In matters of Biblical interpretation, I am reminded of Ralph Woods’ cautionary reminder that we cannot accept theologies that are “saccharine substitutes for the hard-thinking that the Christian faith requires.”
Today, there are just too many saccharine substitutes; just as there are too few people who are willing to do hard thinking about the Christian faith in a post-modern world. Post modernists like to quote John Wesley that we ought to “think and let think.” But, Wesley’s full quote was: “We think and let think except in matters that cut at the root of Christianity.” [Emphasis added.]
The essential doctrines and dogmas of the faith have stood the tests of time the Apostles’ Creed and other historic tenets of Christianity have provided clear, ethical guidance for Christians always and everywhere including the area of social engagement.
Flannery O’Connor was right on target when she stated, “Christian dogma is what forms the Christian imagination into something larger than our own intelligence.”
The history of Christianity is based on cultivating three areas: the inner life of devotion, the intellectual life of rational thought and the outer life of human service. All three areas are vitally important in Biblical interpretation. When we see the Christian life through only one of these prisms, there is distortion. Certainly, what a person believes about the Bible affects one’s actions and decisions just as emphatically as it determines one’s logical worldview.
As William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “If your concept of God is wrong, the more religion you get, the more dangerous you become to yourself and everyone else.”
It is our belief that all are created in the image of God that provides the motivation for worship, belief and social action. The Holy Spirit’s ongoing activity in human history is grounded in the Biblical message of Jesus Christ; the Bible is primary because it “stands written” in the midst of our multiplicity of traditions, our variety of experiences and the inadequacy and fallibility of our human reason.
John Wesley told his preachers, “You have nothing to do but to save souls” and he admonished them to keep the Word of God as their “whole and sole rule” for life. That foundation is what motivated them to go into the trenches to rescue souls. The ancients described authentic Christianity as “doctrines and teachings that have been believed everywhere, always, by everyone.”
Sadly, today we have church people brash enough to discard those beliefs and substitute the products of their own imagination.
So, do we take the Truth of God as revealed for 2,000 years and shape it to the fleeting fancy of contemporary human intellect and the passing trends of today’s popular culture?
No! Our Christianity must be founded, not on human invention, but on divinely revealed truth. This truth enables us to experience the redemptive, transforming power of Jesus Christ who made freedom and dignity possible for all human beings. 1 Corinthians 2:12-15 warns that those of the Spirit will always be misjudged and misunderstood because the things that we hold as TRUTH are foolishness to the world.
Relativism and subjectivism are not superficial differences from orthodox Christian faith. These are not just irrelevant philosophical differences; they are profoundly moral problems. They indicate a spiritual rebellion: a shaking of the fist at God to say, “I refuse to accept the revealed doctrines codified in the creeds of the Church.” At heart, they indicate an unwillingness of human beings to “bend the knee” before the Almighty.
Everything we do is nothing but “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal” if it is not prompted by God’s leading, founded on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and based on His Word. We believe that the Gospel, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, is the essential foundation for all social action; that only the grace of God and the Gospel He entrusted to us has the power to change us and change the world.
This article is based on Janice Shaw Crouse’s remarks on Biblical interpretation presented at a recent forum in Washington, D.C. Dr. Crouse is Senior Fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute of Concerned Women for America.