"Grey" Scripture

One of the questions that was brought up during this last course was a question about the concept of the "sufficiency of scripture." One of my classmates provocatively asked whether the Bible speaks mostly in guidelines, suggestions, and is mostly "grey" rather than being "black and white." That got me thinking.
We learn, in Bible classes, the Interpreting Scriptures course, and the theology classes that the Bible is "sufficient." But we don't spend a lot of time poking at that idea.

I'm going to quote a guy named Ken Myers:
We don't hear much about the "insufficiency of Scripture." But it is an important point to keep in mind when thinking about Christianity and culture. Scripture does not present itself as the only source of truth about all matters. It does not even present itself as a source of some truth about everything. It presents itself as the only authoritative source of truth about some things, and they are the most important things.
So, seems to me that the issue is whether the Bible presents the down-to-the-last-detail truth about those important things. In agreement with the folks posing the "grey" question, I think the answer is occasionally: "no." That is, not all the details of how to live life are filled in by the Bible in such a way that we in our modern (or post-modern) mindset would like. I think that God does grant us the dignity of discovery and wants us to work a bit at connecting the dots that he's laid out.

As to the not-as-important-things? For example: the Bible doesn't directly speak to whether I should buy and use a Mac or PC - much less whether I should use electricity. From that, I would conclude that issue (Mac or PC) is not really as important as stuff like: what's our relationship to The Creator; do we understand that we have a HUGE sin problem; do we see that the answer is Jesus; do we connect with a well-done church; do we do (as well as believe) a true gospel? Those are The Important Issues and the Bible speaks clearly to them. Though not even those matters are always covered in complete detail.

While I am, even now, going through a thought experiment about the concept of biblical "ambiguity" (in a technical sense) I'm not at all comfortable with the thought that most of the Bible is 'grey.'

But I sense that's not the core of the question. It seems my classmate is responding to an overly-literalistic tradition. And to that, I certainly agree that scripture gives us more freedom and liberty in Christ than some of our Fightin' Fundies brothers and sisters are willing to admit.


Acts 2:42 - Not the ideal for the church

I've also occasionally wondered at our use of that Acts 2 passage as an example of the perfect church. Or, for that matter, of our attempts to become "like the first century church."

The thing we like (and should like) about the church of that time was their rootedness in the "Apostles teaching" (that's 'Bible' to us), their influence by and general obedience to the Spirit, their zeal for both growing in Christ and sharing Christ (eventually), and so forth.

But, while I certainly applaud my brothers and sisters as they followed Jesus 1,900 years ago; it is obvious "that was then and this is now." Even Paul touched on this when he stated that David served his generation and then went to be with his Lord (Ac 13:36). My Bible survey professor keeps hammering on us that The Apostolic Age was pretty unique in church history.

So these, and a recent semester of church history, lead me to tentatively consider that there may not be some Golden Model of Church. In fact, it may be that church is far more a child of its culture and time than we are comfortable with (I ruminate on this here).

And I'm not the only one that may be questioning this Acts-2-church-is-the-perfect-church idea. There's a whole church-planting network out there called Acts29. The idea behind the name is what-if the book of Acts continued on past chapter 28 to record the expansion of the Kingdom in our own time? That would become the '29th' chapter of the book of Acts.

I think the big idea is that the church holds tightly to the gospel and is in firm contact with its culture; not some idealized way of doing church from "The Golden Age." To even suggest that the Church had a "golden age" is to dismiss that the church's best days are yet to come.


Communicating Gospel Cross-culturally

Seems to me that given the general biblical illiteracy of the culture we find ourselves in, as well as the general inability of most people to think critically (most thinking seems to be more bumper-sticker or sound-bite polemic), we can't go to the Bible very quickly when we attempt to communicate the gospel to our Post-modern culture and society.

