful, but it has it's limits. Words can only go so far in explaining who God is. Words can only go so far in grasping the riches of His grace. It seems to me that our theology must be impacted by living fellowship with the Son, and not only by a book. I love the Bible. I thank God for the Bible, but the Bible is only the record of the Word of God, not the Word itself. That title belongs to Jesus alone. The Bible was simply meant to point us to the Word of God, which is Jesus. Our understanding of God must come from our encounter with the Living Word, not only from the record thereof.

Now, how does this tie into the question of orthodoxy? I think that when it comes to the idea of orthodoxy, we need to take care not to put God "in a box". If God has now chosen to reveal Himself in Jesus and continues to do so through us, then we must be careful that we don't try to convey the idea that creedal or doctrinal statements can contain this revelation. If the record of the Bible itself is not sufficient to completely grasp the revelation of God, what makes us think that a confession or creed can? I do understand that there are certain essential beliefs that one must embrace in order to consider themselves a member of the Body of Christ, but I believe that sound doctrine cannot be contained simply in the mind. Following Jesus, at the heart, is not about knowing the right doctrinal verbage or having a polished theology as much as it is about daily living in Christ, and allowing God to reveal the Son to me and in me. My question is this; by nailing down our entire belief system in something such as a creed, are we becoming static and stagnant, and therefore, in the name of truth, closing ourselves off from any further revelation that God might want to give us? Are we drawing a line in the sand that even God Himself cannot cross? I sure hope not. Hmmmmm?!?!?!? Maybe we need to stop camping on the "truth", and instead start walking with the One who is the Truth. What do you think?


Steve Sensenig said...

Yeah, I was never real fond of Harold Camping....oh, wait, that's not what you're talking about! ;)

Seriously, thank you for taking the time to write this post, Raborn. Your interaction on this and other topics with me has been and continues to be so very helpful to me as a disciple of Jesus! Thank you, brother!

As I read your post, I thought that perhaps one argument that is frequently raised is that "God never changes" and therefore, "God never contradicts Himself". This line of reasoning is used to basically say that if the creeds were true and accurate at the time of their writing, they are still true and accurate today.

In one sense, that may be correct to say, but at the same time, I think that we might shut ourselves off to some things if we blindly take the "God never changes" approach to revelation. There sure were a lot of things that Jesus taught that people thought were "changes" from what God had already said. I think that's the nature of progressive revelation. God chose to reveal more and more over time, culminating in Jesus Himself.

Of course, as you have pointed out, Jesus is still being revealed in us, so I'm still not sure we have the full picture. Something about seeing through a glass darkly.... ;)

steve :)

Raborn Johnson said...

Steve, thanks for stopping by;) I know that the immutability of God is an "essential" part of the nature of God to many Christians, but as we have discussed before, we need to draw our conclusions from the biblical evidence we have and not simply roll with what has previously been said. I have some questions of my own in this area. It seems obvious to me, as I have stated in this post, that Jesus completely changed both how we approach God, and how we deal with each other. To simply quote an Old Testament reference to "prove" our perceived necessary dependence upon an antiquated principle is to totally (whether intentionally or not) devalue the sacrifice of Jesus. Something really did change with the coming of Jesus! Strike that...EVERYTHING changed with the coming of Jesus! To deny the idea of progressive revelation, if no more than within the Scripture itself, is to necessarily lead to a view of God that is both confusing and frustrating. This leads to many people looking at God as both their problem and their answer. God takes on the persona of the yin-yang; both evil and good. In my mind, if the idea of progressive revelation applies to the time-frame from Adam until the completion of the New Testament, what would keep it from applying AFTER the writing of the New Testament? Even though God has completely revealed Himself in Christ, isn't that revelation continuing to unfold to us and in us until we all attain to the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"? What do you think? Help me out, bro!:)