I read a Christian thinker a few years back who suggested that we need to become better Natural theologians rather than better Systematic theologians. What he meant by that is that we should get a better grip on Thomas Aquinas' massive thought-experiment that we now call Natural Theology. Aquinas' experiement went like this: we know Paul says in Romans 1 that everybody knows some pretty basic things about God. So using the evidence we have before us and our own reasoning power, just how far can we get along into our theology without having to rely on Jesus, the Apostles, or scripture? Aquinas got pretty far along, and while others that followed him thought he resorted to a couple of logical cheats to get there (unintentionally), still he made lots of interesting points.

The guy I read said we ought to do a similar, though not as intense thing. Can we converse with a dude in the epicenter of Portland "wierdness" (say on Hawthorne) about the existance - not of God - but of basic good and evil? Can we argue about the sanctity of life - not from Psalms - but from our own feelings towards children and infants? Can we argue about a creator - not from Genesis - but from the amazingly balanced world around us? And then, from there, can we make the move to point them to God, human uniqueness, and creation?

And even to a moral standard? Consider this exchange:
PoMo: "Dude, your metanarratives don't do it for me. I don't need somebody doing their power trip on me; telling me what's right and wrong."
XnDude: "OK, so let me ask you; do you have a sense of right and wrong?"
PoMo: "Sure I do."
XnDude: "Do you, according to your own standards, ever fail those standards?"
PoMo: "Yeah, 'course I do."
XnDude: "Then you -right there - agree with me that you are a 'sinner.'"

The thinker's point (who I mentioned before) was that if our culture denies us the use of scripture, we are not left without authority to speak. God has still given us an ordered world in which he is displayed. We can use that and build upon it to bring the specific good news about Jesus, salvation, and redemption.

What do you think? Would that play in the espresso shop on Hawthorne?


Immediate or Delayed Baptism

As I may have mentioned before, I've been doing lots of thinking about baptism in the last three or more months. I've also been looking at baptism from a church history perspective.

The very early church (within 100 years of the Ascention) practiced 'delayed' baptism. The ritual was performed after a period of training as they saw baptism partly as an 'initiation.' Before the convert was to be accepted by the local church, they needed to get some basic training (replacing their previous pagan background with what we might now call 'a biblical world-view') and show real commitment ("Do you truly renounce the world, the flesh, and the Devil?").

Post-convert-pre-baptism folks were called "catechumans" (because they were in the process of "catechesis," or training). There actually were some of these catechuman guys who delayed getting baptized for years because they weren't *quite* ready to seriously renounce the world, flesh, and works of Satan. One of our early Best-And-Brightest guys, Augustine once quipped, "Lord, give me chastity - but not quite yet." Of course, Augustine eventually got with the program.

Anyway, all of that just gets me thinking about folks who we may allow to become members of our churches.

Let's be clear about this historic position of 'delayed' baptism - it is not necessarily saying that these converts were converted only when they were baptized  There is some confusion on that point. Still, the emphasis was on, as we put it, "affirming by an outward sign an inward reality."

So that was the argument for 'delayed' baptism - the local church wanted to see a level of evidence that the convert really had engaged the gospel. In this view, the Ethiopian (Ac. 8:27-38) clearly already had a biblical world view - he was reading a personal copy of Isaiah so knew the OT pretty well and was asking good interpretive questions. The Ethiopian already had a good 'biblical world-view.' So Philip, goes this reasoning, could baptize the Ethiopian immediately. Again, the Phillipian jailer (Ac. 16:25-33) got training and instruction directly from an Apostle (16:32) so he and his family - after showing evidences of conversion and commitment - could be baptized very quickly by that Apostle.

These don't capture all the arguments for 'late' baptism, but it is worth reflecting on the issue. The very early church faced the same problems that we do: so-called "believers" who turned out to have been admitted into the local body too soon. The result, for those true believers long ago, was severe persecution and death by 'turncoat Christians.'

Is it possible that allowing unprepared "believers" into church membership too early could cause harm to our local churches? Is that a risk we run today?

So, some suggest that the Biblical model is immediate baptism  Why don't we go back to that? My response is to challenge whether 'indiscriminate' early baptism truly is the Biblical model. The very early church did not seem to think so.